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NATIONAL OUTRAGE AT MIGHTY FENCES
Posted 1 March 2001
This article appeared on BBC Online, 30 March 2001, along with an audio clip of Animal Aid's Yvonne Taylor.
Britain is famously a nation of animal-lovers so it is no surprise that there are many people who believe that the Grand National is a cruel sporting occasion.
Eighteen horses have been killed in the Grand National since 1979 and although none were killed in last year's race, three perished the year before. In addition, although no horses died in the race itself in 2000, five were killed during the course of the three-day Aintree meeting.
The charity Animal Aid launched a protest ahead of the 2000 race and the organisation is planning another "Horse Racing Awareness Week" campaign this year. Last year, Animal Aid held pickets at betting shops using the slogan "Cruelty - you can bet on it". The organisation wants "the ruthless industry" of horse racing banned and sees the Grand National as the best way of getting their point across to the public.
Their target is the once-a-year punter, who only ventures into a betting shop for a "harmless" flutter on the National.
"You just need to look at that course - the reason why it is so famous is because it is so dangerous," says Animal Aid campaigns co-ordinator Yvonne Taylor.
She dismisses claims the industry's claims that it is making the spectacle safer.
"If they were to make this a safe race where horses didn't face injury, they wouldn't have the viewing figures or the money (from betting). The public just don't realise the cruelty involved. They see horses fall but then everything is done to shield the viewer from the fate of these animals. A green screen quickly goes up around the horses. That's when they get a bullet in the head. That's very distasteful but that would show people the reality of horse racing. That's something that Aintree try to avoid people seeing.
"We're talking about entertainment, and that's what we are trying to get across to the public - that this is something that's just put on for their entertainment and to make money for the industry. We can't stop the public betting on races but we would like to see the Grand National banned.
"In this country, we have a 1911 Protection of Animals act which is supposed to protect animals from cruelty and we believe the Grand National is an intrinsically cruel race. We believe the RSPCA should speak out against this and ask for it to be banned."
The RSPCA itself has taken a more conciliatory line.
"Any death of a horse is unacceptable as far as we are concerned but we are not campaigning to have the National banned," said RSPCA press officer Ros Varnes.
Rather the charity is seeking to find ways of minimising the risk to horses. Ahead of last year's race the RSPCA unveiled a three-year research programme to analyse the causes of racehorse fatalities and injuries. David Muir, the charity's equine consultant said:
"The RSPCA is extremely concerned about the number of racehorses which die or are injured every year. Together with the racing industry, we are doing all we can to improve safety standards and reduce the risk of injuries and fatalities in horseracing."