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This year marked the 164th running of the Grand National and as ever the race was a nail-biting affair watched by millions which even created Grand National history, we had Neptune Collonges, the first grey to win the race in over 50 years and the closest ever finish with the winning distance being declared as a nose. However, with the achievements we also had the terrible loss in that two horses died while completing the course. This was after alterations were made to the fences in an attempt to make the course safer after tw0 horses died in the running of the race in 2011. However despite the controversial reaction to the race in 2011, 1.5 million more people tuned in to watch the race than did last year.
It seems that we will be having this debate for many years after each Grand National regarding the welfare of horses in the race. There are clearly obvious concerns as to whether the fences should be so high and whether there should be so many runners in the race. However as I see it, the reason that the Grand National is referred to as the greatest national hunt race in the world is for the one reason that it is the most challenging. The race is built and designed to test a horse’s jumping and stamina to the highest levels and this is what makes it stand out to every other horse race there is. Without the race we wouldn’t have one of the most famous, if not the most famous, racehorse in Red Rum – who is the only horse to win the race three times in 1973, 1974 and 1977.
Even though we have tragically lost 36 horses in the last 50 years, I believe that this is something that unfortunately comes with the nature of the sport. As unfortunate as any loss of a horse due to racing is, it happens throughout the year at many different race meetings and these are not picked upon. For example I assume very few of you are aware of the loss of the horse ‘Gottany O’s’ on the first day of the Aintree festival which tragically broke its leg on a flat part of the track not even taking a jump. This highlights that it doesn’t just have to be hurdles or fences that can cause a horses death. “Is the race cruel? No one put a horse into this race to see it suffer or die for their own gratification. That would be a definition of the word ‘cruel’,” David Muir, an RSPCA equine consultant made a very good statement that for me outlines that nobody wishes ill things on these horses, they are bred to race and it’s just an unfortunate part of the sport when one injures itself beyond repair and needs to be put down.
The point here that I am trying to get across is that, yes, any death of a horse is tragic, yet unfortunately it is a danger that comes with the sport, it can happen while a horse is at the stables, on the gallops or running a race. But these horses are thoroughbred; it is what they are bred to do and what they want to do. In my eyes if a horse wasn’t enjoying itself it wouldn’t continue to run a race once it has fallen or unseated its jockey.
There are many different views and alterations people wish to be made to the race, but the more we adjust fences and alter the amount of runners in the race the more the Grand National becomes one of your bog-standard horse races. Instead, the Grand National should be something that we treasure and are proud of, as we are home to the greatest horse race in the world.