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Friday, April 3, 1998 Published at 11:12 GMT 12:12 UK


Horses pay price of failure
image: [ Horses and jockeys can expect no mercy from Aintree's fences ]
Horses and jockeys can expect no mercy from Aintree's fences

Aintree has secured a heavy price from the equine community - there have been 25 horse fatalities at the course since 1991.

The Grand National itself has seen nine deaths since 1980, an average of one every other year.

Two horses - Smith's Band and Straight Talk - out of the 36 taking part were destroyed after the 1997 National.

Straight Talk, ridden by 17-year-old Joe Tizzard, broke a leg on the fence before The Chair and Smith's Band, trained by Jenny Pitman, broke his neck at the 20th.

[ image: Smith's Band broke his neck in this fall]
Smith's Band broke his neck in this fall
Significant improvements were made to the course in 1989 after two horses, Seeanem and Brown Trix, died at Becher's Brook.

The ground on the landing side of Becher's Brook was raised by 30 inches to make it safer for both horses and jockeys. Two other fences were also drastically modified.

Julie Briggs, a spokesman for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSCPA) says: "We have been working very closely with the Jockey Club and have made a great deal of progress.

"The field has been reduced in size, run-offs have been constructed to allow riderless horses to escape.

[ image: Teenager Joe Tizzard was in tears after his mount had to be put down]
Teenager Joe Tizzard was in tears after his mount had to be put down
"Stricter entry requirements for horses and riders have been introduced and the crowd has been moved back at certain points to reduce distractions for the horses."

She says: "We have welfare concerns with any race which results in injuries to horses but we appreciate this race is going to continue and we want to make sure it is made safer for horses."

The RSPCA also points out there are seven veterinary officers in attendance on Grand National day and on the other side of the Mersey the Leahurst is one of the best equine hospitals in Britain.

Aintree author and expert, Reg Green, says: "The Grand National is the most severe test of horse and rider ever devised."

He says the only comparable race is the Velka Pardubice in the Czech Republic - which was designed by an Austro-Hungarian prince after he rode the winner in the 1883 National - which has bigger fences but is run over a shorter, slower course.

[ image: Foinavon (far left) avoids the mass pile-up in 1967]
Foinavon (far left) avoids the mass pile-up in 1967
Mr Green says those who want to abolish it have missed two key points.

"Firstly, if it were not for steeplechasing a third of the thoroughbred population would be culled because they would serve no purpose.

"Secondly it is a natural instinct for a thoroughbred horse to run and jump. You can take a horse to water but you can't make him drink."

Foinavon wins the 1967 Grand National
Mr Green says most horses continue to run and jump even after they have lost their jockeys and he points out that in the 1967 National - famous for a pile-up which allowed 100-1 outsider Foinavon to win - one horse fell at the first but got up and completed the four-and-a-half mile course.

He says most horses are destroyed after breaking legs and he explains why: "The problem with setting a leg is these horses weigh half a ton. They naturally want to move about and to expect them to stand still for a couple of weeks is asking the impossible."

Only one jockey in the history of the race has been killed, a young Irishman crushed to death by his mount in 1862.


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