Public “not fooled” on Grand National welfare

As today’s Grand National horserace gets underway at Aintree, new opinion polling suggests public concern over the welfare of participating horses.

Since 1996, fourteen horses have died during or shortly after the race, which is often considered the key fixture in Britain’s horseracing calendar. Last year, eight year-old ‘Hear the Echo’ died near the end of the course. His death brought to eighty the total number of horses to have died at the Grand National.

Polling by YouGov on behalf of the League Against Cruel Sports shows that when informed about the number of deaths as a result of the Grand National, 65% said they believe officials should make changes to decrease the risk to horses with some 48% thinking that fences should be lowered and 28% thinking that the number of horses taking part should be reduced. Sixty per-cent of the public declare some interest in the race, according to the poll, with 32% watching and betting for money.

A spokesman for the League said that whilst the numbers of people having a flutter remain high, there are signs of concern about animal welfare. “Aintree will tell you that the welfare of horses is their number one concern, but the obvious truth is that profit will always come first. These polling figures show that only a small minority of the public think the current racecourse is acceptable in welfare terms.”

“If human participants in sports died at the rate suffered by horses in the Grand National, there would be outcry,” the spokesman said. “But somehow the beautiful and majestic creatures are seen as expendable resources, there to allow us to make a few quid when we hedge our bets. We need a change in approach which values their lives above the bookies’ profits.”

The League, which doesn’t call for a ban on horseracing but instead insists on welfare improvements, is asking its supporters to email Heineken chiefs to call on them to use their sponsorship power to call for improvements. John Smith’s Bitter, owned by Heineken, has sponsored the Grand National since 2005.

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