Dressed in dark, Victorian-style gothic robes, Fiona Periera cut a haunting figure at Warwick racecourse yesterday.

Representing the "spectre of death", the Animal Aid campaigner - whose hat featured a racehorse tumbling over a hurdle - was drawing attention to the hundreds of equine fatalities that occur in the sport every year.

The activist group claims on top of the deaths that occur during or after a race, many horses die from injuries received in training and believe some are killed because they are no longer considered to be profitable.

Campaigner, Dene Stansall, said: "The horse racing industry deliberately conceals the horrific truth from the public.

"If people knew about the death and exploitation that goes on behind the scenes all betting shops would go out of business."

A spokesman for the Horse Racing Regulatory Authority, Paul Struthers, said: "We are polar opposites, Animal Aid think horse racing is cruel and we don’t. However, more importantly, the RSPCA and the International League for the Protection of Horses also don’t think horse racing is cruel.

"We work very closely with both organisations to ensure the risks to horses are minimised and do our best to protect these animals.

"The vast majority of Animal Aid’s claims are foundless and through their campaign they simply play on people’s emotions to get results."