Animal Aid

New Horse Death Research Shows Odds Stacked Against Grand National Runners

Posted 29 March 2006

In the wake of the carnage at the recent Cheltenham Festival, when nine horses died - and in the run-up to the notorious Grand National on Saturday 8th April - Animal Aid exposes as a sham the much-trumpeted claim that the famous Aintree event is the ultimate test of skill for jump horses.

The national campaign group's research shows that the odds are stacked against the participants from the start. While jump horses were once bred to be robust in order to cope with the rigours of jump courses, the modern industry concentrates on breeding a lighter-boned, speedier animal for the more lucrative Flat events. Less successful horses taken from flat racing, or those who show an aptitude for clearing fences, are consigned to jump racing. Because they are fine-tuned for speed rather than skeletal strength, they run an extreme risk of suffering fatal injury when they do fall - a common occurrence on an especially long and challenging course such as Aintree.

Cheltenham is another extremely difficult course. Furthermore, an Animal Aid analysis of all those who perished earlier this month confirmed that all did have Flat racing ancestry. The nature of the course combined with this breeding background means that the high death rate experienced at this year's Festival is only shocking with respect to the numbers killed in such a short time. Animal Aid research shows that Cheltenham is the most lethal course in the country, with Aintree a close second. Both courses are owned by racing's own regulatory body, the Jockey Club.

Says Animal Aid horse racing consultant, Dene Stansall:

'The Grand National Meeting at Aintree has for generations been an infamous killing field that exposes the increasing fragility of the Thoroughbred. Alarmingly, all the horses who were killed at Cheltenham were from flat racing stock. The inability of the modern racehorse to cope in the National Hunt environment is becoming increasingly apparent. The fact that around 375 horses are raced to death each season is an indictment of a industry that is unable to regulate itself. Race horses should not have to put their lives on the line every time they race. It is essential that the Jockey Club, when investigating the Cheltenham fatalities, takes full account of the comparative fragility of the horses pitted against these deliberately taxing courses.'

The Grand National reigns supreme as a perversely difficult course. Covering a distance of four miles and 856 yards, horses are required to jump 30 obstacles - some of which include perilous drops, ditches and sharp turns. Forty horses usually take part - an excessively crowded field, which adds to the risk of collisions and falls.

No fewer than 30 horses have perished at the three-day Grand National meeting since 1997 - some on Aintree's Mildmay and Hurdle courses, both of which are dangerously fast.

The seven days leading up to the Grand National is Animal Aid's Horse Racing Awareness Week. This year, there will be protests outside betting shops across the country and an eye-catching presence at Aintree itself. The group has also launched an internet viral campaign alerting the public to the cruelty and exploitative nature of the racing industry. Last week Animal Aid sent a briefing to every MP - the opening salvo in a determined campaign to get horse racing onto the political agenda.

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Notes to Editors

Cheltenham Festival Deaths:

  1. Bayard - broken neck
  2. No Where To Hyde - Broken leg, destroyed
  3. Holy Orders - broken leg, destroyed
  4. Sh Boom - Died in the night from injuries sustained during race
  5. Basilea Star - killed in a fall
  6. Mr Babbage - broken shoulder, destroyed
  7. Millenaire - broken back, destroyed
  8. Olaso - broken leg, destroyed
  9. Buck Whaley - broken neck

An Animal Aid study of available evidence - including 15,000 pages of race results - shows that around 375 horses are raced to death every year. Some 30% of these fatalities occur during, or immediately after a race, and result from a broken leg, back, neck or pelvis; fatal spinal injuries; exhaustion; heart attack, or burst blood vessels. The other victims perish from training injuries or are killed after being assessed by their owners as no-hopers.

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