02/16/2011 3:53PM

Tragedy at Newbury


Tragedy reared its ugly head in the Newbury paddock last Saturday when two horses were electrocuted during the preliminaries to the first race on the card, a 2 1/16-mile novice hurdle. Marching Song and Fenix Two died almost instantly when electrical cables underneath the paddock, apparenly exposed during maintenance work, sent their deathly charges up through the ground.

No humans in the crowded paddock were hurt as they were all wearing leather or plastic footwear. The metal horseshoes worn by the horses, however, acted as a conductor to the electric charges.

Two other horses, The Merry Giant and Kid Cassidy, were shocked during the incident, but neither was injured. Astonishingly, the Merry Giant actually ran in the race which, even more astonishingly, was allowed to proceed. He finished sixth of seven, beaten 96 lengths. The margins in the race: 15 lengths, 11 lengths, 14 lengths, 14 lengths, 42 lengths and 17 lengths, were an indication of how traumatized all of the runners were. Kid Cassidy, who had been the 2-1 second choice prior to the incident, was wisely withdrawn.

The remainder of the important 7-race card, which included the Grade 2 Aon Chase, Grade 2 Sprint Chase and the Grade 3 Totesport Trophy Handicap Hurdle, all preps for Cheltenham's National Hunt Festival, was abandoned as curious onlookers passed by the horrific paddock scene where Marching Song and Fenix Two lay dead under black tarpaulin coverings that resembled body bags.

About 10,000 people were present at Newbury on the day, but only a few hundred were in the paddock area at the time. A spokesman for Southern Electric Power Distribution said there was no further danger at the site, but the damage had long since been done. Immediatley after the incident, grooms said that they could feel electric charges emanating from the bodies of the dead animals.

Marching Song was part-owned by Graham Thorner, the champion jump jockey in Britain in the 1970-71 season who rode Well To Do to win the Grand National Chase in 1972. Fenix Two, who would have made his first start in the race, was a 64,000 euro ($86,000) purchase by J.P. McManus, one of Europe's leading jumps owners. He was trained by Jonjo O'Neill, a two-time British champion jump jockey who won both the Champion Hurdle and the Cheltenham Gold Cup aboard the legendary Dawn Run, and who trained Don't Push It to win last year's Grand National.

Both Thorner and his partners, as well as the highpowered McManus, are expected to seek recompense from both Newbury Racecourse and Southern Electric Power Distribution. In the meantime, this tragedy should serve as a wake-up call to racetracks around the world to check out their underground electric systems.


Andy More than 1 year ago
Makes you think, lots of famous people and famous horses walk over parade grounds- admittedly this was pre-parade but spare a thought for stable boys and girls whose lives were at risk too , but how can we be sure that there aren't similar cables in other racecourses just waiting to cause a similar accident? Is a thorough test being made of all racecourses after this? Considering electricity and water are a lethal combination and there are many electrical cables around, for tents and even bookies now have their own supply. Lots of racecourses eg wetherby are really old and who knows what lies under the ground.
Alice More than 1 year ago
Slight correction to the article: It was actually the Game Spirit Chase over 2 miles, not the Sprint Chase. I had been told racing was cancelled at Newbury after being away from Internet access for several hours, but couldn't think of a legitimate reason for abandoning the meeting as the weather had been fine. Then I logged on to the RacingPost and saw the awful news and basically burst into tears. I felt desperately sorry for the poor horses, trainers, stable lads and owners. But I agree with the general consensus from NH trainers that blame can't be held over Newbury; after all, the cables supposedly hadn't been in use for over 20 years, and officials didn't seem to even know they were there. I do think it was a poor decision to run the first race though, you can't do that when two horses have just dropped dead, two have nearly collapsed and the whole field is in a state! The card has been rescheduled for Friday at the trainers' requests, but I wonder how well attended it will be. Tragic event on an incredibly black day for NH racing.