A RACECOURSE in the North-East has regained its reputation as one of Britain's deadliest after three racehorses were injured on Monday and had to be destroyed.

Sedgefield Racecourse has come under renewed scrutiny from Animal Aid after the charity recorded the County Durham course's 33rd equine fatality since March 2007.

Cheltenham Racecourse, in Gloucestershire, also has 33 confirmed equine fatalities in that time and the two courses top a list of Britain's most lethal. Dene Stansall, a horse racing consultant for Animal Aid, has called for Sedgefield to be shut down and the introduction of industry-wide independent regulation.

Mr Stansall spoke out yesterday, as the Royal Ascot meeting, one of the industry's biggest events, got underway.

He said: "Sedgefield's record of race horse deaths is second to none.

"There is only one logical course of action to stop further horse deaths, and that is to shut the place down."

Mr Stanshall speculated the falls were caused because of firm ground and cited RSPCA recommendations that Sedgefield should not hold racing when the going is good to firm.

RSPCA racing consultant, David Muir, said it was too early to say what caused the falls but he expected a "thoroughly professional" response from Sedgefield Racecourse.

In Monday's 4.30pm handicap chase, nine-year-old gelding, Best Horse, and 10-year-old Troodos Jet both fell at the fifth fence and broke their necks within seconds of each other. Half an hour later, in the handicap hurdle, Provost fell and was fatally injured. Mr Muir said: "I've looked at the videos over and over again and it looks like two of them just overran and went over.

"The third fell when it was landing after a hurdle and we'll have to look at the going on that landing zone."

In March, 2008, Sedgefield was named as Britain's most lethal racecourse but after installing new irrigation systems at landing zones its reputation was starting to recover until it was hit with six equine deaths in as many weeks.

Charlie Moore, clerk of the course, said: "In 2008 we did a full review following concerns expressed by Animal Aid and we have, since then, not encountered any particular problems with equine fatalities.

"For some unexplained reason we have just had what I can only describe as a bit as a blip.

"We are, however, desperately sorry for not only the horses but everyone who was involved with them and we will continue to monitor the situation."