Animal Aid

New film reveals terrible price paid by horses in Grand National: BBC ACCUSED OF COVER-UP

Posted 28 March 2012

A powerful new film revealing the lethal nature of the Grand National race, and the reasons why it kills so many horses, is released today (29 March) by Animal Aid.

The 7-minute mini-documentary is unveiled in the week that the national campaign group has written to the BBC – which relinquishes Aintree broadcasting rights to Channel 4 next year – demanding that it breaks with tradition this year and reports fully and promptly on any horse deaths should they occur during the three-day Grand National meeting1.

Since 2000, 35 horses have perished at the meeting, 20 as a result of racing on the Grand National course itself. In 2011, the big race saw Ornais break his neck and Dooneys Gate break his back. Inventor, who was killed in a hurdle race on the first day, was the other reported victim.

In fact, a fourth horse was killed last year – a death that went unreported by the racing press as well as by the BBC. Animal Aid has learned, via an industry tip-off, that 9-year-old Leo’s Lucky Star fell while racing in Thursday’s 4.15 Handicap Chase and was subsequently destroyed, while still at the course.

In his letter to the BBC’s Head of Sport, Barbara Slater, Animal Aid Director Andrew Tyler states: ‘The BBC’s coverage of Aintree has been marked by consummate cynicism. Horses routinely break necks, backs and legs, while the BBC commentary team invariably pretends that all is well. In 2010, two broken-necked horses lay in full view of the cameras, having fallen simultaneously at Valentine’s Brook. Yet your team ignored their death throes, keeping up their breathless race commentary without missing a beat.

‘We have seen recent media comments indicating that the BBC and the racecourse operators are this year determined to expunge from public view the kind of scenes that were broadcast in 2011, following the deaths of Ornais and Dooneys Gate. That kind of cynical concealment would be wholly wrong – those horses perished in a race keenly promoted by the BBC, which enjoyed a massive viewing audience. The viewers deserve to know the truth … After years of dishonest reporting, the BBC can go some way to redeeming itself before handing over coverage to Channel 4.’

Animal Aid’s new film reveals that, despite the introduction of several well-publicised ‘safety measures’ and course adjustments, the Grand National has proved more lethal during this past decade than at any time during its more than 170-year history2.

The film covers the course, jump by hazardous jump, showing how and where horses have come to grief. A copy has been sent to every MP, asking them to ensure that the BBC lives up to its charter obligation and reports the Aintree meeting fairly and responsibly.

Further Information

Notes to editors

  1. The BBC is called upon to meet a simple obligation: to show and report promptly and fully on any horse death that might occur during next month’s three-day meeting. Details about the horse and his or her history should be given. This would include the names of the owner(s) and trainer, previous falls and injuries if any, and the nature of the injury that proved fatal. The death should not be disposed of, as has been traditional, in one or two hastily uttered sentences. Animal Aid’s view is that horses falling and being killed are part of the ‘Aintree experience’ and deserve to be fully communicated to the public. Seeking to conceal a fatality can lead to the broadcaster sounding callous. This was the case in the 2011 Grand National, when the tarpaulin-covered body of Ornais was described as ‘an obstacle on the course’.
  2. It is claimed that persistent criticism of the course in recent years by animal rights campaigners has succeeded, perversely, in making the course easier and, therefore, faster and more dangerous. This is incorrect. The height of the fences – taken collectively – has not changed since Victorian times. And while the fences are less upright than in previous decades, those changes came about in 1961 – more than a decade before the advent of the modern animal rights movement. The fences remain daunting obstacles and solid at their core. A significant danger is the sheer volume of horses taking part in the race. Since 2000, there has been a set field of 40 horses. This makes the event more competitive and, consequently, more dangerous than in past years when the mean field size was 29.

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