The biggest day in the bookmakers’ year is finally here, it’s Grand National day at Aintree and members of the public will put bets on that don’t have a flutter for the rest of the year – like me. Some will decide based on a name that connects to them, others will look at the odds and pretend they understand prices coming in and going out again, some may have put names in a hat or are part of a sweepstake and then there are those who choose by the jockey’s colours.
More and more the spotlight is not on the build up or the actual race, but on the horses that have died – four in the last two years. Many are starting to question the point of the race and not just animal rights groups. Even though changes were made to the course last year two horses still didn’t make it, so is it cruel or just sport?
With up to forty horses racing round the track at a time there will be accidents and over the years the safety record has improved. Even the RSPCA are quoted as saying “In all honesty they have done more than I thought they would. Fundamentally the changes that have been made are major already. They’ve taken the cores of the fences out, there is a cooling down area now, there’s a water system and there’s a reduction in the number of drop fences – we’d still like to see changes to Beecher’s Brook, the drop is still a concern.” (source BBC Website)
There is also the fact that this specific race is under the spotlight as it is the ultimate “People’s race” as form books don’t count for much and even a random punter like myself has as much chance of picking the winner as someone who knows the form. If you look at the wider view of the sport in 2013 already there have been twenty-eight horses killed in races already – including two at Aintree already this week.
I always think that one of the best defences for the race comes from those that know the horses best. They talk about the fact that a horse will refuse rather than jump if it doesn’t want to go, also there are always the horses who get rid of their riders at some point and still rally round the course unmanned just for the joy of it. Yes there will always be questions and concerns about safety as there are in Boxing, Formula 1, Football and Rugby – but I suppose the difference for the wider public here is the animals involved.
We’ve seen with the impact the horse meat scandal has had in the last few months just how highly we hold these animals in our hearts and our culture. We’ve ridden into battle on them, they’ve worked on farms and across the land for centuries, and little girls want to have their own pony – these are things that show just how important and part of the British way of life they are. But so is horse racing.
However I do wonder what would happen if it were a jockey killed at the National. JT McNamara was paralysed at Cheltenham just last month when his horse fell on top of him and you know that the headlines would be very different if it were to be a human rather than equine fatality.
Should it go ahead? Let’s leave those kinds of decisions to the experts shall we – everyone is allowed an opinion, but with racing experts, RSPCA and other animal welfare groups, jockeys, owners, the horses and the punters all involved I think there are enough safeguards in place to ensure it is as safe as it can be. (There are not many sports where an ambulance follows you round) If removed all dangerous elements from sport it would cease to be sport as we know it and no-one would be interested. Safety first, entertainment second and as long as that is the mantra gets your bets on and enjoy.