Horse Racing

Should the Grand National be banned? Fallout from a day of drama at Aintree

  • Coordinated protests caused a 15-minute delay to Saturday’s showpiece race at Aintree
  • Animal Rising want the Grand National banned, due to the “high-risk” nature of the race
  • Could a field reduction and further fence size reduction make the Grand National safer?

The Grand National is always one of horse racing’s most intense and dramatic races. It always has been and probably always will be. This year, though, the level of drama intensified massively, and it was far from confined to the running of the race.

Before the horses had even made their way down to the start of the race, tension was building and viewers, especially those on television, were served up a rather chunky slice of drama, as pictures emerged of protestors laying siege to the famous racing venue.

Prior to the meeting, there had been numerous murmurings regarding alleged protests that would happen in an attempt to disrupt and ultimately stop the race from being run. The day went as planned, though, and as the big race approached, it appeared to be all quiet on the Western front, so to speak.

Grand National 2023 delay: what actually happened?

However, around 20-30 minutes before the 2023 Grand National was due to begin, animal rights activists attempted to enter the track. Some were successful, with one protestor making their way onto the course in an attempt to fix herself to one of the obstacles, an attempt that was ultimately foiled by a mixture of security personnel and other course officials. Other protestors were pictured being arrested and escorted away from the perimeter of the course.

Grand National
Photo by Icon Sport

At one point, it looked as though the race may not be run, though after things calmed down a touch, it was business as usual, and the race begin after a 14-minute delay.

Animal rising: Who are the animal rights activists behind the Grand National protests?

In a nutshell, the protest by animal rights activists had one aim, to prevent the race from being run. Why? Well, following Saturday’s events, a spokesperson for the group Animal Rising was quoted saying that “We disrupted the race for two reasons. One was to stop the race to stop a horse dying. Two, to have a conversation about our broken relationship back to animals.”.

Elsewhere, a spokesperson for Peta UK, which is a animal rights charity, brandished the Grand National as the “most hazardous” race in the world, which isn’t easy to argue with, let’s be honest.

The British Horse Racing Authority (BHA) has quite fiercely condemned the protests, while trainer Sandy Thomson went as far as to blame the protestors for causing the death of his horse Hill Sixteen, who sadly lost his life following a mid-race fall. Frankly, such accusations seem strange, as the protestors were clearly trying to stop such an occurrence. Hill Sixteen was the only fatality of the Grand National itself, though two other horses lost their lives at the meeting, one of which was in another race run over the typically gruesome Grand National fences.

Following the protests, 118 people have been arrested, 65 of which were taken into custody, all of whom have reportedly been bailed pending further enquiries.

Horse welfare in racing: Are those responsible doing enough?

The bottom line is are the decision makers within the sport of horse racing doing enough to ensure animal welfare, or can they do more?

It is well known that changes to the Grand National have been made in recent years. Following Saturday’s drama, a BHA spokesperson said that recent improvements in welfare standards have helped reduce the horse racing death rate by a third over the last 20 years, with the fatality rate of horses now standing at 0.2%. This tells us that in general, horse racing is quite safe, though the Grand National is a different beast, and that’s what needs looking at.

Grand National 2023
Photo by Icon Sport

Five of the last 395 horses to run in the Grand National have sadly lost their lives. That’s 1.27%, which is quite a bit higher than the 0.2% figure above.

Realistically, you could argue that some of the Grand National changes have been tokenistic. It also wouldn’t be wrong to say that further quite drastic changes are needed. After all, it’s relatively clear to anyone with eyes that the National fences aren’t the easiest for horses to consistently jump without the risk of something going badly wrong.

What can be done going forward?

Following what happened on Saturday and the general conversation right now, it’s highly likely that changes will continue to be made, which on reflection, is entirely necessary. Those within the sport responsible for getting things done need to ensure that horse welfare is the top priority, and if that means changing the race significantly, then that is perhaps the way to go.

A reduction in field size seems to be the obvious choice. 40 runners all racing in close proximity over a series of fences that are clearly quite challenging does seem like something of a recipe for disaster. Let’s face it, it’s no coincidence that the majority of serious mishaps occur early in the race, as that’s when things are most congested, so a reduction in field size could go a long way to making the race safer.

Of course, the obstacles play a big part too. If further alterations and a greater reduction in fence size needs to happen, then so be it. The Grand National is a big part of British culture in general, and the three-day festival has hugely positive financial implications for the local area, so we’re not likely to see it disappear any time soon. Therefore, more changes to the structure of the race need to be made in order to ensure that things get a lot safer for the horses running.

That said, any alterations to the race may not appease those who turned out in protest last weekend, as it’s quite clear that the only solution from their point of view is the removal of the race from the racing calendar. With horse fatalities like the one we saw on Saturday, it’s not all that easy to argue either. One thing’s for sure, the debate will rage on and it’s far from unlikely that we’ve seen the last of such protests at a Grand National.

SUMMARY: The Grand National doesn’t necessarily need to be banned, but those responsible for the race need to bring in further changes to its format urgently.

Subscribe to Punditfeed on Google News for all the latest updates from the world of sports!