Saturday, 12 February 2011

Bad day at the office


Desperate stuff at Newbury today. Two horses electrocuted as they paraded before the opening race. I knew something was amiss when I turned on Racing UK for the opener, but found an extended advert break. This was soon replaced by a sombre Nick Luck carefully reporting the story. Terms like ‘grown men crying’ and ‘never seen anything like it’, were thrown into the mix. His description of two horses writhing and crashing to the ground in separate incidents only seconds apart was stomach churning.  Marching Song and Fenix Two convulsed and died in front of bemused racegoers.

I’ve been less than convinced about the value of Twitter so far. Too many repetitive views and cliquey discussions. But today the medium really came into its own. Commentators at the track or better connected that I were tweeting the possibility of electrification in one or two parts of the parade ring, of two other horses that had received shocks, and of head lads and lasses that were picking up the current as well.

Cornelius Lysaght in particular was measured, direct and unflappable in the midst of some dire scenes. He was the journalist to confirm that the first race would go ahead and that the pre-parade ring would be used for the rest of the races.

Kid Cassidy was also withdrawn from the race having been partially affected by the incident too. The race was completed, but in a very subdued atmosphere. Quite rightly, the stewards and management decided to abandon the rest of the card. Twitter was buzzing with disturbing news of horses returning from the race with burned lips and mouths from where their bits had apparently picked up the current. This remains unsubstantiated and has as much to do with the more volatile, rumour-mongering side of instant reaction, as about hard reportage. There was plenty of anger out there. Lydia Hislop was demanding to know how and why the decision had been taken to run the first race.  Easy with hindsight, but from this distance that now looks like a mistake.

The electrocution theory couldn’t be confirmed by authorities, but seemed to be the most plausible explanation. As Newbury was emptying, Alastair Down and Alice Plunkett were interviewing a string of Newbury Racecourse great and good, as well as trainers and owners, all expressing genuine compassion for connections, regret for the abandonment and a need to understand what had happened.  Full refunds were offered and discussions began about moving the fixture to next week.

Meanwhile Twitter was alive with speculation of the tines of aerators having severed the electrical cable under the parade ring earlier in the week. Later on tough old jockeys who've been around the block a bit were tweeting of their distress at the day's events. 

The investigation remains in full swing this evening: the electricity board is at the track, the dead horses are having post-mortems and evidence from trainers, vets, managers, CCTV and C4 is being sifted.  

Over the Irish Sea, Leopardstown’s Hennessy Gold Cup meeting didn’t get away unscathed. Money Trix, a high class stalwart of the Nicky Richards yard, broke down and was destroyed.  Runner up Glencove Marina collapsed from a heart attack after his best ever run.

Today was another tough, sad, dark day for racing. Hitting the headlines for the wrong reasons in an already disjointed, unbalanced and troubled season. 

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