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Friday, 7 April, 2000, 14:47 GMT 15:47 UK
Steeplechasing under fire
Horses
Horse racing is a popular sport, but it's facing critics
The Grand National, one of the country's landmark sporting events, is coming under attack because of the number of horses who do not make it to the end.

Since 1979 the race has seen the deaths of 18 horses, while the three-day Aintree meeting has seen 25 horses die since 1995.

The 4.5 mile race is known to be particularly gruelling, with the tallest fence - The Chair - standing at 5ft 2in.

Of the 9,700 steeplechases that take place each year, an average of 45 result in horses being put down, figures from the British Horseracing Board reveal.

In the National, some years are worse than others. There was a run between 1991 and 1995 when no horses died.

1998 was a particularly bad year, when three horses died. As a result, some significant changes were made to the course.

The fences have been modified in recent years, but falls are still common.

And the news that four horses were killed in three separate races at Aintree on Thursday will surely prompt further reviews. The Jockey Club is currently studying slow motion films of the race.

The RSPCA has called for post mortem examinations on the horses that were killed, but have said that the track itself is not at fault.

"The Aintree course is in excellent shape, and I don't know what the management could have done to avoid it," says David Muir, the RSPCA's chief equine consultant.

The Grand National has in the past been targeted by animal rights activists, and Thursday's deaths have led to increased security at the course.

Activists are also expected to demonstrate at bookmakers all over the country on Saturday, in attempts to persuade people not to support the National.

Yet the meeting has been enjoying record attendances, who are hoping further races will not be blighted by further problems.

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06 Apr 00 | Grand National
Fifth horse dies at Aintree
04 Apr 00 | Grand National
Aintree trivia
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