The Aintree Festival was plunged into more grief Friday following the death of another horse over the fences used in the Grand National Steeplechase, overshadowing the latest classy victory by Sprinter Sacre.
Little Josh was destroyed after breaking a shoulder following a heavy fall in the Topham Steeplechase, the fourth race of the day. He was the second horse to die at this year's festival, after Battlefront on Thursday.
"This injury was not treatable and it was the necessary course of action," said Prof. Chris Proudman, veterinary advisor at Aintree.
It is a major blow to organizers who were hoping for an incident-free festival after making modifications to the course in the wake of four deaths in the past two Grand Nationals and complaints from animal-rights groups.
"We have made significant improvements in safety at the course, but we also recognize that jump racing carries risk you can never completely remove from the sport," said John Baker, who runs the Aintree course in Liverpool.
Jockey Liam Treadwell was hospitalized after falling from Regal d'Estruval in the same race.
Jockeys have largely approved of Aintree's restyled fences, which have been softened by removing wooden stakes and replacing them with a more forgiving plastic material.
Critics believe still more needs to be done, with 21 horses having now died in races over Grand National fences since 2001.
"Sadly there is a statistical probability that horses will die at the Grand National meeting," said Dr. Mark Kennedy, head of science at World Society for the Protection of Animals. "In order to better understand this risk, imagine driving your car every day for a year. If the risk to you, the driver, was the same as the risk horses are exposed to in a steeplechase like those at the three-day Aintree meeting — six deaths in 1,000 starts — then you would be lucky to still be alive after six months.
"I doubt many of us would put ourselves at such risk."
Nigel Twiston-Davies, the trainer of Little Josh, said the horse had "gone out doing what he loved most."
"It could happen anywhere, it could happen at home and it's not the fences — it could have happened at a park course," Twiston Davies said.
Barely 30 minutes earlier, Sprinter Sacre had provided another demonstration of his class by sauntering to victory over a top-class field in the Melling Chase, taking his unbeaten run over fences to nine races.
Running his first race over the longer distance of 2½ miles, the 1-3 favorite cruised along under jockey Barry Geraghty before taking the lead by jumping the next-to-last fence and then accelerating clear of Cue Card to win by about five lengths.
Such was the ease of the 7-year-old horse's victory that Geraghty didn't have to come off the bridle as his rivals fell away.
"When you let him loose, like at the second-last, he does it too easily," said Geraghty, who completed a double for the day by winning the Topham Steeplechase on 14-1 shot Triolo d'Alene. "The two-and-a-half miles didn't make any difference. He has plenty of pace and is very versatile."
The exuberant Sprinter Sacre has become the superstar of British horse racing since the retirement of the unbeaten Frankel last year.
"He's just a natural athlete. He's got a huge amount of ability and knows how to use it," trainer Nicky Henderson said. "I don't think anybody has taught him about jumping. It is sheer natural talent."
Sprinter Sacre is unbeaten since switching from hurdles in 2011, and beat a field containing Cue Card, who won a big race at the Cheltenham Festival last month, last year's champion Finian's Rainbow and Irish hope Flemenstar.
This was the first time he won a race over fences by fewer than six lengths — but only because he eased up in the final 50 meters.
He was the third straight favorite to win on Ladies' Day — the second day of the festival — after My Tent Or Yours (4-11) in the Novices' Hurdle and Dynaste (9-4) in the Novices' Chase.
The 40-horse Grand National, which is the highlight of the festival, takes place on Saturday.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.