Five Reasons Why Aintree Is Not So Grand

Posted by on April 5, 2013 | Permalink

Horses jump a fence at AintreeAt last year’s Grand National, two horses, Synchronised and According To Pete, died on the track following gut-wrenching falls. Although race officials hurried to cover up the carnage with green tarpaulin, it was too late to hide the shocking deaths from the TV crews and the horrified spectators.

Given the length and danger of the course at Aintree, along with the reckless speeds enforced by the jockeys, it’s inevitable that horses will get hurt in this deadly race.

Behind the scenes, the racing industry has thousands more victims – thoroughbred horses who don’t make the grade or are past their prime. Even if they don’t succumb to fatal injuries on the track, only a lucky few ex-champions are rewarded with happy retirements in green pastures at the end of their racing days. The rest end up forgotten and neglected or are sent to the abattoir and killed.

Here are five reasons why it’s the horses who always pay the ultimate price:

  1. Fatal injuries are commonplace. Broken necks, backs and legs are commonplace at the Grand National, and yet the race goes on. Bred out of greed for speed, the thoroughbreds forced to take part are accidents waiting to happen: their legs are too long and fragile for the jumps, and they’re whipped and pushed literally to the breaking point. Every year, we see exhausted animals crash face-first into the ground and careen into one another on this deliberately punishing and hazardous course. Synchronised and According To Pete were last year’s victims, and 36 horses are known to have lost their lives at the race over the last 50 years.
  2. Becher’s Brook is dangerous. Known as the world’s most dangerous jump, Becher’s Brook predictably claimed the life of another vulnerable horse last year. Why not just dig holes on the course for the animals to trip on and stumble into while they’re at it? The stubborn refusal of the British Horseracing Authority and Aintree Racecourse to remove the deadly jump proves yet again that their primary focus is always on supplying a thrilling and dangerous sight for race-goers and the TV audience. The Grand National is a national disgrace that is grand only if you are not a horse or a caring human being.
  3. It’s impossible to improve the racecourse. The minor changes that have been made to Aintree Racecourse in recent years are mere token gestures. Animal-protection groups have long pointed out that the number of runners in a race has an impact on injuries and deaths, yet the organisers of the Grand National have actually increased the number of horses to 40 – it was below 29 until 2000. Recent changes to fences have not reduced fatalities, and the changes made to this year’s race are also unlikely to prevent the deaths of more beautiful animals.
  4. Horses are raced too young. Horses are raced too young, too often and on hard surfaces that practically guarantee breakdowns, and the Grand National is the worst offender. Appallingly, an estimated 38 per cent of the 400 horses who die every year on British racecourses do so during or just after a race. (The others die in the days and weeks that follow.) The ones who survive to the end of their racing days are simply discarded like used betting slips – cast off to be killed, butchered and sold off piece by piece.
  5. The focus is on money, not welfare. Owners of horses in the Grand National often mistake their love of money and glory for a love of the horses. To the rest of us, exposing horses to the dangers of this barbaric ritual makes it clear where their priorities lie. Veterinary treatment will be paid for as long as horses are racing and making money. However, if a horse sustains a fracture which is likely to involve many months of treatment, a decision is often made to destroy the horse because it would be more cost-effective. As long as people continue to bet on the Grand National, horses will continue to die.

Image: Paolo Camera / CC BY 2.0