Artful Lady fatality could spell the end of Flat racing at Warwick Racecourse

Following the fatal fall of Artful Lady and the abandonment of Warwick’s latest meeting, the Jockey Club has moved to take fixtures away from the course while its long-term future is reviewed, writes David Hucker.
The future of Warwick Racecourse is in doubt after safety concerns prompted the switching of four of this summers Flat cards.The future of Warwick Racecourse is in doubt after safety concerns prompted the switching of four of this summers Flat cards.
The future of Warwick Racecourse is in doubt after safety concerns prompted the switching of four of this summers Flat cards.

The move comes as a blow to the Jockey Club-owned course which, after losing a quarter of its fixtures to bad weather in 2012, was experiencing an upturn in fortunes, with average crowds up last year and indications 2014 would be even better.

The tightness of the Warwick flat track has been a cause for concern before, with leading jockey Ryan Moore highly critical of the course after he broke his wrist in a fall two years ago. Problems have, in the main, been on the round course, where races of seven furlongs and over are run but Moore had also expressed concern about the sprint course.

While the Jockey Club is at pains to point out the fall of Artful Lady occurred on an area at the end of the six-furlong chute which has not been subject of concern previously, the decision is a clear indication they are not prepared to risk another fatality.

Artful Lady was at the back of the field and being pushed along by her jockey when coming down at halfway, at the intersection of the sprint and round courses.

The stewards inspected the track and, after the bend had been sanded, allowed racing to continue.

But, despite the second race going off without incident, following further deliberation and consultation with the jockeys, the meeting was abandoned.

Two of Warwick’s remaining six meetings between now and September will be all-sprint cards and the other four fixtures will be moved to Nottingham and Carlisle, two other courses in the Jockey Club portfolio.

The two most valuable races staged during the summer will also transfer, with the Warwickshire Oaks going to Nottingham and the Eternal Stakes to Newmarket’s July Course as part of its Armed Forces Day card on Saturday June 28.

Warwick will now stage just its Ladies’ Day on Friday July 4 and the popular Bank Holiday meeting on Monday August 25.

Track realignment, where the sprint course meets the home straight, has been agreed with the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) and the track will be watered to ensure each meeting starts on ground no faster than good.

There will be trials, run in conjunction with the Professional Jockeys Association, on the realigned surface before the July fixture.

“The safety of all participants is the number one priority for Jockey Club Racecourses,” said group managing director Paul Fisher.

“No turf management concerns with the track have been identified in any inspection, or else we would not have been racing.

“The BHA found that Warwick’s ground staff team has prepared the turf in line with good practice at all times and we have taken numerous precautionary measures in recent years in light of the publicly-stated concerns of horsemen about the home bend at the course.

“We take the concerns of jockeys extremely seriously and until those are resolved, we are not comfortable running Warwick’s programmed Flat races this season.

“Having made this decision, we will now take the necessary time to review our long-term options on the Flat at Warwick and launch a consultation with the BHA, horsemen and industry stakeholders on this.”

Only last month, Warwick District Council announced it is to work with the course to create a masterplan for the area which ensures its “ongoing vitality and viability” while restricting uses to those associated with visitor accommodation, recreation, leisure and horse racing.

The council will, no doubt, be keen to be part of the talks and, while there is no indication the course, which has staged racing for over 300 years, is under threat, the smart money is on a jumps-only programme in future.