LIVERPOOL, England (April 10, 2011) — Two horses who die at Aintree in front of thousands of spectators and a worldwide television audience of 600 million watching the 2011 Grand National are ignored by insensitive BBC commentators calling the race. The fatalities occurred during the first circuit when Ornais fell at the fourth breaking his neck, and Dooneys Gate fell at Becher’s Brook breaking his back.
Large green tarpaulins screened the bodies of the horses while Aintree staff flagged jockeys on their second circuit of the course, sending them away from the jumps where Ornais and Dooneys Gate lay dead.
Even on the television re-run of the race, following almost immediately after the finish, there was no mention of the dead horses. Social networking sites and message boards were full of criticism not only of the BBC but also remarking on the welfare of the horses engaged in the running of the Grand National. In comments on the Corporation’s website the BBC were accused of a “cover up” and minimizing the deaths of the two horses.
A spokesman for the BBC stated they were “aware of the unfortunate events of the two fatalities” and “during the race and the re-run this was covered with as much sensitivity as possible.”
“Sensitive coverage of the deaths of Ornais and Dooneys Gate would have been acknowledgement of the tragedy during the race and an on-air moment of silence in their honor after it, not pretending it didn’t happen,” responds Vivian Grant, President of the U.S. based Int’l Fund for Horses, and a Liverpool native. “This type of treatment does nothing for the reputation of horse racing except showcase its callousness toward the loss of horses’ lives in front of millions.”
Only 19 of the 40 horses who started this year’s Grand National finished the race. The eventual winner, Ballabriggs, was too exhausted to be ridden into the winner’s enclosure. Stewards banned his jockey, Jason Maguire, for five days for excessive use of the whip.
“40 horses in the Grand National are 15 to 20 horses too many in my opinion,” comments Grant. “A way to shield horses and jockeys from injury and death is to control the quantity and quality of the horses entered.”
Saturday’s Grand National tragedies follow the death of Inventor on the first day of the meeting on Thursday who broke a leg and was destroyed, adding to the growing list of casualties at the Liverpool racecourse.
There were four deaths at the three-day Aintree meeting last year, and five in 2009. Since 2000, a staggering 33 horses have died at the Aintree spring festival amid increasing protests from animal welfare groups.
The Grand National at Aintree is considered the world’s greatest steeplechase. A test for both horse and jockey, it is run over 4 miles and 4 furlongs with 30 testing fences in 2 circuits of the demanding course. Each fence is jumped twice with the exception of The Chair and The Water Jump which are jumped only on the first circuit.
“BBC attacked for ‘covering up’ Grand National deaths”, by Jasper Copping, The Telegraph, Apr. 9, 2011
“Aintree day of horror as TV audience of millions see two horses die at the National”, by Stephen Davies, The Daily Mail, Apr. 10, 2011