Nothing clever here today, just an honest plea: don’t watch the Grand National this Saturday.
The Grand National is the toughest and longest National Hunt race in Britain. It’s four miles and four furlongs long, and it has thirty jumps. A field of up to forty horses can enter, and most years thirty-five to forty go to post. All fences are four feet, six inches, up to five feet plus.
The Grand National is also a lethally dangerous race for horses and riders. It’s not difficult to see why. The length exhausts the mounts. The fences are high and challenging, and with a forty-horse field, the smallest stumble can cause a pile-up, especially on the fastest, innermost line.
In the last decade, nine horses have died in the Grand National.
Aintree have improved the course over the past few years, following scathing criticism from animal rights groups. They’ve made the sightlines easier for the horses by adding to the orange board at the foot of the jumps, and tried to make the Canal Turn less dangerous. It’s not enough.
Animal Aid provide a diagram here (page seven) of Becher’s Brook, the most dangerous fence in the race. The horses make a left turn after this fence, so jockeys steer them toward the inside of the course. The course is lower on the landing side than the takeoff, meaning the jockeys have to compensate so the horse doesn’t stumble and they don’t get unseated – but again, forty-horse field, massive fence, drop landing. It’s hard to see how accidents could be avoided.
There are ditches on several fences, up to six feet wide, with one fence having its ditch on the landing side. I can’t overemphasise how dangerous that is in a massive field of runners. You can’t make mistakes, or you risk yourself and others. The fences are solid hedge, meaning the horse can’t see through them to realise there’s a huge hole on the landing side. If the horse can’t see the ditch, it can’t adjust its reach to cover it, and if your mount takes the fence too short, it can easily break a leg by landing wrongly or having another runner crash into you while you try to pull yourself together.
The course is built to be a daunting prospect for the runners and riders, but it’s just too dangerous.
There’s only one way to show the organisers that this isn’t fair: don’t watch it. Don’t bet on it. Voice your disapproval. Make it clear that you want nothing to do with the Grand National as it stands.
National Hunt racing done right is a fantastic sport. It’s thrilling, exhilarating, and dramatic. It doesn’t need to be fatal.