I met a man in a pub a few years ago and during the course of a conversation about the world and everything he revealed that his job was to supervise Health and Safety on construction sites. The company he worked for he revealed used to “kill around 26 employees each year” due to accidents and he was very pleased to report that the figure had now dropped to 13 per year.
Jaw dropping figures however you look at them!
Where is the Health and Safety for racehorses I wonder?
Over the past five years around 940 race horses have died on the UK’s 60 race courses. That’s an average of 188 per year and average 3 per race course per year.
The Grand National has a fairly poor record in this respect with an average over the last 2 years of two deaths per year for a single race, although this pales into insignificance in comparison to Aintree’s 28 deaths over the past 5 years which equates to 5.6 horses each year.
What is the problem? Attitudes for a start. The public like a wee flutter, the bookies like a wee profit and many owners view the animals as expendable. In fact, leading jockey Katie Walsh has been quoted as saying “I hope to god there are no accidents but these things do happen” and “they are horses at the end of the day!”
Much has been made of the changes to the jumps at Aintree.
The course authorities have seemingly made the jumps more visual and in an effort to reduce falls at Becher’s Brook where 13 falls and 2 fatalities have occurred in the last 5 Grand Nationals there have been major changes.
The fence took its name from Captain Martin Becher, who fell there from his mount, Conrad, in the first official Grand National in 1839. The Captain seemingly took shelter in the brook to avoid injury. The jump originally consisted of an 8ft-wide brook with a fence set back a yard in front of the water, the ground on the landing side 3ft lower than the take-off side.
On 15 August 2011, Aintree announced new modifications to Becher’s Brook following a review of the course in the aftermath of the 2011 National calamity where the public were treated to views of mayhem.
The Daily Mail reported that “Death came again to the Grand National yesterday – and the horror was played out in front of a worldwide television audience of 600 million. They and the thousands who had packed Aintree for the annual cavalry charge looked on as two horses died in appalling falls.”
Amongst the changes to the course, the landing side of Becher’s was re-profiled to reduce the current drop by between 4 and 5 inches across the width of the fence. The drop is now approximately 18 inches on the inside of the course and 13 inches on the outside of the course. This difference in drop from the inside to the outside of the fence has been retained to encourage riders to spread out across the width of the fence and also to retain the unique characteristics of the fence. The height of the fence remains unaltered at 4 ft 10 inches.
Becher’s Brook is of course only one of the sixteen jumps which horse and rider are faced with in the Grand National.
Perhaps its time for some major regulation in the racing industry.