‘Horrific’ Incident At Brighton Results In Tragedy When Blindfolded Horse Runs Loose On Track

by | 06.13.2017 | 6:51pm
Brighton Racecourse

A tragic accident at Brighton Racecourse in England resulted in the euthanasia of filly Just Marion, according to racingpost.com. She was loaded into the starting gate with a blindfold, which apprentice jockey Louis Steward was supposed to remove at the start of the race. Instead, Just Marion stumbled leaving the gates, unseating Steward, and ran loose around the course while unable to see. The filly suffered numerous fractures and had to be euthanized as a result of her injuries.

“The incident at Brighton was extremely sad and our sympathies are with connections of the horse,” said Robin Mounsey, head of media at the British Horseracing Authority. “The circumstances around this incident are exceptionally rare, but the incident will be assessed and, as ever, if there are lessons to be learned then the BHA and racecourse will work together to act on them.”

“It was horrific, I've never seen anything like it,” trainer Clare Ellen said. “It was like she'd been involved in a car crash. There was nothing they could do to save her. I was absolutely dedicated to her.”

Read more at racingpost.com.

  • Bryan Langlois

    “She was loaded into the starting gate with a blindfold, which apprentice jockey Louis Steward was supposed to remove at the start of the race”

    Wait…WHAT?? So the blindfold was not supposed to come off till the gates opened?? Thats about an idiotic rule as I have ever seen. If the horse is that bad in the gate that they have to be blindfolded till the gates open, they shouldn’t be allowed to run. A completely senseless tragedy that should never have happened.

    • Michael Shea

      Why is it that we can see the obvious problem simply by reading the news release, yet everyone involved is as blind to it as the poor blindfolded filly? No horse should be allowed in the gate until schooled enough to handle it professionally.

      • kim

        Rocket science isn’t it?

      • greg

        Not necessarily however once the gate is CLOSED the blindfold MUST be removed thus zero chance of a horse breaking thru the gate with it on or another unusual circumstance. This is sad and tragic however there are probably 50 horses a day throughout the country loaded blindfolded

        • Michael Shea

          I understand that it is done regularly; I’m just saying that it might be a good change to make. There are other tactics used (opening the front of the stall, walking the horse in a circle, loading without the jockey). This incident was proof of how dangerous it can be.

        • Mindy

          but they don’t do it that way, most races I see, the blindfold stays on till the gates open, right at that moment, rarely does the jockey remove it while there are still other horses loading

      • MyBigRed

        I agree !!

    • Whynotwest

      Well put. Saved me a lot of typing.

    • Mindy

      yup, over there, they load horses into the gate, and they STAND THERE, still blindfolded, through the loading of the rest of the field, and then the jockey removes the blindfold (it has a handle on the back) as the gates are opening, absolutely asking for trouble, IMO, not only for this tragic scenario, but, since the jock has to have his/her hand on the handle of the blindfold, they’re unable to get fully ‘tied on’ before the start (frankly, I’m surprised this hasn’t happened before), and also, imagine the shock of a horse who’s calmed by the blindfold, then, suddenly, I’m not sure if they have a bell or not, but, even if not, the crash & clatter of the gates opening, then the sudden un-blindfolding, all that brightness floods their eyes and brains, they’re expected to run, there are others taking off around them, their jockey may be a bit unbalanced, as he/she attempts to get the hand that had to remove the blindfold back onto the reins…it seems that, as here, the blindfold should be removed as soon as the rear doors are successfully closed behind them, and, if they’re still nervous in the gate *have an assistant starter in there with the horse* to rub on them, talk to them, keep them calm (and the jockey can concentrate on getting set for the start), while the others load and get settled in, or, as several commenters have pointed out here, if the horse is that reluctant to load, and won’t/can’t stand quietly, they’re not allowed to race until they can…and since it’s clear TPTB don’t care about the safety of the horses or jockeys, do it for the only people you DO care about, the bettors, so that there’s the best chance of a clean, fair start for all

  • Rue de Jean

    Outrageous!

    • Longshot

      You know I want to type in a comment, but this is so terrible I can’t think of anything to say, so I’ll just second your comment

  • DDAmasa

    I can’t find words for this stupidity. These horses depend on their humans to look out for them. This poor girl died horribly because of human stupidity and carelessness. This is enraging. RIP sweet girl.

    • whirlaway

      No more common sense across the pond than any place else this was real horsemanship
      on display.

  • Michael Shea

    Given the high strung personalities of some thoroughbreds, I understand that it can be difficult to train them to handle the gate or go through a tight spot while racing, but they must be able to deal with those things before they are allowed on the track.

  • Bryan Langlois

    This reminds me of the near disaster that could have happened with Quality Road in the 2009 Breeders Cup Classic when he freaked in the gate with the blindfold on and if not for the amazingly heroic actions of the assistant starter that held onto him long enough for others to get the blindfold off we could have been witness to another tragedy, this time on the world stage.

    • Michael Shea

      I was thinking of the exact same incident. I think the fact that it was on the biggest horse racing stage of the year made it even more powerful. I have never viewed the handling of the problem the same since Quality Road. The access given by the horse racing channels has made me more aware of how it is handled at each track. Not everyone receives such high marks.

    • whirlaway

      That was a disaster waiting to happen another on pins and needles event as we watched.
      Then when the time came QR refused to board the plane and was driven back east. I have
      always been his fan and after gate work he seemed to get through additional racing with
      never a repeat. I watch and follow his horses and they don’t seem to display any big gate
      issues. This horrific accident is no surprise because we could have seen that at the BC.
      So sorry for the poor horse, maybe more patience and schooling would be appropriate.

      • Judy Gaddis

        I, too, feel great sympathy for this poor filly. Can you just IMAGINE her disorientation and FEAR???? That place is DAMN lucky that no other horses were injured!

        Sometimes the stupidity of people is beyond my comprehension, especially when it comes to dealing with equines!

        • whirlaway

          I still think humans are evolving backwards, the lack of common sense along with
          thoughtless stupidity is overwhelming. I have heard the excuse we hear more because of all the news and social media. Spare me the dark ages have been gone
          for years when big news happened it was on TV immediately even in the 50 to 60’s.
          Never did I hear about multiple occurrences of parents living their children in hot cars ending up in death. I just heard of two left by their Mother this week meeting a
          sad end. On one market in my area there are posted signs on the door that says check you car for children that could be left behind. That says it all. I will stop or the off the subject police will get upset. This poor animal never should have come to this horrendous end and by now I would think all involved fully know the reactionary
          instincts and behavior of horses, if not perhaps another occupation would be more
          appropriate. Yes accidents will happen but this was not an accident that led to this.

          • Michael Shea

            One of my favorite sayings is, “Common sense is not common.”

          • whirlaway

            That is absolutely correct. My mother use to stress to my sister and I two things you will not learn through education is street sense and common sense but I am
            beginning to think we need a course in both. Our other favorite saying in our home when we see people on the way towards a downfall that is fairly obvious is ” they are
            on the Titanic heading to the iceberg” but never seem to see what is coming. If a horse has to be handled as this horse was with A blindfold to get her into the gate it
            might be prudent to exercise patience and do additional schooling. Yes horses act up in the gate we expect this but a blindfold that a jockey has to remove is this
            a wise method. I clearly remember Joppy the dam of Carry Back was ruled off the
            track because of her frequent refusals to leave the starting gate which is far less
            serious than this, unless of course if you were the poor handicapper that bet on her.

          • Judy Gaddis

            You just saved me about 5 minutes worth of typing! Thank you my friend! Maybe I can count on you to bail me out of jail if I come across a dog left in a hot car like we see on the news so often after I have busted all of the windows out of the vehicle to get him/her out and been arrested…..all because “someone” had no common sense!

            As my retired cop husband always used to say “there just IS no cure for stupidity…………”

          • whirlaway

            I have had to call police out in parking lots with dogs in cars too hot. Each state has
            different laws about who can break into the car. Easy to look up on line. We are
            at an unbelievable time of stupidity in everyday life. To make matters worse it can
            very easily be people of all educational levels. There was little leeway in my parents
            home for not thinking and using common sense. We never were hit but consequences for bad behavior left impressions. Once I hooked the family dog to my scooter to pull me down the street, the poor dog got tangled in the scooter and
            His collar would not loosen. My father got it cleared up but my Dad that was not very
            tough unlike my mother suddenly was tough as nails and I was not allowed to go
            out or do anything for over 2 weeks believe me I got the message, I was about 10
            at the time and if I cried I would have got more days grounded. We also don’t see
            families teaching their children so when they become adults anything goes. That
            is why I sometimes have conflicting feelings about racing, but racing is always
            going to be here even if I am not a fan and and all I can do is step in on anything I see in life that is wrong and do what I can. I would hope this incident with this poor horse will set some people to thinking about perhaps a change and be a little more
            aware of what can happen or her death was for nothing.The practice that caused this sad situation really was not the best idea because it only takes one slip up
            and there is a mess. Yes we use blindfolds at times in America but generally a gate
            crew person is in the gate and removes the cover before the break. I still believe more gate work is the best option.

      • Diana Baker

        QR didn’t refuse to load on the plane. He hesitated. Rather than risk having him get hurt the decision was made to drive him back east.

        • whirlaway

          He was not enthusiastic which as you say made his humans take a more cautious approach. I can understand that. Flying is definitely not high up on
          my list and luckily I don’t have a need to do much anymore. I campaigned show dogs
          over 40 yrs and as time went on I quick flying with them as the service by airlines
          has never satisfied me with dogs. Horses at least have flights for them, especially with the frequency they fly and not just racehorses.

          • GoodnessMe

            He didn’t want to enter the narrow confining space of the plane doorway as I recall due to the recent trauma he had suffered. And as heroic as the assistant was that held on to him – the starter and his assistants manhandling the horse (and no doubt feeling the pressure of the TV and post time) led to QR’s meltdown in my estimation.

          • whirlaway

            Your right now that you mentioned that, plus Diana posted here and now I remember
            It started with some helicopters that got him going. It was really terrible for him and then with so much commotion Zenyatta even got a bit unsettled herself but that did
            not escalate. I am glad there was no injuries, I have always been his loyal fan and
            he has not disappointed as a sire which I felt he would do well at stud.

          • Lily FaPootz

            You are incorrect – Quality Road had a HISTORY of being a difficult gate horse. He wasn’t ruined by the starters at Santa Anita – they saved his life, in fact. Teflon Todd must have a bevy of people willing to blame the head steward or the hard working assistant starters.

          • Lily FaPootz

            A friend of mine’s dressage mare flew back from NY next to I’ll Have Another :-)

          • whirlaway

            That mare I feel enjoyed that flight IHA is quite a handsome horse. The last photos of him from Japan he looked beautiful. I still find it incredible how horses have
            accepted jet setting all over the world. During the year Whirlaway traveled the country racing and raising money for War Bonds he not only raised more money
            than all the famous movies stars but logged over 5000 miles by rail. How traveling
            has progressed.

          • Lily FaPootz

            She looked quite thrilled!

          • whirlaway

            Tooooo cute, but he was probably dazzled with her. Don’t need to be a throughbred
            to be beautiful. 🦄 🎠

          • tony a

            Did he get his autograph?

    • Diana Baker

      QR was initially wound up by the low flying helicopters.
      He freaked in the gate because he was hit several with a bullwhip while blindfolded. The blindfold was knotted under his chin and was difficult to remove. The assistant starter saved QR’s life that day.

      • MA

        He wasn’t hit with the whip. They waved and cracked it behind him to try to scare him into moving forward.

        • Mindy

          and I doubt it was a bull whip, it’s a buggy whip, a solid stick, with a string on the end to ‘tickle’ (read: annoy) the horse into moving away from it, a bull whip is more like the Indiana Jones’ type, meant to break the sound barrier when used correctly, far too much to simply urge a horse forward into the gate

      • Wendy Averill

        I was there when this happened. You could hardly hear the helicopters.

        • sremel9

          You are not a horse with ultra-sensitive hearing, nor are you a prey animal.

      • Lily FaPootz

        Quality Road pitched a wall-eyed hissy fit in the gate WAY before the blindfold was applied. It wasn’t a “bullwhip”.

    • Lily FaPootz

      Sorry – I didn’t scroll down and repeated above. There is a commenter who argued me blue in the face that the assistant starters “traumatized” QR – no, in fact, they saved his life!!

    • MsMoose

      Your comment beat me to it! I remember holding my breath while they blindfolded him. That assistant starter was the hero of the day, for sure! I’ll never forget that!

  • Fran

    I believe it is their policy to not have Assistant Starters handling horses in the Starting Gate. Maybe now they will review this policy. This racehorse deserved better.

    • Mindy

      correct, no assistant starters in the gate, a danger for horses *and jockeys* (you’d think, if they don’t care about the horses, they’d at least care about the humans!), no outriders on the course, those are seen as “crutches” over there, more of their ‘holier-than-thou(loser Americans)’ attitude about racing (to be fair, I’m not sure an outrider could’ve helped in this situation, unless they could’ve gotten to Just Marion *right after* she stumbled, and the rest of the field cleared the gate, but before she was able to take off, literally, in a blind terror, but, if they’d had outriders, at least there could’ve been an attempt to stop her, though she may have run faster, hearing another horse running up behind her)

  • Mindy

    forgive me, but are they theorizing she stumbled because the blindfold was still on her? or that he didn’t remove the blindfold because she stumbled? or was he in the process of trying to remove it, as she was breaking from the gate, and, since she stumbled, falling away from him, as it were, he must’ve lost his grip on the blindfold’s handle, as well as his seat on the filly (I don’t fault him for that, it could happen to any jockey, of any experience level), thus the blindfold stayed on her?

    here’s a bit from the full Racing Post article, “Just Marion stumbled leaving the stalls in the 7f apprentice handicap, unseating rider Louis Steward before he was able to remove the blindfold used for stalls entry.” so….when was he supposed to have removed, it, exactly? this makes it seem like he wasn’t expected to have removed it until *after* the gate break

  • Mindy

    some more from the full Racing Post article:
    (Trainer Clare) “Ellam added: “She was the easiest ride in the whole yard and the quietest horse to do anything with, which is why she was in an apprentice race.”
    and yet, she still needed the blindfold to enter the gate? or, perhaps she *didn’t* need the blindfold? was this supposed to be ‘practice’ for the apprentice, to practice having to remove the blindfold, on a reliably kind mare?

    “Racecourses are designed partly with the management of loose horses in mind, and improvements are constantly being made to increase the safety of all participants, both human and equine.”
    except, of course, the most obvious things, assistant starters in the gate, and outriders

    “While it does not appear anything obvious could have been done to prevent this highly unusual incident, we will review the course layout with the BHA’s course inspector to see if any changes are required.”
    this has nothing to do with ‘course layout,’ it has to do with the RIDICULOUS procedure that the jockey is expected to remove the blindfold only as the race is starting!

    RIP, Just Marion, the humans around you let you down, and you died for their mistakes (for what it’s worth, I don’t place very much blame on apprentice jockey Louis Steward, the problem is in the blindfold usage & procedure, though I’m sure that’s small comfort to him, and I hope he can make his peace with what happened, whether he continues in racing, or not)

    • Claire

      Clare Ellam has said the horse did not need blindfolding and should not have been blindfolded

      • Mindy

        well, there ya go….the next question then becomes, how did she come to have the blindfold on her? was there a miscommunication, somehow, from the trainer to the gate loaders, and they thought she would need one? was she acting up, for some reason (in season?), perhaps for the first time? or, was this done, as I suspect, for ‘practice’ for the jockey? if so, did the owner &/or trainer give their permissions for this? and if they did, had they done a gate drill, or barrier trial, or whatever they call a work from the gate there, with a more experienced jockey, with the blindfold, to see how she’d react to it, before putting an apprentice in that position? I hope this is *thoroughly* investigated, but, sadly, I’ll bet they end up sweeping this under the rug as a ‘tragic, yet unavoidable accident, and, while we’ll do our best to see that it doesn’t happen again, well, sh** happens sometimes’…perhaps if it had been the jockey who’d been broken like he’d been in a car crash and died, rules/procedures actually would change, but, since it was ‘just’ the filly, probably not, they’ll probably say that, since this almost never happens, our methods are sound, and we will carry on

  • Mindy

    from the Racing Post full article:
    (Trainer) Ellam added: “She was one in a million
    and the mascot of the yard. She was the loveliest mare to have around
    and will never get the chance to show everyone how good she was.”

    excuse me, but she was 5 years old, with 45 starts, 4 wins & 8 places, just exactly when did you think she was going to show that? she was coming off a 124 day break, with just 2 starts very early this year (both before breeding season started), I wonder if they tried to breed her, and she didn’t catch, so back to racing she went…? and you’re putting her up for apprentice’s training races, if you seriously thought you had a budding star on your hands (the bettors certainly didn’t, she was 50/1), I would hope you wouldn’t risk her with such inexperienced hands…I’m sure she was just trying to say something nice, but, for credibility’s sake, she shoulda left that last bit off

    • GoodnessMe

      Hey back off Mindy. I understand why you are incensed but they were obviously fond of the mare.

    • Lily FaPootz

      Good point! Thanks for looking up the PPs. When your horse is consistently finishing at the back of the low level fields, it is time to consider training her for a different endeavor. Maybe refusing to load was her only means of expression … so sad. There is bad judgment everywhere.

      • Mindy

        thank you, and you’re welcome, I was intrigued by her statement about how good she thought she was, or would be

  • Diana Baker

    This is why I hate the use of blindfolds when loading horses.

    • Lehane

      If a horse needs a blindfold to be forced into the gates, then it should not be allowed to race.

      • Lily FaPootz

        I agree with that! It SHOULD be up to the trainer to actually “train”, and gate loading is part of racing, not just sitting at Clocker’s Corner with a coffee and a stop watch

    • Mindy

      I’ve never understood why they even work…how is it, that a horse will go blindfolded, where, seconds before, they would not go, sighted? and I don’t care about the circles they walk them in (never even noticed them doing that in GB, just here), they don’t suddenly lose their senses of hearing & smell, they still know full well the gate’s in front of them, how can they not?

      • GoodnessMe

        You know that horses are blindfolded to lead them out of fire, right? Horses feel safe in their stalls and won’t leave a burning barn, so one trick is to blindfold them to lead them out. It disorients them. Circling a horse is a technique to calm, distract, or keep moving forward a horse that is recalcitrant. When he no longer wants to circle, or back up, or whatever you have asked them to “do” instead of what you asked in the first place, they might do as you asked and move forward.

        • Mindy

          yes, and, again, that makes no sense, it can’t disorient them that much, after just a moment, as they can still smell the fire/smoke, hear the crackling of the flames, feel the heat, they must still know the fire is there…unless they have a baby’s mentality of, ‘if I can’t see, I must be invisible, no one can see me, either?’

          • GoodnessMe

            No Mindy. That’s not how it works. Horses do no respond as humans do and good horsemen know that. They speak the horse’s language, instead of expecting the horse to think like they do. Why do you think horses that are blindfolded go in the gate that they refused to go in a minute before?

  • WT61

    This has got to be the most ludicrous racing industry article I’ve ever read. I’m at a loss for words to respond to some of the statements made by BHA and the trainer. Wow, so stupid, and a horse lost her life because of it.

  • TimTamTed

    Why wasn’t there an outrider,to try and reign her in ?Do they not have outriders in England ?None were mentioned in the article.Sure sounds like they don’t.If that’s the case,therein lies the problem.imho

    • Mindy

      they don’t, they think of them as “crutches,” they expect, and, I guess, assume, their jockeys are good enough to stay on their mounts….plus, they think that, because of how their racecourses are “designed,” that any loose horse will naturally end up somewhere safe, which is ludicrous, since most tracks look (on tv) as if they’re carved out of someone’s field, out in the middle of the country, if a horse runs in the ‘wrong’ direction, how far do they go before someone catches them, or they stop, then they’re lost….and horse+road/car=tragedy&death

      • TimTamTed

        Thank you for your info,Mindy.Much appreciated.

        • Mindy

          you’re very welcome, TimTamTed :)

  • serralinda

    What a hideous thing to do to any living creature. Left in the gate blindfolded?? This just makes me sick. Might as well be dogfighting! I though British racing was supposed to be the greatest. So much for any respect in the future. RIP poor girl. You deserved much, much better.

  • drivingrein

    Train your racehorses to be racehorses. Then and only then can you have them be racehorses.

    • Mindy

      exactly, “training” isn’t only about physical fitness, it’s also about manners, and understanding what’s expected of them (which will also serve them well after their racing careers are over), and being able to do that

      • Lily FaPootz

        Which is why the horses in Europe do not need ponies – they are more professionally trained

  • John Murray

    Hindsight, ironically, is always better, the trainer did not see the incident, and I suspect neither did any of us, including many posters. The link to the Racing Post article adds more info. Truly an unfortunate set of circumstances, for horse and connections.

    Thinking is difficult, that is why most people judge…C. Jung

  • Lily FaPootz

    If not for the courage and professionalism of the assistant starter at Santa Anita in 2009, Quality Road would have suffered this fate, in front of the Classic viewers and crowd. I cannot fathom why some one would belittle their performance that day … unreal!

  • OopsyDaisy3

    It is 12:06 am, 6/15/2017. I read about Just Marion the first thing ‘yesterday’ morning and now as i head off to slumber my last thoughts are with her. I have thought about her deadly plight and her all day long. I cannot make everything right, but in this case i wish i could have. Rest in Peace Just Marion, and please folks in charge rethink placing blinders on all horses just to make it easy on the loading gate crew. I watched Quality Road when the helicopter was hanging over the starting gate. Noise or no noise that was a scary distraction for Quality Road and i and many of my close friends on this blog follow him religiously now and he has become a very good sire of many successful horses. Linda in Texas

  • MyBigRed

    I just want to cry. That Poor Filly……May She Rest In Peace in the arms of Jesus.

  • Georgina Baxter Roberts

    The jockey was meant to remove it but obviously didnt

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