Welfare boss moves to defend Grand National

April 12, 2011

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The equine welfare boss of the British Horseracing Authority has defended the Grand National, saying much of the prompting of the media has been driven by the group, Animal Aid.

Prof Tim Morris
Professor Tim Morris was commenting following the deaths of two horses in last weekend's race. Dooneys Gate and Ornais suffered fatal injuries in a race in which 10 horses either fell or unseated their riders.

"Much of the prompting on this issue to the media has been driven by Animal Aid," Morris said.

"Animal Aid is not an animal welfare group, as many newspapers and news channels have been misinformed.

"They are an animal rights organisation against the use of animals for sport and leisure.

"As such their clearly stated agenda is to ban racing," he said, citing two interviews in which Animal Aid head Andrew Tyler admitted he wanted racing banned.

Morris continued: "If racing then didn't exist, this would have a huge impact on tens of thousands of thoroughbreds across the UK. It would effectively mean that owners and trainers wouldn't be able to look after their horses and the breed would disappear; as would a large part of British life.

"Such Animal Rights campaigners are entitled to their views, but the overwhelming majority of the British public take an animal welfare viewpoint as to how they deal responsibly with their obligations to animals kept as pets, raised for food and used in sport and leisure.

"They do not want to stop eating meat, keeping pets, riding horses or watching racing, but do want risks to animals be reduced to the minimum."

Morris noted that the Grand National was attended by over 70,000 people and watched by tens of millions, many of whom would have had a bet, or taken part in a sweepstake.

"Any one of those millions of people would undoubtedly have been very saddened by the accidents, seen clearly on television, which led to the deaths of Ornais and Dooneys Gate during the race.

"Racing is a sport with risk, and the Grand National is the most testing race in Great Britain; that is why it has captured the imagination of so many for over a century."

Racing works hard to reduce the risk, he said.

"Some risk to horses is inherent in the sport, as it is to differing degrees in the life of a horse in any environment.

"Racing is open and transparent about these risks, publishes information about equine fatalities on the Authority's website, and works to further reduce these risks.

"All those involved in racing do care for their horses. At the race itself there are more than 150 specialist staff who are completely focused on making the race as safe as possible, so there is no shortage of effort or expense in this respect."

The industry, he said, has for many years also worked closely with what he called legitimate animal welfare charities, such as the RSPCA and World Horse Welfare.

"The role of both these organisations is to be critical and raise concerns with us and, if they are not happy with the action we take, there is no doubt they would be very public about it, as anyone would expect from a legitimate animal welfare organisation."

Morris said there were two quite distinct issues involved in the Grand National.

"The first issue is how we can realistically reduce the risk in the Grand National further, and that is the job of the British Horseracing Authority, animal welfare groups and Aintree Racecourse.

"We do listen to those concerns that have been raised and will continue to strive to reduce risk, whether that is in specific relation to the Grand National or in any other race.

"The second issue is the wider ethical debate of whether it is right for humans to use animals in leisure, sport and for food. Neither of these issues is served by the emotive language and misleading information from Animal Rights campaigners."

Morris said the authority wanted to clarify some points. He said the race was run on an unseasonably warm day and all jockeys had been instructed before the race to dismount from their horses as soon as the race was over to allow handlers and vets to get water to the horses to prevent over-heating.

He said the runouts, used for the first time this year, were introduced in 2009 were introduced after much discussion to allow loose horses to be able to go round the obstacles. They were not introduced, as reported by some, to prevent the race from being voided.

The winning jockey, Jason Maguire, has been banned for exceeding the strict limits placed on the use of the whip.

"The horse was carefully examined after the race and there is no evidence of an abuse. Such abuses are dealt with very seriously and, as we do at the end of every season, we will certainly be reviewing our rules to ensure that we have the balance right between appropriate use of the whip and controlling inappropriate, unacceptable use."