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Is There Really a Need to Ban Horse Racing?

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Three horses died after falling on the first day of the Cheltenham festival. It's a rare and tragic circumstance of National Hunt racing that owners, trainers and punters alike, would rather not watch. Yet every so often, when faced with a four-foot fence, the horse (and jockey) stumbles at one of the huge hurdles, while the crowd gasps with disappointment.

After the fatal cross-country race at Cheltenham on Tuesday, Willie Mullins, who trained one of the horses that died, spoke to Alan Lee, sports correspondent for The Times. "I [had] no problem with the state of the ground, my horse would have loved it. What happened was very unfortunate but it was just an accident."

Accidents happen in many sports, and horse racing is no exception. However, PETA is campaigning to eliminate this risk by banning the sport completely. "We are working toward the day when horse racing ends for good", they proudly state on their website.

As someone who grew up in the town which calls itself "the home of national hunt racing" and who has been a race-goer since the days I was pushed round in the racecourse in a pram, I have to ask, is a horse racing ban taking the protection of animals one step too far, when it's already a well monitored industry with strict rules and guidelines?

Last month, when PETA was campaigning for retired thoroughbreds to be rescued, The Jockey Club listened - and rightly so - by launching the TAA (Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance), to ensure that ex-race horses are cared for once they've run their final course of the racetrack.

And they're not the only ones who are devoted to the welfare of racehorses. The British Horseracing Authority doesn't take the treatment of horses lightly either. There are strict financial penalties and racing bans in place for dangerous or careless riding as well as misuse of the whip. Vets are always present on the courses to ensure injured horses are treated there and then and The Horse Trust and The Racehorse Sanctuary are just two of the charities that have been set up in the UK, organisations that are dedicated to re-homing retired racehorses. It's really not all doom and gloom for these equine athletes.

Whether they're competing in their first ever race or winning in front of the Queen at Royal Ascot, horse racing is an industry which celebrates the animals as much as the jockeys who are riding them. Without it, the sporting calendar would be half empty, the Irish bloodstock industry (the largest in Europe and a major contributor to the Irish economy) would disappear and the betting industry would be in seriously bad shape, especially if it lost the hundreds of billions pounds that the sport generates.

That's not forgetting the 70,000 spectators who will be cheering on the Gold Cup winner this Friday. A horse race can offer five minutes of shouting, screaming and jumping up and down with sheer excitement, whether you're watching from home on the TV or you're standing at the winners post. In a world that has far bigger concerns than "who fell at the second from last", why should we put an end to a sport where accidents happen?

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