An undercover investigation of the kind that has shocked horse racing in the United States could take place in Britain with similarly devastating results, an animal rights organisation has claimed. But the sport's rulers feel strongly that welfare standards are maintained at a level that would withstand examination.
Each day brings new repercussions in the US following last week's revelation that a Peta (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals) staff member had spent months working for the high-profile trainer Steve Asmussen, compiling a list of alleged welfare infractions now being investigated by two racing authorities.
A nine-minute compilation of covert footage she was able to tape is now on YouTube and makes for unpleasant viewing, though Asmussen himself hardly features.
Asmussen responded by firing his long-serving assistant, Scott Blasi, on Saturday. Asmussen's name was removed from consideration for US racing's Hall of Fame, while one of his key owners, Ahmed Zayat, has moved his horses elsewhere.
A spokesman for Peta in the UK said that no parallel investigation was planned because it lacks the funding available to its US wing.
He added that Peta was "preparing statements for the unfortunately likely racehorse deaths" at Aintree's Grand National meeting next week.
But a more robust line was taken by Dene Stansall of Animal Aid, who said the news from the US was "no surprise at all" to him and his colleagues. "We've done undercover work," he added. "I can't divulge what but we are constantly monitoring British racing because we don't believe the regulator is independent enough to get to grip with various issues of concern to Animal Aid.
"The fundamental problem is that the industry exists within a veiled cloak," Stansall said. "It's not transparent enough. Regulation is very weak on horse welfare, whether it's the US, Ireland or Britain.
"There's poor policing of welfare regulations and until that improves, these stories will always occur. We've always said the British Horseracing Authority are more reactive than proactive, whether it's drugs we're talking about or abuse in stables.
"We need an efficient, effective regulator who will police welfare but the issue sits so far down their table of priorities, these issues will always arise. Horses are the victims and we need to see robust regulation, from breeding to racing and on to the horses' lives after racing."
Robin Mounsey, a spokesman for the British Horesracing Authority, said it demands standards of jockeys and trainers that "far exceed those prescribed by animal welfare legislation".
Racehorses in Britain receive "a level of care and a quality of life that is virtually unsurpassed by any other domesticated animal", he said.
"BHA expect the highest standards of care to be maintained at all times by licensed personnel, irrespective of events in other nations," Mounsey added. "We are proud of the high standards of care that exist within the sport and anyone who does not put the welfare of the horse first has no place within British racing, as we have shown in the very rare cases when such standards are not maintained."
Rupert Arnold, chief executive of the National Trainers' Federation, said that British trainers "operate under a completely different regulatory regime and also a different ethos to racing in the US. One can never guarantee that someone trying to portray training practices in a bad light might not be able to find something unpalatable if determined to do so, but it is unlikely in this country.
"I would expect British trainers to be exercising a much higher standard of care and attention to their horses than appears to have been the case here," Arnold said, referring to the Peta allegations. "There are well-known animal rights organisations who don't take a favourable view of racing and they might conceivably attempt something similar. But the likelihood of being able to uncover something so serious in this country are slim."
Source: The Guardian
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