By Brendan Boylan,
Every facet of life contains risk. If you run the shower too hot, you might get scalded. Play the stock markets and there’s a good chance you’ll get burned in another way. Those that play contact sports know big hits are never far away. Working with horses can be dangerous business too. People who do just that know this too. Those who own the horses, plate them, train them and ride them. Risks are always there. Several times over the years, instances have occurred where farriers, trainers, jockeys and horses have been injured in the working environment when nowhere near a racecourse.
The thing is, those who annually like to pipe up and pour scorn on the Aintree Grand National seem to either forget or ignore this. And as long as they do, those of us who love the sport and its greatest spectacle shall be imbued with a need to vehemently defend what is a sporting institution. Furthermore, the element who seek to portray the National as some sort of pariah and showground for cruelty to horses should’ve been cognisant of what was going elsewhere in the racing world on the same day.
At some point during the television coverage of events in Liverpool, rumours began to reverberate that Frankel – Sir Henry Cecil’s stable star and the Champion Flat Horse of 2011 – had been retired due to injury. The story turned out to be nowhere as was confirmed by Prince Khaild Abdullah’s racing manager Lord Teddy Grimthorpe.
There’s never smoke with fire though. He obviously picked up some sort of knock. Now, as many of you will know, the current flat season is still in its early stages, thus the likes of Frankel and other leading lights like Nephrite, Camelot, Akeed Mofeed, Born To Sea and Parish Hall wouldn’t be due out on track for a while yet.
So what does that tell us? Yes, that’s right folks, whatever happened to Frankel happened on Cecil’s gallops at Warren Place in Newmarket or in a piece of work somewhere else. And that is a risk horse owners, trainers and jockeys live with each and every day. The racecourse – and specifically the Grand National – is not the only place injuries happen. Already this season, Willie Mullins lost outstanding Bumper horse Lovethehigherlaw who died on the gallops while something obviously happened Samain as well because that one never appeared this season either.
Yes, the risk would appear to be more profound in the Grand National than in most races but there are a few points that must be made here. Anyone involved with horses – or any other animals for that matter – usually has a very deep affection for and affinity with their animals. Therefore, they would not knowingly harm or endanger them. Organisers of the National rightly take great pride in their event and they know that if owners, trainers or jockeys wouldn’t support it were it not safe.
It is widely said within racing that you’ll know very quickly if a horse is taking to the Aintree fences or not. If they’re not, jockeys will be sensible enough to pull them up. Horses are very intelligent animals too and if they don’t fancy something they can and will refuse to do it. Jonjo O’Neill’s Arbor Supreme – formerly with Willie Mullins – was just one example of a horse who called a halt of his own accord.
Animal welfare groups have a job to do and in most cases do it very well, but, one gets the impression they have very little, if any, understanding of racing or the people therein. Much of the furore which blew up after last season’s National had more to do with unfortunate camera work. Nobody likes or wants horses to be hurt or killed, obviously, but the brouhaha that blew up after the 2011 race was mostly fuelled by the cameras showing stricken horses on the course.
Mention of television is apt. An era ended on National day with the BBC broadcasting the Aintree showpiece for the final time. Anyone that doubted the appeal of the race or what it means to people surely got their answer in the fact that 11,000,000 people tuned in to watch Claire Balding and co oversee things for the final time.
More significant, however, were the reactions of Malcolm Jefferson and JP McManus, a trainer and owner who both lost horses in this year’s renewal. For the latter, losing Gold Cup winner Synchronised – a home bred – was understandably devastating. Knockers of the Aintree National should heed his comments after the demise of his horse though.
He said: ‘We remain huge supporters of the Grand National despite the sadness. It is truly a fantastic spectacle that’s viewed by millions around the world. It should be devalued in any way’.
When somebody like JP speaks, the sport needs to listen. There’s too much of tendency to focus on the negative. Rather, we should be remembering the greatest finish in the race’s history. Proof that fairytales do come through as Paul Nicholls and Darryl Jacob combined for their first win in the races and Neptune Collonges got to round off his career in the greatest way possible.