Why 62.5% of the Grand National runners did not finish.

62.5% of horses did not finish the 2021 Grand National and two died. Are we all guilty for allowing this unnecessary suffering to continue.

In memory of The Long Mile & Houx Gris

The 2021 Grand National spectacle and pageant is over with just two deaths and those are anti-horseracing and those that stage the event are both probably breathing a sigh of relief but for different reasons. Those against because only two horses were sacrificed in the carnage to satiate our betting addiction and for the organisers it means the any bad publicity and outrage is kept minimal. Only 15 horses finished or to put it another way, 25 (62.5%) of the field of 40 did not finish. It is a very telling statistic.

Are we putting too much emphasis on how many die?

We are obviously all thankful that only two horses died, but this is still too many. But are we being side tracked by putting too much emphasis on how many die rather than concentrating on the legalities of putting all these horses through such mental and physical suffering, and the unnecessary danger and over exertion just to entertain and feed our entrenched gambling habits.

In this years race, 15 horses pulled up, 4 fell, 4 unseated their rider, and one very sensible horse named Ballyoptic called it quits and refused to jump. This is an increase on last year. Realistically the large number of non-finishers must mean that the course is too punishing for most of the horses and they are either not fit enough or just not up to it. So are we all guilty of condoning this unnecessary suffering and could it be classified as contravening welfare laws? The evidence may be in the statistics.

15 horses were pulled up meaning their riders felt they were suffering and it was cruel to put them through any more punishment. The four that unseated their riders were no doubt too weakened and exhausted and did not jump in the way the rider anticipated. The four who fell were pushed too far risking serious injury and possible fatal consequences. The two that died were definitely pushed beyond their capabilities.

Riderless race horse

Trivial changes to the course will never prevent horse suffering.

Although the racecourse authorities have made changes to the fences, stables, cooling down procedures and god knows what to improve “horse welfare,” everyone knows that the race in its present state will never be safe for the horses or riders unless you remove the fences altogether and shorten the race. At present it is purely an endurance event and more like the Charge of the Light Brigade or ancient Rome’s chariot racing than a civilised sporting event.

In Australia jump racing is increasingly being viewed as outdated and attendances are falling in Victoria and South Australia, the only two states which haven’t banned jump racing. These states are under pressure to follow suit in the wake of the others who banned jumping decades ago. 74 horses were killed in races and many more injured in 2020 in the two states. There is considerable campaigning at the moment, but in the UK there isn’t the same level of interest in stopping it.

To truly do everything to protect the horses and jockey’s welfare would involve removing all the excitement, the spectacle and the pageant for the baying crowd to enjoy. Unfortunately horse racing like football is ingrained into our sporting pysche and is a sport enjoyed by the masses and so will never be banned entirely, but the death rate could easily be banished by banning jumps to the history books.

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Grand National – Carnage or Spectacle?

The excitement of the 2019 Grand National is over and it is time for the usual post mortem. One horse killed and another taken away by ambulance appears according to the media and racing authorities to have been a pretty good result. Two other horses, Forest des Aigles and Crucial Role, were also euthanised the day before but have received little attention. Track authorities and the British Horse Association (BHA) are obviously saddened again and Dickon White, of the Jockey Club  Stated:

“As a sport of animal lovers, we wanted every horse to come home – and sadly that’s not been the case with Up For Review”

a statement which makes it is difficult to get one’s head round what qualifies as being an animal lover these days. The media state that “38 runners returned safely” – but returned safely to where? Obviously their stable as they didn’t finish the race. Only 19 (47%) out of 40 actually past the finishing post.

Riderless race horse

It is not difficult to deduce from the statistics that most of the horses present just provide the spectacle and have no chance at all of competing or finishing the race. People watch the National for the excitement and anticipation of the stampede to the first fence when everyone holds their breath to see if they get over safely or fall. But do some racegoers secretly hope that there will be a spectacular pile up rather like in Formula One when the cars approach the first bend  or the cycle riders in the Tour de France. There is a certain element of wishing for tragedy as no one wants a “boring”race.

Carnage at the fences.

This year at the first fence Up For Review was brought down by another faller and was fatally injured and at the sixth fence three fell and one pulled up. So we had already lost 8 horses by the sixth fence and then the race continued without incident until we get to the 21st fence where a horse pulled up. Horses were then pulled up or refused at the 25th, 26th, and at the 27th a rider was unseated, then 4 horses refused or pulled up at the 28th and 5 at the 29th.

There is an obvious pattern here: the attrition rate increases the further into the race they get when more horses find that the going is too tough. These are all horses that are perhaps not fit or strong enough to last the course – the cannon fodder to make the race a spectacle and for who the race is too much of a challenge. It’s not science, but seems logical that horses tire just like humans in marathons or steeplechases and cannot find that last effort to finish.

The race is 14 fences too long & involves too many horses.

The racing fraternity are proud that the National is the longest National Hunt race in Britain and that it is the ultimate test of horse and jockey jumping 30 fences over a distance of 2.25 miles. And this is the problem. The race is too long, has too many high jumps and too many participants.

Many campaigners including the RSPCA believe the best way forward is to work with the authorities to improve the welfare of the horses during the race which they state they have done successfully for the last thirty years and list many so-called improvements, but most of these are just peripheral to the main problem. Thirty years on we still have horses dying and suffering and being injured and more importantly horses being pushed beyond their limits.

There is no chance of the race being banished in the foreseeable future because of all the tradition and history behind it just like fox-hunting, not to mention the huge financial benefits to everyone involved. And of course supporters want carnage and spectacle not just any old horse race, because this is what they watch it for. The only way of reducing the suffering is to shorten the race to one lap of the course, cut the numbers involved and lower the fences, but this is never going to happen.

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