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4 September 2014, 16:02 | Updated: 4 September 2014, 16:10
The County Durham owner of a winning horse which needed 90 stitches to a knife wound branded whoever attacked him ''sick''.
Tommy, a six-year-old, who takes part in harness racing, was slashed deeply in his neck in his field beside his owners' home in Haswell overnight.
A vet estimated the wound was four inches deep and almost a foot long, and police believed a butcher's knife may have been used.
Owner Alison Cook, 42, was devastated by the attack, which came the day after she started counselling after losing her son Marc to leukaemia two years ago.
Ms Cook said: ''Whoever did this is absolutely sick. If someone has something against me or my family they should say so, and not take it out on a defenceless animal. ''Tommy is so placid natured he would have stood there and let them do it to him.''
Ms Cook called police after she went to the field to feed Tommy on Thursday morning and found his wound still bleeding. He was due to start an intensive training period ahead of the harness racing season. He had recently done well on the circuit, having won nine of his last 12 races.
Ms Cook, who lives with her 41-year-old partner Andrew Blench, said: ''Tommy is really my daughter's horse. Megan is 16 and she is heart-broken. ''He was in bad condition when we got him four years ago, we have spent a lot of money on him and given him a lot of love. He has gone from nothing to one of the top horses.''
Pc Kevin Woodcock, who is based in Seaham, said he had never come across anything so barbaric in his 20-plus years in police service. He said: ''The wound was horrendous and could not have been the result of an accident. ''We suspect something like a butcher's knife may have been used. ''If anyone has any suspicions as to who was responsible, I would urge them to contact the police or the independent charity Crimestoppers.''