Too many healthy horses are dying. It’s a National disgrace

I was off work on Friday so missed the round-robin email from a colleague offering the chance to take part in the annual office Grand National sweepstake.

I used to have a punt – even though I never had so much as a sniff of the prize money in more than a decade of trying.

Other than a yearly flutter on the greatest race of them all, I must confess I have no interest whatsoever in the gee-gees.

My knowledge of horse racing is patchy to say the least. I’ve been to the Roodee in Chester a couple of times and organised a stag do at Uttoxeter Racecourse.

I know Desert Orchid was a grey and, at a push, I could probably name half a dozen fences on the Grand National course at Aintree.

But the sad truth is I can’t even bring myself to lay bets on the great race anymore because of its appalling safety record.

On Saturday, two more horses – the joint favourite Synchronised and outsider According to Pete – both had to be put down after falls.

This followed the deaths of four horses at the Merseyside meeting last year when only 19 of the 40 horses finished the feature race.

Yes, this is a multi-million-pound event watched by an estimated half a billion people around the world.

But I’ve come to regard it as more of a national lottery than Grand National.

In other words, it is a lottery which horses survive the course and only a matter of time before a jockey is seriously injured or killed.

When I was little, I used to point my cowboy gun at the telly when the National was on and pull the trigger when the horses reached a fence, pretending I was shooting at them.

Occasionally, one or two would fall. I didn’t realise that some of them actually did die as a result.

It goes without saying that the National is a thrilling spectacle, but rather than holding my breath and hoping the horse I’ve had a fiver on makes it over the next fence, I’m now just willing every horse to get round safely.

Since the early 1990s, great strides have been made in terms of better protecting horses and jockeys and last year the British Horseracing Authority conducted a review of safety which led to further changes.

However, the fact remains that, each year, perfectly healthy horses have to be put down because the challenge of the National proves too great.

To my mind, the price paid by these wonderful animals is simply too high – the risks too great.

Never mind that race horses sometimes enjoy long and pampered lives compared to their less glamorous cousins in ordinary stables.

We all know damn well that, when we wander into a bookies and place an each-way bet on a horse with a name we like the sound of, there’s a good chance it might die as a result of taking part in the Grand National.

I’m no animal rights activist and I am not naive enough to think the race will ever be shelved on healthy and safety grounds because there is simply too much money involved.

However, I’m with the RSPCA, which is calling for the size of the field to be reduced and the jump design and race length to be looked at.

Some people launch into hyperbole about the nation coming together just once a year and housewives closing their eyes and sticking pins into pieces of paper to make their choices.

Others – some of those who attend the race meeting itself – care more about the hat they are wearing and how much alcohol they have consumed on their big weekend out than they do about the horses.

Others still will witter on about the need to preserve history and heritage and point to other perceived cruelty to animals that goes unchecked in this country.

But I’m talking here specifically about a horse race – albeit a long-established one – which could be made so much safer.

Isn’t the simple truth that the Grand National, in its current form, is incredibly dangerous as it routinely leads to the death of too many horses?

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel

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