Spring time brings with it one of Britain’s best loved, most thrilling sporting fixtures – the Grand National, writes Susann Brown.
Even non-gambling folk have the perfect excuse to have a flutter or two on this world-famous race, which typically attracts around 600m television viewers world-wide.
The Grand National makes a huge impact on the British economy. The racing industry as a whole contributes in the region of £4b per annum, supporting approximately 20,000 direct and 70,000 indirect jobs, a fact surely deserving due respect.
But there is a price to pay for the thrills and spills of this fast-moving race which has seen the demise of 20 horses since 2000. Last year, Ornais died from a broken neck, and moments later at the famous Bechers Brook, Dooney’s Gate suffered a broken back. There was also public outrage over the fact that the winner, Ballabriggs, was excessively whipped on its way to the winning post, after which it was in a state of near collapse.
After the Secretary of State for Culture and Sports Secretary, Jeremy Hunt responded to a public outcry and said the Grand National must be made safer, the British Horseracing Authority (BHSA) ordered an investigation in conjunction with the RSPCA as to whether safety should be tightened up at Liverpool’s Aintree. This resulted in the introduction of 30 recommendations in total, including four to the course itself, a minimum age of seven for eligible horses and a more stringent qualification process.
But some critics say the changes have merely served to make the course faster, and that speed is the ultimate danger. Others fear that too many safety measures will mark this historic, challenging race as “ordinary”.
Animal lovers are justifyably concerned and active campaigners have called for the Grand National to be banned, drawing comparisons with Spanish bullfighting.
Andrew Tyler, who is Director of Animal Aid, said that deaths are not accidents, but “entirely predictable” and labelled the Grand National as “straightforward animal abuse.”
The Grand Liverpool Steeplechase, which became the Grand National can trace its history back to 1839 with ‘Lottery’ as the first ever winner. The race then had a different set of challenges which included a jump over a stone wall, crossing a stretch of ploughed land and finishing over two hurdles.
We have a national treasure - something some are fighting hard to preserve while others campaign passionately against it. The race, the racing industry and the equine inudstry is of enormous benefit to our economy, but should this race proceed?
Personally, I have seen horses killed on the flat, never mind over these awesome fences, so on the day - no, I won’t be watching.