It won't be animal-welfare lobbyists that change the Grand National. It needs the wider public too

The recent changes to the infamous steeplechase will not stop the rise in horse mortalities

Share
Related Topics

Channel 4 “relishes the challenge” of presenting the highly controversial Grand National now it has acquired the rights from the BBC. This announcement comes hot-on-the-heels of animal welfare organisations accusing Aintree and the British Horseracing Authority of not going far enough in their proposed improvements to the deadly spectacle.

I am one of those who believe that the measures taken by Aintree in line with their “ongoing commitment to safety and welfare” refer to anyone but the horses. With all this talk of no-go zones, capture pens, levelling and hard-core fencing the Grand National resembles a battleground more than ever before.

It is difficult to improve safety in an overcrowded field and at the same time maintain the same number of runners. Likewise, it is meaningless to commit to safer fence designs without adjusting the most lethal jump of them all, Beechers Brook. These are two key hazards which have played a significant role in the deaths of many horses over the years. Yet both are to persist without any modification despite urgent calls from the nation’s leading equine welfare specialists.

The Grand National is among the most famous steeplechases in the world. It has already cost the lives of 36 horses, with many more injured, and the death rate is only getting worse. Synchronised and According To Pete died in last year’s National, the second year running two horses have been killed in the race. The review of the 2012 Grand National presented an opportunity to prevent such deaths occurring again in the future. Instead, it looks to me as if the chance was blown – and fatalities are set to continue as a routine part of this public debacle. 

If an ‘extensive’ review by the industry’s regulatory authority fails to address the fundamental risks that have made the event so lethal in the past, is there any point in having such a review in the first place? I am sure that one of the main reasons for the authorities’ unwillingness to alter the race lies in a fear of jeopardising the “entertainment value” that makes the Grand National the event with the highest betting turnover of the year

However, if we are serious about achieving meaningful improvements for the welfare of these animals and setting high standards of equestrian safety to the rest of the world I can’t help feeling the horses would be better off, in the long term, if no changes are made to the 2013 race.

As these cruel deaths continue, public support for this infamous race might well drop off, and this could hurt the betting turnover. Only then, will the authorities be inclined to make real modifications that rein in carnage on the racecourse to “ensure the Grand National remains the world's greatest steeplechase”.

No matter how grand and ceremonial, a review that merely tinkers with the course minutiae every few years will achieve very little for the well-being and safety of the horses at stake. It is unlikely to save their lives. When the World Horse Welfare comes out with statements like it “welcomes these changes” it is letting the horses down and serves to reinforce established risks that are instrumental in causing tragic, often fatal, injuries. And this deadly annual custom is perpetuated.

If we are to succeed in bringing about an end to unnecessary animal exploitation the answer is to stop playing the welfare card. The horse racing industry won’t capitulate to pressures of animal welfare lobbying – it needs the wider public to join in too until it hits them where it hurts.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: In House Counsel - Contracts

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading supplier of compliance software a...

Recruitment Genius: Associate System Engineer

£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Associate System Engineer r...

Recruitment Genius: Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Executive Assistant is required to join a l...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Zoe Sugg, aka Zoella, with her boyfriend, fellow vlogger Alfie Deyes  

If children are obese then blame food manufacturers, not Zoella

Jane Merrick
Amos Yee arrives with his father at the State courts in Singapore on March 31  

Singapore's arrest of a 16-year-old YouTuber is all you need to know about Lee Kuan Yew's legacy

Noah Sin
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat