Concerns have been raised by animal rights groups after two horses died in this year’s Grand National. Both horses suffered fractured legs and had to be put down in a race which has a long history of equine fatalities. Several changes were made to the track after two horses died last year, and calls from the RSPCA this week are for further amendments to be made.
Synchronised and According to Pete both died in a race which was finished by only 15 horses out of 40. The Paul Nicholls trained Neptune Collonges, ridden by Daryl Jacob, won in a photo finish which saw Richie McLernon on Sunnyhillboy piped to the post by a whisker. Katie Walsh on Seabass was leading throughout but ended with the highest-ever female jockey ranking of third.
Aintree managing director Julian Thick has said new safety measures could be on the cards: "The course has been in a constant state of evolution since the race was first run. If we deem it necessary to change for the safety of horses, we won't stand still."
The Grand National has seen 20 horse mortalities from 840 runners in the last 22 races from 1990. After the deaths of Ornais and Dooneys Gate last year changes were made to the circuit. The fourth fence was dropped by two inches and the landing side of the first fence was levelled off. The infamous Becher’s Brook fence, which caused this year’s deaths, was modified with a reduction of the landing side drop. The entry requirements were also raised, and a new post-race cooling off area for the horses was created.
These changes have been criticised by animal rights groups as being too small to prevent this year’s casualties. The RSPCA described the deaths as "totally unacceptable" and called for "an urgent examination" of the race.
Synchronised was the first horse for 78 years to be vying for the double after winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup this year. The Jonjo O’Neill trained horse had a shaky start, unseating jockey A.P.McCoy on the way to the start line and causing an eight minute delay. After being cleared by the Aintree vet the horse fell at Becher’s Brook on the first circuit, deposing McCoy once more and continuing to the 11th fence where he fractured a leg.
According to Pete also fractured a leg after falling at Becher’s Brook- this time on the second circuit- when On His Own fell in front of him.
Five casualties at the Cheltenham Festival this year mean that authorities will take future race safety very seriously. Possible modifications to the Grand National circuit include reducing the number of runners and dropping or scrapping the Becher’s Brook fence.