The death of six horses during this month’s Cheltenham Festival has bought horseracing and its welfare practices into the spotlight.

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Stringent welfare standards set by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) and heavy investment in veterinary research and education has seen the fatality rate of horses on Britain’s furlongs fall by a third to just 0.18 per cent over the past twenty years.

British Racing also argue race horses are afforded better treatment than non-competitive animals.

Despite this, figures show 1,500 horses have died in British horseracing since March 2007, according to the animal rights group Animal Aid.

At Epsom – generally considered safer because of its flat track – three horses have died since 2002.

Gelding Intomist was the last horse to be put down following injury sustained racing at the Downs in September 2014.

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Even if horses do not die, animal rights groups argue being whipped or ending up in the slaughterhouse after a long career is inherently cruel.

A spokesman for Animal Aid said: “The Epsom Derby is the so-called 'pinnacle of horse racing' but its pomp and glory disguises an inherent dark side to what is a ruthless business – which exploits horses to the full.”

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In 2011 the BHA conducted a review of its rules regarding the use of the whip, with jockeys restricted in the number of times they can use it and threatened with fines or suspension for infringements.

At last year’s Derby, two horses, Pether’s Moon and Merry Me were, ruled to have been excessively whipped by their riders.

British Racing, an organisation that employs more than 6,000 people to care for the 14,000 horses in training for competition across the country, argue the care afforded to horses in the racing industry surpasses that of other animals – domesticated or wild.

A spokesman for British Racing said: “The BHA make sure that strict welfare criteria are met before allowing any fixture to take place. However, horses are at risk of serious injury throughout their lives – regardless of the type of equestrian activity they participate in.

“We acknowledge serious injuries and fatalities can and do occur in British racing.

“We remain committed to ensuring that our sport continues to maintain world-class standards of equine care, and working to continually improve them in order to reduce the inherent risks involved.

“In exchange for this care we ask horses to do what they are bred for, which is to race.”

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The organisation invests £600,000 each year in rehoming and retraining retired horses and, since the turn of the century, £32m in veterinary research and education.

Animal Aid argue no matter what efforts are made, the sport should be banned.

A spokesman said: “Horses are abused with the whip, and their lives are put at risk every time they race resulting in huge numbers dying on British racecourses each year.

“Even if horses do survive their racing days, little provision is given by the industry to the thousands of horses who annually leave racing – many go for slaughter.

“Animal Aid and its supporters are therefore, against racing."

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Epsom’s Investec Derby takes place at Epsom Downs Racecourse on Saturday, June 4.

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