20/06/2017 16:38 BST

Royal Ascot 2017 Weather Sparks Safety Concerns For Horses Running In Races

'It’s racing at all costs.'

Animal rights campaigners have voiced concerns about the scorching heat horses will be competing in during Royal Ascot this week.

The five-day event begins today and will see equines racing in temperatures up to 30C.

Dene Stansall, Animal Aid’s horse racing consultant, told HuffPost UK: “If horses race in high temperatures, they are going to suffer from heat stress. 

“Ascot is the pinnacle of flat racing and because it’s attended by royalty and it’s a big, social event, then it’s racing at all costs at Ascot, so they have to race no matter what - that’s their approach.”

Ascot has said it will be taking “all appropriate measures” to mitigate the heat for the horses, including extra water buckets along the track.

PA Wire/PA Images
Animal rights campaigners are concerned about the high temperatures horses will be competing at Royal Ascot.

Animal Aid has labelled Royal Ascot as Britain’s “deadliest flat course”.  

Last year the Queen’s horse was put down after falling during the third day of the meeting. In 2014 four horses died at Ascot during the meeting. 

While Stansall raised concerns about the amount of heat stress the animals could be placed be under, he also said he was worried about how firm the course may be for the horses’ hooves.

“It’s not only a question of heat stress but also the trauma on the limbs because the ground is so firm,” the horse racing expert said.

Ascot officials said they are prepared for the races and are watering the course regularly.

But Stansall has raised concerns about the consistency of the watered ground, pointing to the four equine casualties in 2014 as examples of trauma being placed on the animals’ limbs. 

PA Wire/PA Images
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and James Meades in the Parade Ring before the start of the Kings Stand Stakes during day one of Royal Ascot at Ascot Racecourse.

“If the concussion forces are too great they cannot be absorbed by the horse’s musculoskeletal system causing catastrophic failure in the limb or pelvis as we saw in 2014,” he added.

“Due to the sheer force of a half tonne of horse pounding the ground, you’ve got about 180 strides per minute, travelling at 40 miles an hour so, that causes a lot of stress on the limbs, so that’s another concern.

“What Ascot may have done is watered the course to take some of the sting out of it, but watering it gives you a false sense of security.

“It may ease the top inch or two but the sub soil and 3 or 4 inches below would be rock hard, horses will break down.”

Stansall said it is not uncommon to see horses collapse after a race from heat stress and said one of the most dangerous things for the animal’s health is to allow them to stand still.

Hosing them down is also essential to reduce their body temperature.

Precautions Animal Aid would like to see made for horse safety in the heat:

1) Make sure the ground is watered heavily so that it isn’t too firm for the horses’ limbs.

2) Make sure that all horse run are cooled down properly after the race and allow them the freedom to keep moving. This means not taking them into the winner’s enclosure straight after the race and making them stand still.

3) If any horses are sweating badly going down to the start, Animal Aid would like to see them withdrawn “because they are the most likely to be suffering from heat”.

An Ascot spokesperson said in a statement: “Horse safety is a priority and we will be taking all appropriate measures to mitigate the heat, including extra water buckets along the track and equine misters in the unsaddling enclosure.’

Temperatures are expected to remain very high tomorrow, reaching 31C at Ascot Racecourse. It is expected to get cooler later in the week, dropping to 20C by Saturday.