As long as there has been racing, there’s been someone to ask just how safe it is for both jockeys and horses. This years Grand National claimed the lives of two horses; Ornais at the fourth fence and Dooney’s Gate at the sixth. Both suffered fatal falls during the raced dubbed as “the ultimate test of horse and rider”.
Although there is some speculation as to when the first Grand National was run, most historians believe it was in 1836. The course is 4 miles and 4 feet long, run on turf on the left-hand side, with this year’s purse standing at £950,000. It’s one of the most prestigious races in England and held annually at Aintree Racecourse in Liverpool, England. It attracts only the best steeplechasers from all over.
The Grand National carries a higher risk then most races due to its exhaustive length with 30 jumps to clear in total. The jumps pose the most threat as several horses usually clear it in a close-knit group leaving little room for a clean landing. Also, due to the fast pace, should a horse go down, the threat of another horse running into the fallen one is a huge risk as there is very little time to go around.
One of the most disturbing issues of horse saftey at the Grand National is that deaths are expected. The avergae number of horse fatalities during steeplechasing is six per 1,000 starts. Compared to the one per 1,000 starts for flat racing and four per 1,000 for hurdling, that’s pretty high. During the three day meet at the Grand National, about three deaths are anticipated. When asked to comment on the event, senior lecturer of animal welfare at Anglia Ruskin university, Dr. Mark Kennedy pointed out “…these are not freak accidents, they are predictable.”
So if these deahts are not only just happening, but expected, should the race continue to be held? The death toll at the Grand National is occuring at a rate higher then an avergae steeplechase. Many argue the race should continue to be held due to its tradition and prestige. But are these same people genuinley concerned about equine well being? Of course there will always be risks whereever you go- it’s not just within the horse industry. But if one race can be stopped to save the lives of three horses a year, isn’t it worth it? Sometimes I worry that in professional horse sports, people become so greedy to win that they forget concern for their horses well-being. And that in itself is much more sickening then any injury could ever do to a horse.