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The Debate on the Grand National - Is It Cruel or Not?

Posted: 06/04/2013 00:00

Every year, the same debate about whether the Grand National is cruel or not re-emerges.

What we do know is that there is a statistical probability that horses will die at this event. Since 2001, 20 horses have died over the Aintree Grand National fences, 11 in the Grand National Steeplechase itself over the last 12 years.

Last year's Grand National meeting was particularly poignant with the deaths of three horses and only 15 of the 40 horses running in the 2012 Grand National Steeplechase reached the finishing post.

The fatalities and low finish rate occurred despite a review by the British Horseracing Authority in 2011 resulting in changes to make the race safer. In the aftermath of the 2012 Grand National, further changes were made to the Aintree course, and the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) would want to see incident-free racing at Aintree this year.

Statistically though, we know this is unlikely. The risk of death in flat racing is approximately one fatality per 1,000 horse starts. In contrast, for steeplechases, such as those at Aintree, it is around six per 1,000 horse starts. For the Grand National Steeplechase itself, the risk of fatality is 15 per 1,000 horse starts (based on the decade since 2000).

On average then in the larger jump meetings with over five hundred horse starts (such as the three-day Grand National), we can expect around three horse fatalities- and this is based on the lower risk for general steeplechases rather than the doubly dangerous Grand National.

Of course, in order to better understand this risk, an analogy that might be easier for us to relate to is to consider an individual driving their car every day of the year.

If the risk to the driver was the same as that in a steeplechase like those at Aintree - six deaths in 1,000 - then you would be lucky to still be alive after six months. I doubt many of us would accept this, and yet it is still seemingly acceptable for horses to be exposed to such risks. We should also note that this risk is more than doubled in the Grand National Steeplechase.

All equestrian activities expose horses to some degree of risk. It's the magnitude of the risk horses are exposed to in the Grand National and in jump racing generally that is the issue for WSPA.

We are realistic enough to realise that risk cannot be eliminated completely; but surely it is morally unacceptable that the risks are so high that we can expect three dead horses every time we have a major multi-day jump meeting like the Grand National?

So what should we be doing? Well, we do not have the magic answer but one thing is for sure - if we are to attempt to make the race safer for both horses and jockeys, the industry and everyone involved in horse racing needs to have a frank and honest dialogue on the exposure of horses to risk in racing.

 

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