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LONDON (Reuters) – The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) is to investigate the deaths of five horses at this week’s Cheltenham Festival as well as whether existing penalties for misuse of the whip are an effective deterrent to jockeys.

Jamie Stier, the BHA’s chief regulatory officer, expressed sympathy for all those who had cared for the horses.

“Everyone who follows this sport does so because we love these fine animals and it is extremely sad when we lose any horse,” he said in a statement.

“The BHA will be reviewing the circumstances leading to the fatalities at the Cheltenham Festival. We will examine the evidence from the past week over the next few days before deciding how we will pursue the review.”

Three horses — Sandsend, Dresden and North Hill Harvey — died in races on Friday, the flagship Gold Cup day.

The latter two died of pelvic and back injuries in the Grand Annual while Willie Mullins-trained Sandsend broke a leg in the Country Hurdle while racing for the finish, with jockey Katie Walsh thrown into the railings.

Mossback was put down on Tuesday following a fall and Report to Base died on the same day.

“We continue to use research, safety measures, regulation and education to reduce fatality rates to as close to zero as possible,” Stier said.

“This is what has contributed to the overall fatality rate within British racing reducing by a third in the last 20 years, and the fatality rate in Jump racing reducing to below 0.4 percent of runners.”

Richard Johnson, who rode Native River to Gold Cup victory on Friday, was fined 6,550 pounds ($9,000) by stewards after the race and handed a seven-day ban for misuse of the whip.

Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ed Osmond

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