As Cheltenham Festival claims its first victim of 2019, a leading animal welfare charity is asking “Would you watch football if injured players were killed after a match? So why support horse racing?”

The League Against Cruel Sports has posed the question in a hard-hitting film – which shows an injured football player being shot dead after a match – released in the wake of Ballyward being killed on the opening day of the controversial horse racing festival.

Only 4 of the 18 horses forced to run in the gruelling four mile long National Hunt Race finished, with twice as many fallers as finishers. Horses tumbled head first into the ground when enduring dangerous jumps and three jockeys have been suspended over horse welfare.

89 horses have been killed on Cheltenham Racecourse since 2008 – ten of these in 2018 with seven horses destroyed in last year’s Cheltenham Festival.

Chris Luffingham, Director of Campaigns at the League Against Cruel Sports, said:

“The opening day of Cheltenham Festival 2019 has been a disaster, with Ballyward killed following a deadly fall and racecourse staff scrambling to respond to horses crashing face first into the ground on dangerous jumps. This comes after the British Horseracing Authority implemented so-called safety improvements to the lethal course.

“Hundreds of horses are seriously injured and killed on British racecourses each year – and for nothing more than a flutter. If footballers were shot following injuries on the pitch, there would be an exodus of people from the sport – so why not the same when horses are needlessly killed at the hands of the racing industry?

There have been 1,523 horse racing fatalities at British racecourses in the past ten years according to Animal Aid’s Race Horse Death Watch website.

Around 1,000 horses from the racing industry are killed in slaughterhouses in Britain each year, according to the British Horseracing Authority.

Broken necks, backs and legs are commonplace on British racing tracks, where horses are whipped to make them run faster and jump over dangerous obstacles. The pressure inflicted on their bodies during the race can lead to painful gastric ulcers and bleeding lungs.

Chris Luffingham added:

“The British Horse Racing Authority has suspended three jockeys for breaching horse welfare, but if it had any teeth it would suspend the Cheltenham Festival completely. We’re calling for a ban on national hunt racing because of its terrible safety record.

“We’re also calling on everyone who cares about animal welfare to simply stay away from racecourses across Britain.”

The film, made by new director Al Brown, was filmed on Hackney Marshes, spiritual home of England’s Sunday football.

The League will be showing the film on a digital ad van in Cheltenham ahead of the festival’s ‘Gold Cup Day’ finale.