There is not a horse racing enthusiast anywhere who would not like to see improved safety conditions for all horses and their jockeys, particularly in races such as the Grand National at Aintree, the most famous horse race in the world.
The deaths in the race last April of Dooney’s Gate and Ornais sparked a series of complaints to the BBC – who broadcast the race, to some 300 million world wide, many of which effectively and not untypically called for the race to be discontinued or banished forever. This of course will never happen but care has to be taken in how these points of views made by concerned fans are reacted to.
Aintree racecourse authorities along with the British Horse Racing Authority have announced that they will make changes to the course for the upcoming National Hunt season which begins at the Liverpool track in October and culminates with the 2012 Grand National which will be raced on Saturday 14th April. One of these changes will include making small adjustments to the landing side of the infamous Bechers Brook fence, the fence which took the life of Dooney’s Gate. The change will see the notorious 6’9” drop reduced by as much as five inches all the way across the width of the fence, although there are no plans as yet to reduce the height of the fence itself, which will remain at 4’10”.
Bechers Brook is a fence that has certainly earned its reputation, it is jumped twice during the race as the 6th and 22nd fence and since the end of the Second World War has claimed the lives on nine horses. Major modifications were last made in 1989 after six horses fell at the fence which resulted in two fatalities. These changes clearly worked as only 13 horses fell over the next ten years with no deaths at all and it was not until 1999, when seven fell with one killed that the another furore over the race was witnessed.
Other changes that have been given the green light were to level the landing side of the first fence which is a very sensible move designed to assist those horses who gallop to the fence to gain position only to find that they over jump and come to grief the other side. The fourth fence which is only 4 feet high anyway will be reduced by two inches while the toe boards on all thirty fences will be increased to 14” designed to provide help to the horse determine the base of each fence on approach.
There is little doubt that these changes are very sensible precautions and will come into effect in December later this year when Aintree hosts its annual Becher Chase meeting, a race which includes most of the Grand National fences.
The danger however is always the same and revolves around the obvious question what would the public reaction be if a similar situation occurs after these changes have been implemented?
This is why that both those who manage the world famous course and the BHA should be vigorously informing those with anti Grand National sentiments that the sport will always carry dangers, it is no different from any other sport in that aspect, where tragedy can occur. More importantly however, they should be informing the public that in the vast majority of cases, these horses would not even be alive if it was not for the horse racing industry and in the vast majority of cases the horses live a fantastic lifestyle both during and post their racing careers.