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Hypocrisy goes wild after Grand National tragedies

Saturday morning - the tabloids can't get enough of the Grand National race. Free bets galore as they partner up with bookies and get every celebrity mug they can find to tip a horse in the big race. It's the world's greatest race they say, only magnifying Joe Public's ignorance of what the National really is - a 4.5 mile handicap race contested by a group of horses so narrow in their band of talent that the National is their best race to content. The public perception of the race is far greater than the actual quality of it. With a couple of exceptions, these are not horses who compete with the elite at Cheltenham, they are dyed-in-the-wool handicappers who will just keep on going and going. But ask Joe the once-a-year punter who is the better horse out of Long Run, Big Buck's and Ballabriggs; you'll only get one answer.

Sunday morning - the race is over, everyone knows the result so no readers there. It's time for the tabloids to slaughter the National for being inhumane, a killing fields where animals go to die. Was it the first National to have a fatality, or in this case two? No. Did the Sun or the Daily Mail turn into militant vegetarians on those occasions? No, not to my knowledge anyway. Have any of these anti-cruelty campaigners protested against what happens to racehorses who aren't much good? Would they prefer that Dooleys Gate and Ornais suffered in silence at the knackery where so many gallant, but not so great, thoroughbreds have ended their lives? It's not a pretty picture is it?

Horses don't run in the National under sufferance. These are highly-tuned animals trained especially for the race, like any of the masochists who will be running 26 miles and 385 yards through the streets of London next Sunday. A horse with no instinct or ability to jump simply won't. You could make a case for it being cruel at a horse's first attempt over obstacles, but not after a dozen or more. A horse with no zest for it will soon show it in the training yard. Look at what horses who have lost their riders do afterwards - most will keep going with the pack because they love it.

Calls to ban the Grand National are nonsensical, but that's not to say racing shouldn't do all it can to reduce injury and fatality - the death of one horse is too many, but it is inevitable. Horses die in the training paddock and in flat races too - they are brittle animals built for speed, at a guess they are more likely to suffer major injuries than most other creatures.

How can jumps racing or more specifically, the National, be improved?

Making the fences smaller will not help - the Victorian (Australia) experiment showed it actually made it worse, horses gave the fences less respect and tried to go too fast.

Reducing the excitement at the start would help, but let's be realistic, it's never gonna happen. Getting a horse over-excited at the start when it has four miles plus to run is never going to be a good thing.

The track was about as firm as they allow it to get at Aintree, it is a small factor but remember that some horses do love dry ground. Otherwise we wouldn't have jumps racing through the summer. Conversely, the Eider Chase over 4m1f at Newcastle earlier in the season was run in 'bottomless' ground and only three horses finished (out of 12, all others pulled up). Criticism was made that it was such a long race over such soft ground that it was verging on cruel. Extremes at both ends are tough to deal with, making it safe for all is the most important issue.

Was it too hot? No. It was only low 20s. A few yrs ago it was mid-high 20s. With weather trends the way they are now, you could only guarantee it being cold by running it in January!

Distance too far? Maybe, but the horses who died came down early in the first circuit so that doesn't match the hypothesis.

Too many starters? Perhaps. Added to the atmosphere at the start, it does create a mad early charge until they start to string out. High pressure, easy to make a mistake.

More experience for the horses and jockeys? These aren't novices and the two horses who died were trained by two of the best trainers in the business, Willie Mullins and Paul Nicholls.

Stopping jocks from 'flogging a dead horse'? Every fence nowadays has a safety run-off area so horses who don't wish to continue can swerve the fence. And when a 500kg horse wants to pull up, there is very little a 70kg jockey can do about it! Jumps jocks are encouraged to pull their horses up when they have no chance of winning and the horse is showing fatigue. Nobody wants to see a run coming 20th, a minute behind the winner, getting forced to complete the course. It's why so many runners are listed as PU on the results page.

I haven't read much outcry or sympathy in those papers for the critically injured Peter Toole who fell from a horse in another race at Aintree. Poor bloke is in a medically-induced coma with bleeding on the brain. A human life isn't as important apparently....



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