At 4:30 on Saturday afternoon, Neptune Collonges crossed the finishing line at Aintree by a neck, snatching Grand National glory. Almost a week later, and the dust has yet to settle.
However, for the second consecutive year, the metaphorical dust is not swirling because of the excitement and glory of the Grand National, but because of the two equine fatalities that overshadowed all else at Aintree.
Reigning Gold Cup champion, Synchronised and According To Pete were both fatally injured during last Saturday’s race, sending shockwaves through Britain and polarising popular opinion.
In the one corner, the defiant horseracing fans, defending the Holy Grail of the Grand National (of which I am a member), and in the other, the disgusted and outraged public, calling for the end of the Grand National.
After the race, winning trainer Paul Nicholls told BBC Radio Five Live, “There is always risk in sport. A lot of people have to grow up, and realise that it is life.”
Whilst at the same time, #banthegrandnational and #banhorseracing were making their way up the Twitter trending rankings. By about 6 p.m they were both trending globally.
Such a pattern has continued throughout the week with both factions firmly entrenched in their own camps.
The RSPCA has since branded the deaths ‘totally unacceptable’, whilst JP McManus, Synchronised’s owner, has backed the Grand National, saying that the event ‘should not be devalued’ because of the fatalities.
From a personal point of view, I have experienced debates with a number of people over the issue and, quite frankly, both parties think they are right. One thing that is certain, however, is that the Grand National has shrouded itself in infamy once again, and for the second year running, the winner has slipped under the radar.
Although the outraged reaction is understandable, sensibility must prevail. The Grand National is a unique and popular event, and is a highlight in the British sporting calendar. Indeed, 11 million people tuned in to the BBC’s coverage on Saturday. Therefore, it must not be jeopardised by the outcries of those who do not understand horseracing and its impact on the British economy.
That being said, even the most avid horseracing fan must realise that changes are needed.
Aintree and the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) need to work together to come to a suitable conclusion. Whether it is a smaller field, smaller fences, higher fences, lower drops or the removal of the likes of the Chair and Beecher’s Brook, the race needs to be made safer.
Last year the Grand National survived the storm of controversy after two horses died and this year the pressure is even more suffocating. And if the BHA and Aintree get it wrong, the Grand National could be in real danger of being scrapped.
This week 29% of people advocated the banning of the Grand National on The Telegraph website and if things do not change next year, that figure will be even higher.
The Grand National is a British treasure and one of the great events in world sport. However, in our modern society, animal deaths and seeming cruelty will not be tolerated. Therefore, provisions must be made to both help the National retain its unique appeal and to prevent the tragic death of more horses.
For now though, the British public is decidedly split on the issue and it looks as though it will be a war of attrition between horseracing fans and those that wish to see the end of the Grand National.