HORSERACING officials are launching an investigation to find out why so many horses have died at a North-East racecourse.

The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) is looking at Sedgefield Racecourse where 12 horses have died in the last year making it the country's most lethal track.

Paul Struthers from the BHA said: "Horseracing, in common with all other sports, carries an element of risk for both horses and jockeys.

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"It is our responsibility to minimise that risk and our Racecourse and Equine Welfare departments work closely with racecourses to do this.

"Sedgefield's five-year fatal and long term injury rate is in line with the national average, although the last 12 months is in excess of that.

"Our Racecourse and Equine Welfare departments are therefore looking into the circumstances of each fatality and will work closely with the RSPCA's equine consultant, David Muir, to establish if there is any common cause or problem with Sedgefield."

The investigation comes after charity, Animal Aid, highlighted Sedgefield's death rate last month as part of its Race Horse Death Watch campaign.

Campaigners were at the gates protesting when the 12th horse, Star of the Desert, died last Tuesday.

Dene Stansall, Animal Aid's horseracing consultant, has welcomed the investigation.

He said: "We realise horse racing will never be banned but what we want to see is these details of the deaths made public.

"Most people think of horses just dying in the Grand National but have no idea about how many die on provincial courses."

Charlie Moore, clerk of the course at Sedgefield, said: "Every racecourse is passed fit for racing on each race day under the auspices of both the clerk of the course and the Horseracing Regulatory Authority.

"Occasionally, and despite a total commitment to safety, incidents may occur.

"This does not reflect upon the racecourse's commitment toward or its ability to stage, horse racing in anything other than as safe an environment as possible."