British Horseracing Authority Defends Grand National, Says 'Safety Record Has Improved'
The British Horseracing Authority has defended the Grand National, saying that "its overall safety record has improved," according to Joe Wilson of the BBC. Two fatalities in '11 prompted a major review into safety, "with two more horse deaths in 2012 resulting in changes to the Aintree course for Saturday's race." BHA Dir of Raceday Operations Jamie Stier said, "The fatalities of last year do not mean the changes made were inappropriate. People need to give an opportunity for the changes to bed in." The changes made to the Aintree course include "shortening the distance of the race from four-and-a-half miles to four miles and three-and-a-half furlongs and changing the core material used to build the fences from wood to a more forgiving plastic material" (BBC, 4/4).
FIRM DEFENSE: In London, Alan Lee wrote trainer Jonjo O'Neill, "who suffered heartbreak on two counts" in the John Smith's Grand National last year," offered a "fervent defence of the imperilled race" on Wednesday. The death at Aintree of Synchronised, one month after O'Neill had produced him to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup, "intensified criticism of the National and led to calls by some animal rights groups for it to be banned on grounds of cruelty." O'Neill: "People saying the National should be stopped just don't understand. We are all in racing because we love the horses, but we take things to heart. Some of the things said about us are a bloody insult, as if we are animals ourselves. There are people out there stabbing and shooting, killing randomly, and sometimes it seems we are being put in the same bracket" (LONDON TIMES, 4/4). Also in London, Tony Paley wrote Battlefront, ridden by Katie Walsh, "who hopes to become the first woman to win the Grand National on Saturday, collapsed and died on Thursday in the first race at Aintree over the Grand National fences at this year's meeting." Walsh, who finished third on Seabass in last year's Grand National and will ride the same horse in this year's running of the big race, "pulled up Battlefront at the 11th fence in the John Smith's Fox Hunters' Chase for amateur riders." The horse "collapsed and died soon afterwards." Initial reports are that the horse "may have suffered a heart attack" (GUARDIAN, 4/4).