During the 2011 John Smiths Grand National two horses were tragically killed resulting in claims from animal rights campaigners that the race is unduly traumatic on horses. That, coupled with television viewers mistaking the precautionary cooling down of winner Ballabriggs with buckets of cold water as a sign that the horse was in distress, led to even more complaints.
The BHA (British Horseracing Authority) undertook a review of the race and subsequently made several recommendations for both Aintree Racecourse and the Grand National race. These included lowering the height of several fences and raising entry requirements for runners.
Donald McCain Jnr., trainer of the 2011 Grand National winner Ballabriggs, has said “Aintree are doing what is best for the race, although I don't think anybody who had anything to do with it felt changes needed to be made. I can't see a huge difference to be honest.
Speaking about the 2011 race and subsequent review McCain added “A lot was made of the deaths last year but accidents will happen. That's horses. That's horse racing or any other equine pursuit – even just taking a horse for a ride in the country. It's not because it's the Grand National.
“People don't understand the whole thing and I hope we've drawn a line in the sand now and say ‘that's the Grand National, now leave it alone, it's the greatest race in the world'. We have to stand up and back what we do.”
On a personal note, I agree with McCain entirely and believe that he is absolutely right on this issue.
Historically, the Grand National has never been as safe for horses and jockeys as it is right now. And whilst some of the BHA recommendations were practical and sensible, others appear to have been drawn up with a view to appeasing Animal Rights Campaigners.
The BHA must now tread a fine line between keeping it's appeal with the general public and satisfying campaigners, a notoriously difficult and slippery slope if ever there was one. In this writers opinion, the world of horse racing must be on guard for lobbying groups and their influence over government legislation and the media.
Small changes being made year on year will ensure nothing of substance remains. It is time for horse racing, and specifically National Hunt Racing, to stand up and be proud of the sport before it's too late.