Reforms announced for Britain's Grand National

November 4, 2011

World Horse Welfare has welcomed changes to improve the welfare of horses racing in the Grand National.

The race, a British institution, has been clouded in recent years over concerns at the number of horses killed and injured in the race.

The review by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) followed the deaths of two horses in this year's Grand National.

However, Animal Aid, an outspoken critic of the race, described the reforms package as feeble.

World Horse Welfare chief executive Roly Owers said the reforms were good news for horse welfare.

"We are particularly pleased with the more stringent rules on eligibility to ensure that the horses and riders who compete in this challenging race are fit and experienced enough to do so.

"World Horse Welfare had requested this during the review.

"We also welcome their commitment to review their pre and post-race procedures to improve the comfort and safety of the horses.

"There will always be risks to horse and rider in racing, particularly at the Grand National, but we hope these changes will help make the 2012 meeting the safest yet.

"Their recommendations have been based on statistical evidence which we welcome. We are also pleased that they will take a more proactive approach in communicating the many measures in place to help safeguard the welfare of the horses.

"As always, we will want Aintree to monitor the impact of these changes and work with welfare groups to make adjustments as needed.

"However, we recognise there is a balance to be struck between making the race safer and maintaining the challenge that makes this race an international event."

The BHA said the review led to the publication of 30 recommendations designed to continue enhancing the safety and welfare of the race while retaining its unique and challenging character.

The main recommendations are:

The review group also recognised that there was scope for improvement in the communication of welfare issues and measures both within the sport and to the general public, via the media.

BHA chairman Paul Roy said: "The Grand National is one of Britain's great sporting institutions. It is a unique event watched by many tens of thousands at Aintree and tens of millions of people around the world.

"A key reason for its enduring popularity is that it is the most challenging race in Great Britain and a supreme sporting test for jockeys and horses alike.

"The sad events at the 2011 Grand National demonstrated the risks that this race can present, and rightly focused world attention on one of the British Horseracing Authority's core objectives: to protect the safety and welfare of Racing's human and equine participants.

"The Review Group has submitted recommendations that will enhance the safety and welfare of jockeys and horses participating in the Race, whilst removing none of the magic that makes the Grand National one of the most exciting, best-loved and enduring sporting events in the world."

Director of equine science and welfare Tim Morris said: "Racing is a sport with risks. We are open about this and always have been, and the Grand National is the most challenging race in Great Britain.

"Events at the 2011 Grand National were upsetting for people directly involved in the sport and those who follow it. The deaths of two horses, alongside several other factors, ensured there was significant media and public attention on the issue of safety and welfare in the Grand National.

"As such it was right and proper that the BHA, as a responsible regulator, should conduct this review, which follows from post-race monitoring every year. This will continue, as before, in future years.

"The Review Group, and the BHA Board, are confident that the 30 recommendations will help achieve the objectives of not only enhancing the safety and welfare of participants but also maintaining public confidence in both the sport, and the Grand National as a race."

Animal Aid horse racing consultant Dene Stansall said: "The Grand National is, by design, an extremely hazardous race, one that routinely kills horses.

"The BHA, with its package of feeble 'reforms', has done nothing to change that reality.

"Animal Aid's own research shows that the Grand National is getting more, rather than less, dangerous for horses. It is quite simply unreformable. The BHA has once again failed horses in its attempt to appease the powerful monied figures within racing."

The group said the review's findings did little to tackle the realities of a race "that is innately cruel and unreformable".

It said nine horses have died in the event since 2000, and 20 while racing on the National course during the three-day April meeting.