By Annie Williams
Aintree’s Grand National is one of the leading events in the annual sports calendar, but also considered one of the most controversial.
Every year in the run-up to one of the world’s most famous steeplechases, the debate arises again, as to whether the Grand National should be banned, or simply made safer.
Interestingly, this topic divides opinion.
Arguments for the event regularly state how the Grand National is not very different from other forms of National Hunt, specifically jump racing, so if this race was to be banned, there may as well be a ban on all other forms.
However, on the other side of the fence, no pun intended, is the argument that the Grand National’s overall death toll is exceptionally high and therefore should be banned.
Animal rights campaigners argue that Aintree’s racecourse is “a significant killer of horses” – despite fences being reduced in height.
Animal rights charity, Animal Aid, has called for the Grand National to be banned for many years now. The organisation launched a petition in February urging the government to take action over the high death rate in British horseracing. The petition has received over 40,000 signatures and has gained support from public figures including Ricky Gervais and Sara Pascoe.
Dene Stansall, a horse-racing consultant of Animal Aid, told MerseyDays: “Around 200 horses die each year as a result of horse racing in Britain. We are urging the government to set up an independent regulatory body, with horse welfare as its only interest, which will take meaningful action to stop horses dying.”
Dene also added in regards to the weather from this year’s event: If it wasn’t the Grand National and weather conditions were this bad and there was the same level of risk, the race definitely would not be going ahead – but there’s too much money involved.”
Tim Hall, a representative from League Against Cruel Sports, an animal welfare charity spoke to MerseyDays about their campaign to make the Grand National safer: “Though these events are hugely popular with the public, the high figures of injuries and fatalities of the horses who are involved has led many people and charities to call for the most grueling races to be banned.
“The Grand National is that big of an event that even some of the jumps included in the course have become became household names, such as the Becher’s Brook and the Canal Turn.
The very fact these jumps are infamous is due to the huge numbers of horses and riders that have fallen on them, which has often leading to injury and sometimes even death.”
League Against Cruel Sports, however, is not calling for the abolishment of the annual event, but instead are campaigning to have it made safer for both the horses and their riders.
Tim adds: “We are aware that improvements have been made to the Grand National to make it safer over recent years and the number of deaths that happen during the race have been reduced, however, horses do still die at the wider Aintree Festival.
“Our campaign is calling for the number of participants and horses in these races to be reduced, the fences should be made more manageable for tiring horses, and also the length of the races should be decreased.”
11-year-old horse rider, Larissa from Wigan has been horse riding for 3 years, but expresses strong views about horseracing: “When learning to horse ride, you are educated on the health and safety of horses and potential damages.
“Generally, the racers see horses as replaceable, like cars rather than actual animals, meaning the treatment that racing horses receive in these events usually lacks emotion and care.
Larissa told MerseyDays: “Horses can encounter mass amounts of stress from being chained up and refused to lay down and rest, which results in horses harming themselves. The steroids and drugs many of the horses are put on in training and preparation for the races can be bad for their hearts and the metal mouth pieces contribute to the breakage of the horse’s teeth which can lead to horses struggling to eat and even starving themselves.”
Many social medias have took to Twitter to express their concerns for the annual event, with one Twitter user writing: @thebainoshow “Hey @Twitter, I will keep reporting any adverts you show me RE: The Grand National for inappropriate content until you understand that profiting from animal abuse really isn’t my thing #YouBetTheyDie”.
User @Zucchinisaurus wrote: If you care about animals do not contribute to their exploitation!!
But the Grand National is big business in the UK and around the world. In the UK alone, an estimated £150 million (NZ$300 million) is gambled on the race whilst the worldwide TV audience is estimated at over 600 million people. It is clearly well-loved in the UK and in countless other countries.
Let us know how you feel about the Grand National by voting on our poll below.