RSPCA: ‘Racing has one last chance’
Thursday 20 September 2012
By Geoffrey Riddle
The Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals have given the British Horseracing Authority and Aintree Racecourse one ‘last chance’ to prove that Becher’s Brook is not dangerous.
The RSPCA are concerned that their recommendation to move Becher’s Brook has not been taken up after both parties announced a raft of changes to the Grand National on Thursday.
One of the changes was to level out the landing to Becher’s Brook but the RSPCA do not believe the BHA nor Aintree racecourse have gone far enough to ensure horse safety.
“While the proposed improvement at Becher's by the additional levelling of the adverse slope on the landing zone can only be beneficial, we believe that the remaining many complexities of this fence mean that it continues to pose a serious and unacceptable threat to horse welfare,” a spokesperson said.
“We will watch carefully the impact of this change at Becher's at the 2013 Grand National. This is the BHA's last chance to show that this fence can pose a fair and safe challenge to horse and jockey.”
The BHA’s preliminary report into this year’s race was published in May but the RSPCA rejected it in favour of seven ‘key actions.’
Within those recommendations the RSPCA believed that the field size of 40 horses was too many and the organisation were disappointed that 40 horses will line up in 2013.
“Given the number of fallers and failures to complete the course, we do not accept that the field should remain at 40. Clearly many horses compete at the Grand National that cannot complete it,” the organisation added
“We welcome the constructive dialogue that has taken place to date between us and believe that this is the best way to improve the welfare of racehorses.
“The testing nature of the Grand National will always produce a higher level of risk. That risk must be appropriate and the safety of horses paramount.”
World Horse Welfare also believe that the field size should be reduced and their chief executive expressed disappointment that a trial to reduce field sizes is not planned.
"We welcome Aintree's demonstrated commitment to making the course safer and the changes proposed today which make good sense,” Roly Owers said.
“We are especially encouraged by their programme of work on the fences, replacing the hard cores with softer materials to make them more forgiving to the horses. This has the potential to make a big difference to safety."
He added: "However, we are disappointed that they have not proposed reducing the size of the field, although we note that they are keeping this under review. We believe that the number of fallers, unseated riders and horses being brought down by other horses in the National is too high.
"While there is clearly no magic formula here, changes need to be made to significantly reduce the faller rate which will reduce the number of injuries, fatalities and loose horses which pose risks to themselves and others on the course. We believe the single most effective way of doing this is to trial a reduction in the field size - say for three years. We do not believe that this would alter the spectacle or character of the race.
"In previous years the field size has shrunk to around 30 and there were no complaints that the race was any less compelling. A reserve system could operate where, if horses dropped out on the eve of the race, others could take their place, ensuring the field size is large enough on the day."
Two horses were killed in this year's race, won by Neptune Collonges, including the Gold Cup winner, Synchronised.
Neither of the two deaths were a direct result of a fall. Synchronised was injured while running loose and According To Pete, trained by Malcolm Jefferson, was brought down by another horse at Becher's Brook on the second circuit.
David Muir, the equine consultant of for the RSPCA, called for immediate change to the Grand National following a second year of equine deaths on Merseyside.
"The RSPCA feel very strongly that there needs to be a great deal more impetus to make this race safer. Talking about it is not good enough and action has to be fundamental," he said.
"I feel very sorry for the owner, trainer and girls who look after Synchronised because they must be devastated tonight."