Racing boss defends Grand National safety changes

Paul Bittar
Paul Bittar

The head of British racing has defended safety improvements in the wake of two Grand National deaths, saying the decade since 2000 had been the safest in the long history of the race.

British Horseracing Authority chief executive Paul Bittar was commenting following the 2012 race, which claimed the lives of Synchronised and According To Pete, following falls at the notorious Becher’s Brook jump.

Their deaths follow those of two horses, Dooneys Gate and Ornais, in the 2011 running of the race at Aintree.

Bittar said the authority published the findings from a comprehensive and detailed review of all elements of the Grand National last November.

“At this stage, we believe it would be premature to suggest that modifications to the course and other changes have not been effective or will not yet prove to be effective,” he said.

“Since the Review and the implementation of changes, four races have been held over the course without incident prior to [the] running of the Grand National.

“We are reasonably advanced in the process of examining the incidents which led to Synchronised and According To Pete being put down.

“While that process still needs to be completed, it is relevant to point out that although both horses lost their riders jumping Becher’s Brook, Synchronised galloped away from the fence seemingly without injury and then subsequently incurred a fracture to a hind leg when jumping riderless, while According To Pete was brought down by another horse on the second circuit.”

Bittar said the authority would be collating all the relevant information and data from this year’s Grand National meeting so that it can be reviewed in conjunction with the statistics and findings of the review.

“Initiatives such as speed sensing on the runners in races over the Grand National course will enable the authority and Aintree to make informed decisions based on factual evidence in our efforts to minimise risk where possible.

“The evidence indicates that the changes and improvements in safety made over the years have led to an overall decrease in injury and fatalities, both on the Grand National course and racing in general.

“It is important these matters be judged over a period of time,” he said.

“The decade since 2000 was the safest on record for the Grand National with a fatality rate of 1.5 per cent, compared to 3.3 per cent at the start of the 1990s.

“Sadly, there have been two fatalities in each of the last two runnings of the race.

“Naturally our objective is for there to be no fatalities, but we also recognise that we cannot remove risk altogether from such a competitive activity.

“The Grand National is a unique race and it represents a unique challenge for the sport and for its regulation. It is a thrilling spectacle, but there is a higher degree of risk involved in the Grand National than other races and for this reason everyone in the sport needs to be conscious of how the race is presented to the public, the general consumer perception and their views of how the race is run.

“This is an event that generates huge public interest and has a global audience of more than half a billion people. We’ve seen record crowds of over 150,000 in attendance at Aintree this week, following on from record numbers through the gates to British Racecourses in 2011.

“All of this suggests that British racing is doing many things right in the eyes of the consumer. It is critically important to us that the good work being done in racing is not overshadowed by yesterday’s events, and that racing continues to work collectively to develop and maintain this progress.

“In this context, we will be working with Aintree and its owners The Jockey Club, along with other groups in the sport, to find the right balance which enables us to maintain the highest standards of safety for our horses and participants and to promote the sport to the widest possible audience.”

Meanwhile, the director of equine science and welfare for the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), Professor Tim Morris, confirmed that leg breaks resulted in the need to euthanise Cheltenham Cup winner Synchronised and According To Pete.

“The Grand National undoubtedly represents a challenge to both horse and rider,” he said.

“It has inherent risks, but, working closely with Aintree and other stakeholders, we do all we can to minimise these risks while maintaining the unique character of the race.

“We will examine closely the circumstances which led to both incidents.”

He continued: “The BHA takes its responsibility of looking after the welfare of horse and rider very seriously. We consult and work with recognised welfare organisations such as the RSPCA, SSPCA and World Horse Welfare. It is our stated objective to continue to reduce the number of injuries and fatalities which occur in racing.”

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