Another year and another exhilarating Grand National has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons as a dark cloud continues to hang over the world’s most prestigious steeplechase.
In some aspects the race was one of the most thrilling renewals we have seen for some time and the pulsating climax to the four-mile war was as exciting as you could wish to see. A last gasp lunge from Neptune Collonges saw the grey end Paul Nicholls’ National hoodoo and the agonising wait for the result of the photo was an example of racing at its very best.
Once again, the BBC covered the race brilliantly and the enthusiasm of Clare Balding and the stirring commentary from the fantastic Jim McGrath proved that the race should be going nowhere. Racing fans have every right to feel let down by the corporation and we can only hope that the race doesn’t lose any of its prestige when it moves to Channel 4.
The racing world will be thrilled to know that viewing figures were up and BBC1’s coverage had a peak of 10.89 million viewers. Betting turnover continues to rise and the Grand National certainly doesn’t seem to be buckling under the pressure of the recession.
But away from all the electrifying plus points of the Aintree showpiece, the National has leapt into the spotlight after the deaths of two horses, Synchronised and According To Pete.
The fact that both suffered freak injuries in the marathon – one fell while loose and the other was forced down by another horse – will be no consolation to animal welfare groups and Paul Bittar, the BHA’s chief executive, will be set for some important discussions next week.
A thorough review of the race last year saw a number of changes and rules introduced to the contest and safety was very much the main talking point ahead of this year’s National. Unfortunately the debate will now rage on and while racing fans will be resistant to more changes to the legendary race, others will continue to heap pressure on the BHA.
The age old argument that racehorses are the aristocracy of the animal world and they wouldn’t race, or be forced to race, if it wasn’t something they enjoyed doing will fall on deaf ears with animal rights groups who will only want to see the negativity in the sport.
A number of racing’s jockeys and trainers have already moved to defend the National and it seems that more than ever, racing’s leading names are looking to stand their ground after the fallout from Saturday’s race.
Clearly everyone will have their opinion, but is it time that racing attempted to put these casualties into context in a bid to defend the sport rather than bowing to a media that has become preoccupied with any fatalities that might occur?