Neptune Collonges and Daryl Jacob clear Becher's Brook as On His Own falls. ESPN UK image.

BHA will not be rushed into more Grand National course changes following Saturday’s fatalities

LAST UPDATED 7:38 PM

Cross-posted from The Guardian

Neptune Collonges and Daryl Jacob clear Becher's Brook as On His Own falls. ESPN UK image.
Neptune Collonges and Daryl Jacob clear Becher's Brook as On His Own falls. ESPN UK image.
    Paul Bittar, the chief executive of the British Horseracing Authority, said on Sunday that racing should not rush into fresh changes to the Grand National in the aftermath of Saturday’s race, in which two horses, including Synchronised, the Gold Cup winner, suffered fatal injuries.

    A number of amendments were made to the course following the 2011 National, in which two horses also died, including a two-inch reduction in the height of the fourth (and 20th) fence and a reduction in the drop on the landing side of Becher’s Brook by between four and five inches, while all runners were required to have finished at least fourth in a steeplechase. The landing side of the first (and 17th) was also levelled out.

    Bittar said that it would take time to assess the impact of the changes, and that it would be “premature to suggest that modifications to the course and other changes have not been effective or will not yet prove to be effective”.

    Extending his “deepest sympathies” to the connections of Synchronised and According To Pete, who suffered a fatal injury when brought down at Becher’s Brook on the second circuit, Bittar said that the authority is “reasonably advanced in the process of examining the incidents” which led to the deaths of the two horses. Continue reading >>

MY VIEWS

This is difficult to assess, and I can only express my views from the ground, as a professional horse racing photographer who covered the Grand National numerous times (I only mention this so I do not get those “you obviously don’t know anything about . . . ” comments), and had numerous discussions with the groundsmen there at Aintree.

My initial reaction is to agree with Mr. Bittar about modifying the fences. I do not see that it has helped at all.

What would I recommend? Here are my thoughts.

1. Limit the field to 30 runners.
2. Set up a system for analyzing entries whereby only the best horses — who have successfully competed at this level and demonstrated they are suited to this type of jumps racing — are accepted.
3. Before the tape goes up, if a horse acts up in any way, such as unseating his rider and running away (as the late Synchronised did), that the horse be scratched by agreement of the Stewards.

Jockey AP McCoy shows Synchronized the first fence before the 2012 Grand National.  He appeared jittery stated BBC presenter Clare Balding. Reuters Photo.
Jockey AP McCoy shows Synchronized the first fence before the 2012 Grand National. He appeared jittery stated BBC presenter Clare Balding. Reuters Photo.

UPDATE: The third item may have saved Synchronised’s life. BBC commentator Clare Balding and horse racing expert agrees with me. Balding stated before the race began that Synchronised ‘did not look up for it’ as the horse appeared jittery when McCoy ‘showed him’ the first fence before racing. He fell at the sixth, the infamous Becher’s Brook.

Insofar as last year, the temperature was unseasonably hot and I felt it was not right to expect horses to gallop 4 1/2 miles and jump huge fences in those conditions. But money — in this instance the numbers of wagers — always pressures people to weigh their decisions in favor of the day’s take against the day’s competitors, the horses and their riders. So the race was run, and horses died.

In any weather, this type of racing is highly challenging and competitive. Jockeys sustain terrible injuries — some career changing and life threatening — but they choose to participate. If a horse is signalling before a race that he is unwilling, then he should not be forced to run. Why wait for him to fall, refuse or make a mistake and unseat his rider, thereby jeopardizing the safety of other horses and jockeys?

OTHER VIEWS

In the meantime, the Telegraph reports that the RSPCA are calling for Becher’s Brook to be removed from the Grand National course. That is not a well thought out idea. What about the Chair? What about the Canal Turn? If you suggest the removal of one fence on the basis it is too high, you may as well as remove them all.

4 thoughts on “BHA will not be rushed into more Grand National course changes following Saturday’s fatalities”

  1. Good information. Does the Grand National have a history of fatalities over decades or is this truly a recent development?

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    1. There have been some fatalities, but nothing like it has been of late. There will always be injuries and deaths to some degree; you will never eliminate it entirely. Just won’t happen. The same goes for just about any sport. In this case, horses are used and they do not get to decide.

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  2. As usual, this is a well-balanced, fair, and realistic assessment of an age-old “sport”. I remember clenching my teeth in horror as I watched “National Velvet” with the very young Elizabeth Taylor…I couldn’t have been more than eight years old. It was my first introduction to the famous steeplechase. More astute evaluations of horses’ abilities are required and yes, changes to some of each jump’s conditions and heights are required. All I ever do is clasp my hands and hope that best decisions are made that are best for the horses.

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    1. I covered jumps racing as a photographer in England for years and it never bothered me to watch them run and jump. What used to bother me were the loose horses bringing other horses down. That seemed to be where most harm was done to horses and to the jockeys too. I have seen terrible injuries to jockeys that stunned me. How they survived and rode another day always amazed me.

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