IT’S a fair bet that, come 5.15pm tomorrow, many of you will be tuned in to watch or listen to the Grand National steeplechase at Aintree.
Of course, the Liverpool showpiece race is not to everyone’s taste – and the media has been full of alerts about possible protests at the 175th annual running of the race.
Each to his own, I say, as everyone is entitled to (peacefully) express their view.
So, forgive me if what follows doesn’t sit well with those of you with strong views about banning horseracing.
Cards on the table – I come from a horsey family, know three Grand National winning jockeys from south Wales (Hywel Davies, Neale Doughty and Carl Llewellyn) and have worked with racehorses and on racecourses.
Activists who claim racing is cruel and want it banned focus on injury and deaths. They make no reference to the wonderful lives that the sport gives so many. Those wanting horse racing banned would effectively be exterminating the thoroughbred breed.
So, when the anti-racing lobby groups bombard you with messages on social media and through more traditional news outlets, consider these bullet points from the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), the Government-recognised, independent body responsible for the regulation of horseracing –
- Racehorses lead an exceptionally high quality of life. They are bred for the sport and benefit from being involved in racing. They receive unparalleled care and attention, the best possible feed, bedding, facilities and a healthy lifestyle involving regular exercise.
- The 20,000-plus horses in Britain who race over the course of a year receive almost constant attention from the 6,000-plus stable staff who are dedicated to their care.
- While the sport carries some risk for its participants – as with all sporting activities or activities involving animals – this level of risk is very low and is outweighed by the benefits of racing, not only to humans but to horses, too.
- Over the last 20 years British Racing has invested more than £40 million in veterinary research and education with funding invested by the Horserace Betting Levy Board and, more recently, the Racing Foundation. The sport’s substantial investment in veterinary research and education brings benefits for all breeds of horse in Britain.
- The number of horses that have suffered fatal injuries on racecourses has decreased to just 0.21% of runners over the last 20 years. (Consider at the same time this random fact: every year in the UK, there are apparently 1.2 billion land animals slaughtered for human consumption)
- Faller rates during jump races have decreased to just 2.25%, their lowest figure on record as a result of initiatives to make racecourses and jump racing safer.
- No trainers or jockeys are licensed by the BHA unless they are proven to be suitable persons to look after or ride racehorses and they are subject to strict welfare standards.
- No racecourse is licensed, and no racing can take place unless the premises and facilities meet strict BHA equine welfare criteria, which far exceed those demanded by animal welfare legislation.
- There are minimum numbers of vets who officiate at every fixture. For example, at the 2023 Cheltenham Festival there were six Veterinary Officers and eight Veterinary Surgeons and every runner was checked by a vet before competing.
- The sport takes steps to look after horses at all stages of their lives, from the mandatory microchipping and registration of a foal within 30 days of its birth, through to the sport’s own charity – Retraining of Racehorses (RoR) – which is responsible for developing longer‐ term, sustainable solutions to the question of what happens to horses when they finish racing by generating a demand for these horses across a range of equine disciplines.
- Partly through the work of RoR, and due to the adaptability and versatility of the thoroughbred as a breed, an active market for the rehoming and retraining of racehorses has developed. Tens of thousands of former racehorses go on to fulfilling second careers ranging from polo, eventing, dressage, horseball and team chasing, right through to happy hacking and supporting equine therapy programmes for humans.
TV commentator Kevin Blake this week summed up how everyone in the racing industry feels about the Grand National –
‘For all the risks involved in the race, in a world that is being increasingly watered down by health and safety bores, there are no more thrilling 10-minute spectacles in sport than the Aintree Grand National. Racing should be proud to have it as our mainstream showcase and shouldn’t be afraid to celebrate it openly.’
You can find out more about equine welfare and the use of the whip in horseracing on the BHA website at https://www.britishhorseracing.com/regulation/horse-welfare-british-racing/
PS: Reluctant as I am to give a tip for the big race, you might try 20p Each-Way on Longhouse Poet, currently a 14-1 shot with some bookmakers. Just back it for fun, so please don’t bet the farm on the gelding from Ireland.