Briefing: Grand National still more than five times more lethal than other steeplechases

We are fast approaching what is probably the world’s most notorious race – the Grand National – which is staged every April at Aintree Racecourse.

We are fast approaching what is probably the world’s most notorious race – the Grand National – which is staged every April at Aintree Racecourse. It comprises a dangerously overcrowded field of 40 horses, forced to confront 30 extraordinarily challenging jumps, over a course of almost four-and-a-half miles, invariably amid scenes of chaos and multiple falls. Only around 39 per cent have finished the race in the last 10 years.

  • The Grand National is still, on average, over five times more lethal than other steeplechases.1
  • Since 2000, 42 horses have perished taking part in the three-day event – 11 in the Grand National race itself.
  • Over the past 50 years, 35 horses are known to have lost their lives in the main Grand National race.
  • Eight horses were killed (2 per cent) in the main race in the last 10 years (2006-2015).
  • While there were no deaths in the main race itself in 2015, two horses died in other races at the three-day event.
  • In the 2011 Grand National, shocked viewers watched Ornais fall at the fourth fence, breaking his neck. His tarpaulin-covered body was described as ‘an obstacle on the course’.
  • The 2011 Grand National winner, Ballabriggs, was thrashed at the end of a race and left so exhausted, he needed oxygen.
  • In the 2012 Grand National, the favourite, Synchronised, and outsider, According To Pete, were both killed.
  • The extreme distance – nearly four-and-a-half miles – makes it the longest race in world Thoroughbred National Hunt (jump) racing.
  • There are a greater number of fences on the Grand National course in relation to the race distance than on any other British NH racecourse.
  • In 2012, changes were made to the core of the fences. Despite those highly-publicised alterations, four horses have died on the course in 15 races since their implementation: Battlefront on 4 April 2013; Little Josh on 5 April 2013; Plein Pouvoir on 7 December 2013; and Balbriggan on 6 December 2014.
  • Since 2000 there has been a set field of 40 horses*. This makes the race much more dangerous than in former years when the mean field size, between 1839 and 2000, was 29. (*since 2000 two races had 39 horses take part due to last-minute non-runners)

In short, it is reckless and selfish to require horses to run the Grand National course, whether in the big race or in other lesser events. It remains what it has always been: a grotesque spectacle in which horses’ lives are put at risk.

Notes to Editors:

  1. Read our detailed Grand National Briefing Sheet
  2. Animal Aid’s Sanctuary not Cruelty campaign encourages people to donate to a sanctuary caring for horses, rather than to have a bet on the Grand National.
  3. Additionally, on 9 April, there will be protests outside Aintree Racecourse in Merseyside and at the offices of the Grand National broadcaster, Channel 4, in London.
  4. Watch our film about Hillside Sanctuary, which rescues horses, including ex-race horses


1. According to the BHA, ‘Jump racing accounts for just over 4 fatalities of every thousand runners.’ This equates to 0.4%. ( For the last 999 runners (from 1989 to 2015) in the Grand National, there were 22 deaths (which equates to 2.2%). Therefore, the Grand National is over five times more deadly than other jumps races.