The Grand National at Aintree has been labelled the worst kind of mob entertainment by Animal Aid following the deaths of two horses in the gruelling jumps race.
The infamous Becher’s Brook jump proved the downfall of Synchronised and According To Pete. Synchronised was the Gold Cup winner at Cheltenham last month. Synchronised did not appear to have suffered a serious injury after getting up after his fall, but broke down while running loose. He was euthanised shortly afterwards.
The outsider Neptune Collonges, at odds of 33 to 1, won the race in a photo-finish over Sunnyhillboy.
The two fatalities follow two during last year’s running of the race. Dooneys Gate and Ornais suffered fatal injuries in last year’s race. Last year’s field bypassed Becher’s Brook on the second circuit of the track because of stricken horses in their path.
Animal Aid director Andrew Tyler described the race, considered the most gruelling jumps race in the world, a disgusting and shameful spectacle masquerading as sport.
“There is nothing sporting about an event that routinely kills so many horses,” he said.
“It is quite simply the worst kind of mob entertainment. For anyone who genuinely cares about horses, watching this race was an utterly depressing and melancholy experience.”
Tyler said the deaths brought the horse toll for the the three-day Aintree meeting to three, with the death of Gottany O’S in a hurdles race on the first day.
Animal Aid revealed last month it had written to the BBC demanding it report fully and promptly on any horse deaths should they occur during the meeting.
“As in previous years,” Animal Aid noted, “the BBC commentary team, in the midst of today’s carnage, remained breezy and upbeat.”
Other animal welfare groups were moved to comment on the deaths, with the British RSPCA saying the risks to the horses in the current race format are inappropriate.
Britain’s national media also weighed in, with The Telegraph describing it as a day of drama and despair. The Guardian reported that the deaths overshadowed the running of the race.
The tabloid Sun headlined its coverage with “National Tragedy”, in reference to Synchronised’s death.
SPCA chief executive Gavin Grant said: “The death of two horses at the Grand National, bringing the total to three at the Aintree meeting, is totally unacceptable.
“This is the second year running that two horses have died.
“In its current format, the risks to horses are not appropriate and we want an urgent examination of the Grand National, including a number of fences including Becher’s Brook where horses are continuing to die despite safety improvements.
“It would appear the whip was overused in the final stages of the race,” Grant said.
“If that is the case it is totally unacceptable and given the narrow margin of the win I believe the result should be reversed.”
British-based international charity World Horse Welfare said it would be asking questions about the deaths.
Chief executive Roly Owers said: “The deaths of Synchronised and According to Pete are a terrible tragedy and our thoughts go out to everyone connected with these horses who will clearly be devastated.
“Over the coming days it will be important to establish the facts. There is no doubt that questions need to be asked and that is exactly what we’ll be doing.
“We won’t know what if any changes will need to be made until we know the exact circumstances of their falls. It’s hugely important to us that everything possible is being done to protect the safety of the horses and riders.
“No race, especially the Grand National, can be without risks but there is a balance between acceptable and unacceptable risk and we need to strive to get that balance right.”
Aintree Racecourse’s managing director Julian Thick said: “We are desperately sad at these two accidents and our sympathies are with the connections of both horses.
“When a horse gets hurt, everyone is deeply upset. Safety is the first priority for the organisers of the Grand National and we make every effort to ensure that everyone involved in the event is able to participate in safety.
“Horse racing is a sport that is very carefully regulated and monitored by the British Horseracing Authority, but risk can never be completely removed.
“All horses and riders in the Grand National have to meet very high standards set by an independent panel of experts. The Grand National is a professional and well-organised race. Only the best horses and the best jockeys are allowed to enter.”
Thick said further significant changes had been made to the course since last year’s Grand National and four races had been run over the course without serious incident since then.
“After today, we will, as always, be looking at all aspects of this year’s race to see how we can improve safety further.
“We work closely with animal welfare organisations, such as the RSPCA and World Horse Welfare to make sure we are up to date with the latest thinking and research regarding welfare and safety.”
Only 15 out of the 40 horses who started finished the race, compared with 19 from the 2011 race.