13/04/2012 18:45 BST | Updated 13/06/2012 06:12 BST

In Defence of the Grand National

This weekend, millions of Brits will be betting on one of the world's most spectacular sporting events. The Grand National will be watched by about ten million viewers in this country alone - once a year punters will be placing a bet and people who don't normally watch horse racing will be watching the big race.

At the same time, a small minority of animal rights extremists will be using fake statistics, false figures and downright distortions in an attempt to denigrate a great British institution beloved of great swathes of people from every walk of life.

A tiny minority of extremists will be given disproportionate airtime and a media soapbox to denigrate the Grand National, to call it cruel and to call for it to be banned. Only last Sunday, the Observer presented a deeply skewed opinion piece as a news article where the views of Animal Aid, with its handful of members, were given absurd prominence.

They have absurdly made the claim that the Grand National is "on a par with bullfighting." The death of an animal is a deliberate part of a bullfight - the death of a horse is something that all those in horse racing go out of their way to make sure doesn't happen.

The views of Animal Aid are apparently more important than the views of the multi-million membership RSPCA - who are working with the course to help make the event safer. The views of a tiny minority are apparently more important than the general public, who will be expressing their support for the Grand National in the betting shops and living rooms of Britain.

The death of two horses in last year's race was deeply unfortunate. It was tragic for the connections of the horses involved. And it's part of a Faustian pact for everyone who loves the National and loves National Hunt racing as a whole.

But let's not let that tragedy obscure some very important facts about the Grand National. In the 27 runnings of the race between 1984 and 2011, there have been 22 equine fatalities. True, that's 22 too many, but it certainly doesn't suggest that the National is the equine bloodbath that Animal Aid seem to argue it is.

There have also been enormous efforts to make the Grand National safer in recent years. Fences have been lowered, landing sides of fences have been made safer and RSPCA inspectors will be at Aintree for all three days of the National meeting. Slightly drowned out by the noisy heckling of Animal Aid protestors, the Aintree authorities have taken significant steps to remodel the course and make it as safe as possible for the horses.

The Grand National is a great spectacle and a great thrill for horses and riders alike. Narrow minded protestors forget that horses were born to race and the care and attention given to the average racehorse is beyond comparison. Racehorses are thoroughly pampered and cared for in their stables.

A Grand National entered horse is likely to be the apple of the eye of their trainer or owner. Any idea that racing people, who adore horses, would put them through something that they believe to be cruel is clearly complete nonsense. And anybody who suggests that horses are "forced" to do something they don't enjoy has clearly never seen the reaction of a thoroughbred who doesn't want to do something.

The Grand National isn't cruel. The Grand National is a thrilling spectacle and one of the few defining events that really brings the nation together. The handful of animal rights extremists, who seem determined to wreck the pleasures of ordinary working people, should redirect their attention to real, rather than imagined, animal cruelty. They should leave the Grand National alone.