Top horse trainer, Michael Bell, has spoken of his ‘disgust’ after a national newspaper published a front-page photograph of his stable star Wigmore Hall being euthanised at Doncaster Racecourse.
He was backed by the British Horseracing Authority who condemned the Daily Mirror’s irresponsibility for reproducing a series of distressing images supplied by Action Aid - the campaign group that wants racing banned on safety grounds.
Racing’s ruling body also defended the sport’s welfare record - Wigmore Hall is the only horse from 1,563 Flat runners at Doncaster this season to have been put down on humane grounds after sustaining a serious injury during the race.
The pictures were taken from public land on St Leger Day and published under the headline ‘Shot in the head...a tragic end for a £1.3m champion’.
An inside spread shows images of the dead horse lying on the turf behind a green screen.
Newmarket-based Michael Bell, who trained Motivator to win the 2005 Epsom Derby, was full of praise for the veterinary treatment that his 2010 John Smith’s Cup winner received on Town Moor.
“I find the decision to publish these photos disgusting. To publish them in this manner, as if they are evidence of an act of cruelty, when in reality it is an act of humanity being performed by a veterinary surgeon doing their job, “ he said.
“The whole yard were watching the race in which Wiggie’ suffered his fatal injury and many tears were shed afterwards, He has been a favourite in the yard for six years - he never wanted for anything.
“The vets did an astounding job, they were on the scene in 30 seconds and they have to make an instant decision, sometimes it is better for them to deal with it quickly than let the horse suffer. The most important thing is the welfare of the horse.”
Andrew Tyler, a director of Animal Aid which also wants the Grand National banned, accused racing’s rulers of treating horses as “disposable commodities”.
However the BHA chief veterinary officer Jenny Hall said; “The first priority in British racing is always the welfare of its competitors, both human and equine. Over the last 15 years, the equine fatality rate in British racing has fallen by one-third, from just over 0.3 per cent to just over 0.2 per cent of runners.”
The BHA said it was seeking a meeting with the Daily Mirror’s editor. Its spokesman Robin Mounsey said: “All that the images show is a veterinary surgeon doing his job and carrying out an act of humanity to prevent an animal from suffering.
“They show the same actions as would be taken by a vet whether the incident was occurring on a racecourse or at home in a field and we do not understand where the public interest lays in publishing these images. Animal Aid are not a welfare organisation, nor are they a charity. They campaign for the banning of racing, despite the disastrous effect that this would have on the thoroughbred horse as a breed, and the rural economy.”
And Alistair Down, the former presenter of Channel Four Racing, was among those who launched a passionate defence of the sport. “The death of a horse is always a cause for sadness. Truth be told a lot of horses put down on course are given a lethal injection, “ he wrote in the Racing Post. “But a shot to the head is faster and more humane. Part of our admiration for the thoroughbred - an animal bred to run and compete - is that we know there are risks involved in racing them.”