Make the Grand National safer but not easier
Every year 600 million people worldwide gasp, scream and cheer as the world's most famous and controversial horse race takes place at Aintree. The John Smith's Grand National captures minds and hearts and every year a staggering £300 million is wagered on this race.
Neptune Collonges can count himself among racing's greats following his win
And it's worth asking why? It appeals to the general public who might not watch another event for the rest of the year but it's also held in high esteem but trainers owners and jockeys. And the reason is that winning such a difficult race is an achievement that everyone can admire
Now the challenge of the race is not because it is dangerous. But it is hard to imagine a contest that tested rider and mount to their absolute limit without an element of risk.
However, of the 40 horses and jockeys that start the Grand National each year, usually less than half reach the finish line, and tragically this sometimes results horse fatalities. The two deaths during Saturday's race send the strongest possible message that things need to change.
Thankfully the extreme calls for some kind of ban are getting the attention they deserve. But if the toll continues, they will become louder and louder.
One way to address the issue is to continue the process of improving the course, as advocated forcefully by the RSPCA.
The group's equine consultant, David Muir, believes that a horseracing ban would be the wrong route to follow. "I don't want a knee-jerk reaction, I want common sense," he said. "I don't like the predictability of the event, but we will never take the risk element out of racing." Instead he's calling for changes to the jumps, in particular Becher's Brook, the obstacle at which the race ended for both of this year's fatalities.
Over the course of its 173 years, the Grand National has been vastly altered in the interests of welfare. Compared to the original race, which was first run in 1839 and featured a 4ft 8 stone wall, today's 30 obstacles seem almost soft. The authorities made significant changes in 2012 but unfortunately have failed to tackle the problem.
Undoubtedly there is room for further adjustments to certain fences, as the British Horseracing Authority's inquiry is likely to find. But to keep the race's integrity, there is a limit to how far they can go. The course's difficulty of jumps and exhausting distance are what have earned its international reputation and dumbing down cannot be the answer.
Instead, the answer lies in the size of the field. Forty horses are too many and fewer runners would boost safety as both horse and rider would have more space and a clearer view.
The changes will have a cost - a smaller field means more punters will pick a winner and bookies are likely to suffer. But the cost of continuing with the status quo will be measured in the deaths of horses and possibly even jockeys as well as a disengagement of the public at large. Clare Balding put the point succinctly on Twitter: "There are too many runners in the Grand National. When the fields were smaller, horses had room to land."
Alterations to the course have already made the race safer. As Paul Bittar, chief executive of the British Horseracing Authority, points out: "The decade since 2000 was the safest on record for the Grand National with a fatality rate of 1.5% compared to 3.3% at the start of the 1990's."
And there is an acceptable level of risk, but the weekend's events suggest we have not yet reached it. To protect animals and riders, while maintaining the prestige and excitement that makes National day special, fewer horses must run.
Simple ,leave the horses home and just let the jockeys run round on their own,with a whip and a pair of steps for the jumps
Racehorses are beautiful animals and I, like so many others, love watching them race but if 'get a life' Paul Nicholls and others, who make an exalted living from racing, cannot see that there is a huge problem with the Grand National (in its present form), then it is up to 'joe public' to speak out and ignore the crocodile tears of those who are tied to the glory, the fame and the money.
Horses (and jockeys) in normal races make mistakes but they have room to try and manage the situation and have been known to fall, recover and in some cases go on to finish the race, and even win (no longer allowed).
This (even if it were allowed) could not happen in the National, where you sometimes see several horses falling at the same time.
My advice is to 'grow up', 'get a life' and put your back into protecting those lovely animals that keep so many in such comfort.
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