Kevin Blake

With the Grand National at Aintree just days away, Kevin Blake implores racing fans to enjoy and get behind the great race.

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The Grand National is just days away and rather than watching the race in fear of what might happen, everyone involved in horse racing can be proud of the lengths that all involved have gone to in an effort to reduce avoidable risk.

There hasn’t been an equine fatality in the Grand National since the fences underwent fundamental structural changes after the 2012 renewal of the race. This is the longest fatality-free run that the race has had since the 1960s. Though, with the reporting of such matters unlikely to have been as detailed back then, there is every chance that this is the longest such run that the race has ever had.

However, it would display an optimistic ignorance of probability to think this run of good fortune will continue. There have been more than a couple of equine fatalities over the new Grand National fences since 2012, they have just come in races other than the Grand National. It seems a statistical inevitability that there will be another equine fatality in the Grand National and everyone involved needs to be ready for what that will bring.

Horse line up for the Grand National at Aintree
Safety changes after the 2012 Grand National have been hugely positive

We as a sport can do little to prevent the brand of ignorant sensationalism that certain mainstream media, animal rights groups and agenda-driven social media accounts will use around the National. They will seek to capitalise on the profile and drama of the race by firing up a well-meaning but largely uninformed public, appealing to their love of animals and portraying the Grand National as an affront to that. They will post articles, images and videos focusing in on falls and their ramifications.

While we can’t control this, what we can do is manage our response to it. If emotion and ignorance are used as weapons against our sport, we must return fire with assertive facts and helpful information.

ITV, who broadcast the race on terrestrial television, are well on top of the importance of their role in communicating the realities of these situations to a mainstream audience in a sensitive manner, but one of the most important battlefields in the fight for public opinion in the modern world is social media.

One would hope that the BHA are prepared for every possibility in terms of what information they push out in the event of an equine injury or fatality. Simple things such as an article or video explaining why a horse almost always has to be euthanised after breaking a leg may seem macabre, but they can be very helpful in controlling the narrative in what are emotive situations.

That it was an article originally published in the Guardian seven-and-a-half years ago that played this role on social media after Sir Erec’s injury at the Cheltenham Festival suggests that the BHA may not be as on top of this as they should be. They need to have such information packs ready to publish at a moment’s notice as a counter to sensationalism and ignorance.

It is understandable for National Hunt racing as a sport to be worried about what might transpire in the National. After all, one doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist to see the danger in the sport’s most popular race also being its most risk-filled. However, for all those natural concerns, we shouldn’t fall into the trap of allowing those fears to dictate how we cover the race.

The Grand National may not be the same race that it once was, but it is still an iconic event. The shop window it gives our sport is the envy of all bar the very biggest sporting events on the planet. Despite its risks, we should embrace it and be positive about it. The thoroughbreds that compete in the Grand National are the bravest of the brave in our sport. Let’s celebrate that. 

Kevin Blake
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