Why do horses die at the Grand National? Why is course so dangerous? | Racing | Sport

Why do horses die at the Grand National? Why is course so dangerous? | Racing | Sport

Updated: 24/03/2023


Horses Forest des Aigles and Crucial Role were killed in separate races on day two of the Grand National 2019 after suffering fatal falls. Forest Des Aigles, ridden by Derek Fox, broke his leg while jumping the final fence of the Topham Chase. Another male, Crucial Role, fell later in the day while being ridden by Harry Skelton in the Mildmay Novices’ Chase. Both horses were put down by veterinary professionals.

The tragic deaths were condemned by animal rights’ charity PETA, which is campaigning to get ITV to stop broadcasting the event.

PETA director Elisa Allen said: “This kind of carnage and the revelations concerning how many horses are ground up are precisely why people are turning away from horse racing.”’

More than 200 horses died on British race tracks in 2018, according to the British Horseracing Authority.

Why do horses die at the Grand National? Why is course so dangerous?

The Grand National is regarded as one of the toughest racecourses in the world for several reasons.

Firstly, the race is not flat but a steeplechase event meaning horses have to navigate ditches and fences while running at full pelt.

The gruelling course is also one the longest races found anywhere in the world, with competitors having to jump 16 obstacles over four and a half miles.

This means horse fatalities are higher than in typical races.

Dr Mark Kennedy, former senior lecturer in animal welfare at Anglia Ruskin University, said the risk of horse fatalities in a steeplechase is about six per 1,000 starts in a 2011 interview with the BBC.

This compares to one per 1,000 starts for flat racing and four per 1,000 starts for hurdling.

Dr Kennedy told the BBC: “On average in the larger jump meetings, such as the three-day Grand National event, we can expect around three horse fatalities.

“My point is these are not freak accidents, they are predictable.

“If the risk to the car driver was the same as the Grand National – six deaths in 1,000 – then you would be lucky to still be alive after six months.”

Figures show Beecher’s Brook is statistically the most dangerous hurdle.

The fence has a drop of 6ft 9 inches, often spooking horses more than the initial jump.

Riders must take on the daunting challenge not once but twice during the race.

Extensive modifications have been made to the fence twice in its history following the deaths of horses.

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