Action Replay: Dog Days

The American TV series Luck, starring Dustin Hoffman and dealing with the seamy side of horse-racing, has been cancelled after three horses died during production. You might say, though, that this was simply a case of unintended accuracy from the makers of the series, for horses dying during actual racing is by no means rare.

No fewer than five horses were killed during this year’s flagship Cheltenham Festival. The number of deaths fluctuates from year to year.  There were nine at Cheltenham in 2006, though fewer in the years since then. But the Grand National is the biggest killer, with twenty-three horses dying in this one race since 1984, including two last year and another two this year. There are constant attempts to make the Aintree course ‘safer’, but these are sometimes criticised as encouraging greater speed and so making any falls even more dangerous.

The figures for racehorse deaths are far greater than usually claimed. According to Animal Aid, ‘around 420 horses are raced to death every year. About 38 per cent die on racecourses, while the others are destroyed as a result of training injuries, or are killed because they are no longer commercially viable’ (

Greyhound racing is another sport where animal welfare comes well behind human enjoyment and betting interests. When their useful racing existence comes to an end, or because they are just not good enough, many are simply killed – probably at least a couple of thousand a year in Britain, though the exact figures are not known. And many owners will not pay a vet to have a dog killed humanely but prefer to have them drowned or otherwise disposed of in some unnecessarily cruel manner.

It’s ironic that the TV series was cancelled for causing deaths, while the activities it depicted are responsible for far more deaths, and they continue.

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