OFFICIALS have ordered a reduction in the number of runners at a racecourse that was branded the UK's most lethal.

The British Horseracing Authority's (BHA) report on Sedgefield Racecourse came after 12 horses died there in the 12 months to March 25.

It found no common factor and said the course was not unsafe, but observed that seven deaths were novices and eight were on good to firm ground.

However, the BHA called for a reduction in the field size and welcomed Sedgefield's ongoing irrigation upgrade.

The number of runners permitted in a novice chase is now down from 15 to 12, the non-novice chase is down 14 to 12, and non-novice hurdles is down 15 to 14.

Dene Stanshall, a horseracing consultant for the charity Animal Aid, whose campaigning prompted the investigation, welcomed the move.

He said: "It is a step in the right direction. Any changes must be welcomed, no matter how small, but I think these changes are basic changes that could have been made a long time ago.

"No doubt a few horses' lives will be saved, but they could have gone a lot further."

Animal Aid recorded the 12 Sedgefield deaths on its website, horse

By comparison, nine were recorded at Cheltenham, three at Aintree, two at Newcastle and one at Catterick, North Yorkshire.

The RSPCA conducted its own investigation and recommended jump racing on good to firm ground be banned at Sedgefield.

The BHA observed that the course's fence rebuilding programme was in line with other courses and that hurdles are occasionally moved "within the context of a narrow track".

A Sedgefield Racecourse spokesman said last night they were aware of the findings in the report.

He said: "We are continuing to work with all the relevant authorities, making ongoing investments in facilities and infrastructure to provide as safe a racecourse as possible for horses, jockeys and all racegoers.

"The circumstances of every faller, not just each injury or fatality, are always investigated fully."

The BHA said that traditionally Sedgefield's fall rate had been low and that the course would be kept under review.

Racing report - Page 42