Becher’s Brook was the focus of attention following the falls there of both Synchronised and According to Pete. The BHA had access to some footage of events that has not been broadcast, and their report says of Synchronised’s initial fall at Becher’s that the horse “appeared to have a clear sight of the fence and did not make a significant error but became unbalanced prior to landing and fell on to his left side.”
As we know, this did not cause any major injury, and Synchronised was quickly on his feet and continued for a further five fences. His fatal injury occurred at the 11th fence. The report says the horse ”appears to decelerate into the fence and does not jump it cleanly, dragging his hind legs and hindquarters through the fence. It would appear he fractured his right tibia and fibula in the process.”
The incident at Becher’s involving According to Pete took place on the second circuit. Again, the fence itself was found blameless, as According to Pete had “clear space in front of him” as he approached the fence.
The report says, “He jumped the fence well, but on landing found he had nowhere to go and on the stride after landing he collided with the rear of the faller, On His Own, resulting in the horse being brought down and he rider, Harry Haynes, being thrown clear. As the horse got up, Weird Al jumped the fence and came into contact with According To Pete’s left side. It is not conclusive whether this collision, or the greater impact that occurred when he was brought down, led to the fracture of the horse’s left fore humerus.”
Gavin Grant, the RSPCA’s chief executive appeared to have decided on his response even before the report was issued. Although no problems were identified with Becher’s, Grant called for the removal of the fence altogether. He said, “We need change, a smaller and better qualified field (this latter was introduced this year), an end to killer fences like Becher’s Brook which we believe was instrumental in the deaths of both Synchronised and According to Pete.”
In contrast, Jamie Stier, director of raceday operations and regulations, was measured in his comments, and struck a sensible note when he said, “It remains too early to speculate as to whether any changes will be made to the National. Naturally, we will be liaising closely with Aintree in collating and examining all relevant evidence from this year’s meeting.
It took three attempts to start the National this year, and the difficulty that racecourse staff had in stretching and connecting the lengthy piece of elastic to the running rail were all too evident to see. It was surprising that the stewards did not see any need to investigate these problems on the day, especially as in their report the BHA has ruled that all 40 jockeys in the race breached the rules. Some, it says, lined up before they had been instructed too, others that they did so when the starter had explicitly said they should not.
In the event, the BHA could hardly penalise all the riders, so a letter setting out their disappointment at the jockeys’ conduct was as much as they could. Nevertheless, it is surprising that they simply referred to the difficulties in fixing the tape as “complications.”
Paul Struthers, chief executive of the Professional Jockeys’ Association had some strong words for his former bosses. He said, “We would not agree that 40 riders appeared to be in breach of the rules of racing. We made submissions to the BHA explaining why we felt disciplinary action would be both ill advised and unfair.”
The problem at Aintree is that the course is so much wider than any other at the start. The further you have to stretch a piece of elastic, the greater the pull it exerts against you. This is surely one area where it is possible to improve things. Is it worth trying out a removable “telegraph pole” halfway across the course, with a starting tape each side? Any other solutions?