Saturday, April 09, 2011
Too sad to flutter
I've never been a gambler. I don't even do the lottery. But I've got nothing against anyone else gambling. It's just not for me. Horses for courses you might say. Although I'd rather you didn't. Especially not today, Grand National day. If I did ever start gambling, one of the very last things in the world I'd ever bet on is the Grand National. These awful photographs show the moments just before two horses died for our entertainment today. We're supposed to be a nation of animal lovers. Isn't it about time we stopped this cruel spectacle? Let me explain what I mean: I'm not some animal rights protestor out to ban horse racing. Nor am I someone who gets all emotional and mushy about animals. What I am is a pretty average kind of guy who thinks that animals should be treated like animals; free from cruelty and afforded a degree of respect. I used to be a keen rider myself and I know full well that horses delight in galloping and jumping. But courses like Aintree have now gone so far beyond a horse's natural ability that they have become killing zones. The course is now so challenging and so dangerous that horses die every year tackling the jumps. In fact, today's deaths brings the total to 20 since 2000 - and that's just in the main race. A horse called Inventor was destroyed on Thursday after breaking a leg. Last year four horses were killed and a record five in 2009. In total a staggering 35 horses have been killed since 2000 at this one racing meet. Is this really acceptable? Can you imagine anyone allowing an annual sporting event where it's pretty much guaranteed that an average of three athletes are killed every year? 600 million people tuned in to watch today and many of them would have had a harmless 'flutter on the gee-gees'. As you can see, it's far from harmless. It's carnage. We've grown out of bear baiting and bull fighting. We've pretty much done away with cock and dog fights. We've even gone some way towards taking the animals out of circuses. So why do we still allow this every year? Surely we can tone down the courses and still have a damned fine race and watch all of the horses come in safe and alive? Accidents will always happen of course; horses aren't indestructible. But we are killing hundreds of them every year - 676 in the past four years according to charity Animal Aid - just for our sport. And that is simply unacceptable. If you're interested, here's the fatality list to date. It may seem like I'm being a moany old curmudgeon. I'm not. I am an angry old curmudgeon. I'm angry that the Grand National has been turned into such a cultural event that we are now prepared to sacrifice a few horses every year for the sake of entertainment. I'm angry that the deaths of the horses are played down by the media; the BBC utterly failed to mention them during their coverage and even described one fallen animal as an 'obstacle'. How callous is that? Is keeping the viewers happy really more important than animal welfare? And then later, BBC presenter Claire Balding said on Twitter, 'Very sorry to report two fatalities at the Grand National - thoughts with all those connected with Ornais and Dooneys Gate'. Personally, my thoughts are not with the trainers, jockeys and millionaire owners. They're firmly with the horses who died. It doesn't have to be this way. The courses don't have to be so gruelling. I implore the owners of Aintree and similar racecourses to please, please, please make the races safer. We'll still watch. In fact, we might enjoy it more if there were fewer horses dying. Please don't put greed before animal welfare. Next year it would be great if everyone could walk home from the bookies with their winnings andclean consciences knowing that all of the horses have made it home too.