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Industry chiefs will meet tomorrow to discuss a Panorama investigation which looked into how certain racehorses are treated when they retire.

The Dark Side of Horse Racing, which aired on BBC One this evening, claimed at least 4,000 racehorses were slaughtered in abattoirs from the start of 2019 until the end of 2020.

The programme began with an image of trainer Gordon Elliott sitting astride the carcass of racehorse Morgan, a photo which saw him banned from the sport until September.

It included footage of racehorses being transported 350 miles from Ireland to the UK to be killed.

Dual Cheltenham winner Vyta Du Roc, who took the Grade 2 Reynoldstown Novices' Chase in 2016, was among them.

"The BBC’s Panorama programme has tonight broadcast pictures which, it suggests, show horses, including former racehorses, being euthanised in circumstances which may have harmed their welfare. They also reported that some of the horses had been transported from Ireland to a British abattoir," the British Horseracing Authority said in a statement.

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"No-one in racing, and no one who loves horses, wants to see them caused distress or suffering at the end of their lives. If there has been a departure from approved abattoir practices and the welfare of the horses involved has been compromised, it is important this is addressed as a matter of urgency.

"This includes transporting horses over long distances to an abattoir, especially if these have injuries, which is not acceptable under the British racing industry’s guidelines for euthanasia.

"The Food Standards Agency, which regulates abattoirs, is responsible for maintaining standards of animal welfare. We would support them if they decide there is evidence of mistreatment of animals which requires investigation, given the public concern that may arise from this programme."

Mary Frances from the Moorcroft Rehabilitation Centre spoke about horses coming into her care with injuries, that may be costly to treat.

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The chair of racing's Horse Welfare Board, Barry Johnson, told the Racing Post that work was being undertaken in that area.

"We need to have better traceability and we're striving very hard to get that. We need to tighten up on our aftercare funding and we've done a report on that," he said.

"Now we need to bring forward the changes necessary, to apply to the lifetime of the horse."

The BHA says its 2020 strategy set out its wider approach to equine welfare, which the programme did not cover.

The statement added that "significant steps" have been taken since, which include recommendations for the funding of the aftercare sector, the introduction of euthanasia guidelines to assist owners and vets faced with painful end-of-life dilemmas and greater use of digital passports for tracking cross-border horse movements.

Vyta Du Roc won twice at Cheltenham
(Image: Getty)

Racing professionals were split in their opinion of the broadcast, which was half-an-hour long and backed by Animal Aid.

Trainer Fergal O'Brien tweeted: "To be honest, that wasn’t quite what we expected. And it’s certainly not what we do. But it’s obviously happening. And it has to stop. We are better than this."

Christian Leech, who also has a successful stable of racehorses with his wife Sophie, commented: "Total lack of balance in a 30 min documentary @BBCPanorama to vilify an entire industry. We spit on the people responsible for these atrocities, they don’t represent the industry we know. Of the 1000 plus horses we’ve trained, not one has been put down that could have been saved."

Others voiced their sadness at the loss of Vyta Du Roc, having seen him race at Grade 1 tracks.

One fan said: "Cracking horse who deserved far better treatment."