Grand National called ‘mob entertainment’ after deaths

© RacingKel

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.


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7 thoughts on “Grand National called ‘mob entertainment’ after deaths

  • April 15, 2012 at 9:38 am

    Another sensationalist piece of journalism and more do gooders making statements without any real grasp of the facts. 1. The accident to According to Pete could have happened anywhere racing, he was obstructed by another faller who got up unharmed. 2. If Synchronised had been forced into doing something he hated, he would hardly have got up, jockeyless, and jumped another two fences after which he broke down. Again that could have happened anywhere, at any track or horse trials or anyplace a horse gets free and does what it likes. 2. Before all the cries for safety and the incessant meddling with the course, yes there were some fatalities but not every yearand not in the quantities they are now. Of course most horse people will understand that making fences smaller does not make them safer in this particular environment as then there is nothing to back the horses off, they go faster and there is only a limited amount the jocks can do about it. There were some aspects that needed fixing, the downwards slope into beechers brook for example, meant even horses that umped it well could be caught out unfairly and so it was right they changed it. But some of the other meddling? Well the fatalities are getting worse not better. So perhaps the righteous would like to explain that?

    • April 15, 2012 at 8:02 pm

      Totally agree.I walked the course about 2 weeks ago and was immediately struck by how much it has changed since the previous course walk about 25 years ago. It struck me that the speed the horses run at over the 1st few fences would INCREASE.Big fences make most horses back off. What happened to “hunting” the 1st circuit and racing the 2nd? (that said Neptune was all but last over the 1st fence, sensible horse and jockey with brakes?) The great improvement to the course took place some time ago whereby loose horses could easily find a way off the course. The rest of the “modifications” I don’t think have done anything but make matters worse. If it was the classiest field to ever run in the race then why did so few even get round the 1st circuit? I have watched The National for over 50 years and despite picking the winner I did NOT enjoy watching this year’s National with history repeating itself a la Alverton. I am NOT a once a year NH fan but with the course changes there is now an air of inevitability that disasters will happen.Yet another situation whereby the do gooders have done more harm than good.

    • May 22, 2014 at 4:44 pm

      Another sensationalist piece of journalism? What is so sensationalist about horses dying and being euthanized? That would be condemned as tragic, cruel and unacceptable in civilized societies.

  • April 15, 2012 at 7:02 pm

    A balanced piece of journalism as opposed to the comment above. I remain unsure of just what or who is a horse person but I know I respect animals enough not to try to justify an event for whatever reason has resulted in two further fatalities. Accidents do happen, and accepted that this goes beyond this one event but the point is – why is it acceptable to continue a race which increases the risk of and regularly leads to death directly as a result of the course itself unlike say a sportsperson suffering an internal medical condition?

  • April 15, 2012 at 7:51 pm

    I absolutely agree.
    Bigger fences actually DO back a horse up, and makes them go “Oh gosh, that’s a big jump” and so they truly jump it, instead of scrambling over it because they didn’t think it was big enough to worry about…
    Another problem I see is that there are far, far more horses running in any given steeplechase than in a flat race, which is very backwards considering the histronics that the well-meaning but not overly rational welfare groups are having. Surely with smaller groups of horses they could space out a bit more and avoid crashes?
    The other pressing issue is that jockeys are NOT riders. They only ride to go fast and win, but often to not have the ability to say “Listen horse, jump that fence and do it cleanly” without stressing the horses out and making the situation worse than what it could have been. If jockeys who ride steeplechasers were made to take a riding (showjumping-type or a specialised class)course or at least taught a defensive seat to use in troublesome rides I think that steeplechase races would be made a lot safer.
    I really like watching steeplechases as long as nobody or their horses gets hurt. I was pretty heartbroken when I found out that they weren’t doing the shetland steeplechase at HOY this year, actually 😛

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