On Saturday, a magnificent horse gave his life for the sport. His death wasn't caused by a fall, a preexisting condition, or human error. The 10-year-old steeplechaser Many Clouds put in an emotionally stirring performance to beat Thistlecrack in the Cotswold Chase, the horse who has been heavily favored for this year's Cheltenham Gold Cup and was previously undefeated in steeplechase events. Many Clouds himself was the winner of the 2015 Grand National.
It was the classic “old guard” versus “young upset” tale, and the race to the finish was one for the ages. The two chasers leapt over the final fence nearly in unison, but then Thistlecrack began to draw away from Many Clouds. Gallantly, Many Clouds lowered his head and dug in, drawing back alongside his rival just in time to get his nose in front at the wire.
Tragically, several minutes after his victory Many Clouds collapsed and died. A postmortem report found the cause of death to be a massive pulmonary hemorrhage, which the British Horseracing Authority determined could not have been predicted.
“Episodes such as this are rare and can occur in horses which have no underlying health issues and amongst all disciplines of sport horses,” Tony Welsh, active veterinary director to the BHA, told The Guardian. “In spite of the rarity of these incidents, as a sport we are determined to do more to understand what causes these symptoms and whether more can be done to prevent them.”
Still, Many Clouds' death drew an emotional response from horse racing fans across the world. Joe Clancy of thisishorseracing.com compared it to a similar event following the 2012 Iroquois Steeplechase in Tennessee:
“I remember being impressed by him, proud of him, happy for him,” wrote Clancy of the winner Arcadius, who watched the race live. “Minutes later, I watched Arcadius half-step, half-lurch to his right and collapse. In a few minutes, he was gone. It was all so unfair. He died after all the dangerous stuff was over. He'd run 3 miles, jumped 18 fences, outrun his rivals, pulled up, walked back to the winner's area, posed for the photos, been unsaddled, even sipped some water and felt the cooling sprays from a hose and misting fans.”
Though Clancy goes on to say that there is no excuse for being “flippant” with a horse's welfare, he writes that sometimes events like the death of Many Clouds are just tragically unavoidable.
“The anti-racing crowd will say that Arcadius, Many Clouds and others shouldn't have died,” he wrote. “But the only way to ensure that would be to ban racing and if you ban racing, Thoroughbred horses wouldn't exist. They're not suddenly going to live in the woods as wild animals, after all. There are no natural herds of Thoroughbreds. Racehorses are bred to run, and run they do. They're at risk, the way any athletes or any beings are. Do they know it? I have no idea, though it's something I ponder. I like to think they know, but don't dwell on it. They know they're mortal. They know there's danger in what they do. But they're in the moment, competing, striving, doing the best they can at whatever it is they're doing.”
While the sentience of horses has long been debated across the realms of science and beyond, it is not hard to imagine Many Clouds' drive to win when watching the replay of his final stretch run. He went out a winner, giving his all to the sport. May he rest in peace.
Oliver Sherwood: “I always said he'd die for you and he did winning that race. He is a horse of a lifetime.” #ManyClouds
— Racing UK (@Racing_UK) January 28, 2017
Watch the race replay here:
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