AN animal rights group has called for a National Hunt track that has hosted horse racing for more than 230 years to be closed after four horses died at three fixtures.

Animal Aid, which campaigns against animals being used for sport or leisure, said a dramatic increase in the frequency of horse deaths at Catterick had made it Britain’s most lethal track.

The group said while there had been one horse death at the course in 2014, over the past year nine horses had been killed during 13 days of racing on the jump course at Catterick and a further death had occurred on its flat track.

The call appears to have been triggered following two horses falling at the track on Wednesday (January 27), another on January 14 and one on New Year's Day.

An spokeswoman for the group said with four jump race meetings are planned at the track in the coming weeks, authorities should immediately suspend racing there.

She added: "Animal Aid is bringing the horse deaths to light to prevent them from being swept aside as if they are of no consequence.

"For too long there has been a business as usual approach to horse deaths within racing circles.

"It is deeply irresponsible of the racecourse management and the British Horseracing Authority to continue with racing while so many horses are dying - accompanied by an official silence."

Racehorse owner Pete Nelson, of Helperby, near Thirsk, who was left devastated after his 11-year-old gelding According To Pete died in a fall at Becher's Brook in the Grand National in 2012, said he had never had any concerns over safety at Catterick and the jumps were less challenging than at Wetherby.

A spokeswoman for the racecourse said it strived to ensure that racing took place in as safe an environment as possible and this included the careful preparation of the racetrack, together with the fences and the hurdles, and the padding of any objects that may cause injuries to horse or riders.

She said: "Catterick Racecourse takes the death of any horse extremely seriously and it is thoroughly investigated.

"We are quite satisfied that the racing surface together with the hurdles and fences at jump race meetings are prepared and presented for race days to the highest possible standards.

"Injury to or the death of a horse can be caused by matters over which no one has any control."

She added the British Horseracing Authority inspected the course on a regular basis to ensure it complied with stringent standards and a safety code.