The most recent Grand Nationals have been steeped in controversy relating to health and safety. This is because the race results in less than half of the forty-strong field of horses actually finishing, with a huge portion falling on the difficult fences.
In the past the RSCPA has been very vocal in their arguments against the layout of the Aintree course in the wake of four equine deaths between the 2011 and 2012 races. In the lead-up to each of the previous Grand National’s the Aintree officials and the RSCPA have entered a back and forth heated debate regarding the safety and welfare of all involved. However, that is not going to be the case for the 2014 Grand National.
Course Unchanged for 2014
It has been widely reported that the RSCPA and Aintree officials are now at peace over the course for the 2014 Grand National. A number of changes were made to the course for the 2013, so as to eradicate fatalities and minimise the number of falls. The safe running of this year’s event led to officials deciding that the course will be left exactly as is in 2014. In response to the decision, the RSPCA followed-up by saying it had no dispute with the plans. This has been welcomed by the clerk of the course, Andrew Tulloch, who is pleased that the changes will have time to ‘settle in’.
Changes Implemented after Past Horse Fatalities
Most notable of the changes was the shortening of the race. This was to create a smaller distance between the horses and the first jump on the course. The rationale behind the alteration was to ensure that the riders were not carrying too much speed before reaching the first jump. In previous years it had been commonplace that major congestion and confusion would arise as soon as the jump was reached and the speed and overcrowding would culminate in a significant number of falls.
Plastic Fences Selected in Place of Wood
A major part of the safety strategy consisted of the old wooden cored fences being replaced for ones with plastic birch. The philosophy behind the change was that the new fences would give way under the weight of any horses that would fall on them. The new fences resulted in just two horses falling and six jockeys being unseated in 2013. It cannot be denied that the course is now easier, but that has been to the huge benefit of vastly improved safety.
John Baker from Jockey Club Racecourses explained that no one believes that the safety issues have been solved once and for all. He cautioned that another year is needed with the current setup before any conclusions can be drawn. As for the RSCPA, the organization racing consultant, David Muir, has another change in mind: he would like to see the size of the field reduced from 40 to 30. That is not likely to happen any time soon.