Sad start to Festival as Ballyward dies
Ballyward was fatally injured during the concluding National Hunt Challenge Cup on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival, in a race which led the British Horseracing Authority to voice its displeasure and sound a warning over the future of amateur riders at the meeting.
A field of 18 runners went to post for the four-mile contest restricted to amateurs, but just four finished and a number of riding bans were handed out in the stewards’ inquiry that followed.
Ballyward was the 9-4 favourite to provide trainer Willie Mullins with a third winner of the afternoon. However, he fell at the 17th of 25 fences in the hands of the trainer’s son, Patrick, and had to be euthanized.
Ballyward was one of nine fallers in the race, while another five were pulled up.
Robert James, the rider of faller Just Your Type, was suspended for seven days for using his whip when his horse was showing no response from approaching the home bend.
An inquiry was held to consider whether James “had continued in the race when it appeared to be contrary to the horse’s welfare” and he was suspended for a further 12 days.
Noel McParlan was aboard Mulcahys Hill, who fell at the second-last fence, and he too was adjudged by the officials “to have continued in the race when it appeared to be contrary to the horse’s welfare”. He was suspended for eight days.
Declan Lavery rode third-placed Jerrysback and it was ruled he had also continued in the race when it appeared to be contrary to the horse’s welfare, after “tired jumping errors at the final two fences” aboard the seven-year-old, who was beaten 47 and a half lengths. He was suspended for 10 days.
The stewards were unable to hold an inquiry into whether Damien Skehan, the rider of fourth home Clondaw Cian, beaten 48 and a half lengths, had continued in the race when it appeared contrary to his horse’s welfare as Skehan had left the course. They adjourned their inquiry to a date to be confirmed.
A spokesman for the BHA said: “While we will carry out our full wash-up after the Festival has completed, it is fair to say that we are extremely disappointed by the conduct of a small number of riders in the National Hunt Chase.
“Riders were briefed and reminded of their responsibilities before racing, and this included their responsibilities when it comes to pulling up tired horses.
“The Cheltenham Review was clear that amateur riders should be aware that they are subject to particular public scrutiny and that amateur participation in its current form at future Festivals will be under material threat should further incidents occur.”
A statement from Cheltenham read: “Sadly Ballyward sustained an injury in the National Hunt Chase.
“He was immediately attended to by our vet team, who very sadly determined that it was necessary to euthanize him on welfare grounds.
“As animal lovers, we hate to lose any horse and of course we shall review this incident. Our thoughts are with the Ballyward’s connections.”