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Walsh insists he cares for horses

ESPN staff
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Ruby Walsh cruised to victory on Faugheen on Cheltenham Festival's Ladies Day © PA Photos
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Ruby Walsh insists he cares for the horses he rides but they do not inspire the same feelings as family.

The Grand National champion jockey spoke out to defend comments he made following the death of racehorse Our Connor on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival.

Our Conor fell during the Champions Hurdle while contesting the lead with Captain Cee Bee, but Walsh played down the incident, saying "horses are horses" and "you can replace a horse".

The comments outraged animal rights campaigners, and Walsh attempted to explain himself on talkSPORT on Wednesday following his victory in the in the Novice's Hurdle on Faugheen.

Walsh had earlier paid tribute to fellow jockey JT McNamara, who was paralysed after a fall at last year's Festival and had also insisted Cheltenham was not all about winning, turning his thoughts to current British champion jockey AP McCoy, whose six-month old son recently underwent cardiac story.

"We look after horses like they're pets," the Irishman said. "There's a huge difference between your pet and your family. That's the point I was making.

"There's a big difference between you going home tonight and something's happened to your dog, and you go home tonight and something's happened to one of your kids. There's a huge difference.

"We look after horses like they are pets, and that's the feeling you get when something goes wrong. At the end of the day, it's still your pet. It isn't your son, your daughter, your brother, your sister."

Two more horses were put down following the second day at the Festival. Akdam suffered a fractured foreleg in the Handicap Hurdle, while Stack the Deck pulled up lame in the day's last race - the Champion Bumper - with a fractured left foreknee.

Despite the deaths, the British Horse Racing Authority was keen to point out an improvement in equine fatality statistics. In the past 15 years, the equine fatality rate in British racing has fallen by one-third, from 0.3% to 0.2% of runners.

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