Royal Ascot introduces 'several major changes' to 'improve' welfare standards for horses and jockeys

Ascot racecourse from above. Credit: ITV Meridian

Horses running at Royal Ascot will be subject to 'enhanced' pre-race examinations for the first time, as the site continues to work to improve welfare standards.

Following successful trials at Newbury and Goodwood in May, horses will now go through a cardiac assessment and thorough examination of their musculoskeletal system, before they are allowed to compete.

It's hoped that the process will ensure that all horses are in the 'best possible condition' before they race.

The decision forms part of efforts to better improve the welfare of both horses and jockeys taking part in the event, and will reduce 'avoidable risk' and add an extra 'layer of protection'.

Royal Ascot is considered the biggest horse racing event in Europe Credit: ITV Meridian

Vets will work with trainers to evaluate horses and address any questions about the suitability to race.

Five specifically qualified equine vets are on duty every day at Royal Ascot, dedicated to the welfare of all the horses, the site says.

There are also three equine ambulances on course at all times and three ambulances for any incidents involving injuries to jockeys.

Chris Stickels, Head of Racing and Clerk of the Course at Ascot Racecourse, said: “The introduction of enhanced pre-race examinations during Royal Ascot is another important step in our continued commitment to improving equine welfare in our sport.

"The investment we have made in this area will help us to ensure that all horses are in the best possible condition before running during the week.”

James Given, Director of Equine Regulation, Safety and Welfare at the BHA, said: “British racing is rightly proud of the standards of care that racehorses experience and this enhanced process is another example of the whole industry, including horsemen, racecourses and regulator, all working together as we constantly strive for further improvements to racehorse safety and welfare.”

The King arrives at Royal Ascot Credit: David Davies/PA

Despite the introduction of the new measures, the sport continues to face criticism from some animal rights groups.

Animal Rising previously threatened to disrupt Royal Ascot unless British Racing agreed to take part in a debate about the 'morals of horse racing', it has called for national conversation on 'our relationship with animals'.

Others, such as Animal Aid, say Horse Racing is 'ruthless' - a claim refuted by the British Horse Racing Authority.

The RSPCA, Britain's leading animal charity, says it is continuously working with the industry to better the welfare of racehorses and will work to bring about as much change as possible.

It says over the last 30 years major changes have taken place in the industry, which have made it safer for horses.

The charity says: "No horse death is ever justifiable; we do our utmost to be involved in preventing any fatalities...

"The changes over the last few years are something we're proud of, and we want to reassure our supporters and all animal lovers that we'll never stop working to improve the welfare of race horses in this country."