That's gotta hurt

I can't reproduce the photo of the accident here; so have a photo of a racehorse in training.

When photographers head off to cover conflict and natural disaster, there's an understanding that what they do carries high risks. They know that there's a chance that they might get hurt themselves, or that, terribly, they might not come back at all. Sports photographers don't necessarily set out to shoot a day's football match, swim meet, or in Jean-Charles Briens' case, the Cheltenham Festival, anticipating injury. But sometimes it does happen.

The generally sleepy Gloucestershire town of Cheltenham is currently hosting its annual four day National Hunt Festival. (That's the one when horses jump over monstrous fences.) The cream of British and Irish racing have gathered to watch their superstars compete, and with any luck their heroes take the spoils, as well as drink a moderately-sized lake of Guinness. It's a big deal, and it gets lots of coverage, which is just why Jean-Charles Briens was there, and it's something that he's been doing for years.

He was standing amongst a group of photographers close to the final fence, behind the rail. Wishful Thinking, ridden by Richard Johnson, didn't jump it cleanly, took an almighty tumble, and crashed through the railings. Johnson was catapaulted into the crowd; Briens was hit by the flailing horse and his camera smashed up into his face. There was a lot of blood, screaming, and confusion.

Johnson suffered severe soft tissue damage and was stood down for the remainder of the card. He has to pass a medical to ride again tomorrow. Briens, though, was taken to hospital with severe facial injuries. We wish both of them well. As for Wishful Thinking, the horse, he was entirely fine.

Yes, these photographers are close to the action and racehorses are heavy (about half a ton) and move at speed (40mph when flat out, 25mph at a steady gallop), so there are risks. Of course there are. But this is the sort of freak accident that no one anticipates. It's all part of the game.

Headsup to the incomparable Clare Balding and to the Racing Post for further details. (You can also see a photo of what happened on the Racing Post. I can't reproduce here for copyright reasons. The Daily Telegraph also has this one, showing the horse coming down.)