Whither the Grand National?

Grand National 2012 photo finish

Grand National 2012 photo finish

Saturday's four and a half mile Grand National featured the most rousing of climaxes with its nose winning margin verdict being the shortest, I believe, in its near two hundred year history.

The race was also notable for a 62.5% non-completion ratio, which included exactly half the field falling, unseating or being brought down. Of course, the saddest element of the known Grand National risks was that two horses - including the Gold Cup winner, Synchronised - were fatally injured.

So, where now for the Grand National? Amidst the slings and arrows of, generally, well-meaning external factions, which have been met and robustly defended by the sport's governance, I'll try to piece together some of the facts behind the rhetoric to enable you to make your own mind up on whether there are issues which need addressing in the greatest race of them all.

To do this, I'll consider a series of elements, and take a longer term view than the last two renewals of the Grand National which have both gained infamy for the deaths of a pair of gallant competitors.

First up, let's deal with the elephant in the room: the deaths of two horses in the 2012 running, following on from two horses dying in the 2011 running.

The death of any race horse on a racecourse must be treated as a matter for review and, in that spirit, it obviously makes sense to consider how the horses were injured/died.

In 2011, Ornais and Dooneys Gate both broke their necks from shuddering falls at the fourth and sixth fences respectively. The sixth is Bechers Brook, the only drop fence (i.e. fence where the ground on the landing side is lower than that on the take off side) left outside of the cross country discipline in UK, as I understand.

Certainly, I couldn't find reference to another, since the amendments to Haydock Park, which used to have ten such fences.

So, in 2011, the two deaths could be said to be related directly to the combination of the fences and bad jumping errors.

In 2012, Synchronised fell at Bechers but carried on running riderless before injuring himself some time thereafter in an extremely unfortunate incident. According To Pete, the other fatality this year, was brought down by another horse at Bechers Brook second time around.

As you can see, neither fatality in 2012 was directly related to a combination of the fences and bad jumping errors on the part of those injured.

But this is clearly far too small a sample to be meaningful. Before we look at a slightly more representative sample, be aware that modifications were made to both the fences which directly caused the deaths of horses in 2011's race, the fourth and the sixth.

Inasmuch as no horses were directly killed this time, it can be argued that the changes (the fourth fence has been reduced in height by two inches, and the drop on the landing side at Bechers has been reduced by between a third and a half - four to five inches) have been successful.

Or at least partially so. In point of fact, it is of course far too early to say.

Next I want to address the perceived jumping frailties in the specific case of Synchronised. Firstly, I feel that his connections were super sporting in deciding to run here. Having won the Gold Cup a month ago for the first time in his extensive ownership career, J P McManus decided to have a crack at the other big race and attempt a double not successfully completed since Golden Miller back in 1934.

There was an extra week between the races this year, due to Easter, and it can be taken as read that neither owner nor trainer would have risked such a prize equine asset were they not happy that the animal was recovered, and ready.

Synchronised did decant Tony McCoy on the way to the start, but close inspection of that incident appears to reveal that he may have put a foot in a hole or something similar. What is uncontested is that Synchronised did not veer from a straight line, or in any way jink or deliberately try to throw McCoy.

He then ran loose for a couple of minutes at a slow pace. The incident would have probably confused the horse, as he's unused to touring the race track without a pilot.

Indeed, despite much noise prior to the event, Synchronised had actually only fallen once in his racing career, and that in a hurdle race at the Cheltenham Festival. By bizarre coincidence, According To Pete had also only ever fallen once, and also in a hurdle race.

Synchronised has always been called a bad jumper. His race record implies he's an effective jumper, in the same way that Jim Furyk has a hopelessly unclassical swing; and that Michael Johnson had his own way of sprinting.

Because it looks ungainly does not mean it is ineffective. Synchronised after all cleared 24 fences in heavy ground over four and a quarter miles when winning the Midlands National, lugging 11-05; he jumped 22 fences in soft ground under 11-06 when winning the Welsh National; he cleared the seventeen fences of the Grade 1 Lexus Chase with sufficient alacrity to beat established Grade 1 performers under the Grade 1 burden of 11-10; and, of course, he dealt with the rhythmic demands of Cheltenham's undulations, as well as its 22 fences and three and a quarter miles, in the Gold Cup, again under 11-10.

So, no, I simply cannot entertain the notion that Synchronised was a bad jumper. An unconventional jumper, yes. But a bad jumper? There's no evidence to support that whatsoever.

OK, from the micro, let's now look at the macro situation.

There's no doubt in my mind that changes made to the course in recent years have had a positive influence on horse welfare, despite the headline fatality statistics.

Perhaps the most interesting (and probably the second most significant) statistic I could find was this: of the last ten horses fatally injured in the Grand National, only three were fatally injured falling with their riders.

Five of the last ten fatally injured horses were running riderless at the time, a number that includes Synchronised, as well as McKelvey (2008), Graphic Approach (2007), Thyenandthyneagain (2006), and The Last Fling (2002).

Of the other two, Hear The Echo (2009) collapsed on the run in from a heart attack; and, Goguenard (2003) was injured in a pile up at the 19th, where he unseated Warren Marston.

According To Pete brought down Grand National 2012

According To Pete brought down Grand National 2012

So, on that evidence the changes to the fences and the entry criteria for the race could be said to be a success, at least partially. Clearly, despite the tragic deaths of Synchronised and According To Pete, the Bechers Brook modifications have helped. Although the record shows that Synchronised fell at Bechers, he was not fatally injured there; and According To Pete's bringing down was a horrible accident, as it was on the second circuit when only half the field were still going.

The fence four modifications also appear to have helped: in 2011, two horses fell on the first circuit, including the fatally injured Ornais.

This time around there were no fallers.

It should be added that Noel Fehily, the rider of State of Play, also sustained a broken leg.

********

But I think there is a bigger issue that has not yet been adequately addressed, and I have a radical proposal to help address it. The issue is that of speed in the early part of the race. It has long been held that the way to win the Grand National is to be prominent early through a mad gallop, and to cling on late when stamina is running out.

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Consider this: Neptune Collonges was last from the start and not prominent until Bechers second time (as the above image shows), so there is no necessity to be close up early.

More importantly, consider this: the first two furlongs of the Listed Further Flight Stakes, a 1m6f flat race, were run in around 27.5 seconds (hand timed) last week.

The approximately two furlong run from the start of the Grand National to the first fence was completed this year in 26.5 seconds. Last year, it was a slightly more measured 27.6 seconds (all hand timed).

This is patently too fast, and extremely dangerous. And it creates a problem of momentum: once a rider has a horse travelling at that pace, trying to establish a position and a rhythm in the race, that rider must maintain the pace. Or at least feels he must.

The breakdown of race pace, and fallers, in the early part of the last two races, is as follows:

Grand National early times/fallers

Grand National early times/fallers

 

The first two fences on the course are pretty straightforward (at least relatively), and the number of fallers is generally down to horses and jockeys going too quickly. We can see how the times seem to even out after fence four.

Whilst pure speed is clearly an issue, it is compounded heavily by the volume of competitors charging towards the first. Forty runners is a lot. Forty runners travelling quicker than Listed class flat pace in a four and half mile steeplechase is a recipe for disaster.

We don't really have the use of a 'safety car', as they do in Formula 1, to regulate speed. But there are other ways to do this.

Firstly, by reducing the number of runners, one would reduce the speed to the first fence, as there would be less competition for prominent positions.

That is controversial, but being suggested by channels more closely related to authority than this blogger.

It is instructive to note that, since the discretionary handicapping was introduced for the race a few years ago, the first four home each time were in the top thirty in the weights. This implies that a reduction in the field size would have little or no impact on the results.

Obviously, there would be hard luck stories regarding horses who 'didn't get in', but that's always been the case. As recently as 2003, Amberleigh House missed the cut, before winning the following year off a sufficiently high rating to guarantee a run.

Moreover, this is mitigated by the fact that 'an Aintree horse' could be allotted a significantly higher rating for the Aintree race, which would give that a horse a better chance of making the final thirty.

It is my opinion that a reduction in the field size would do little to dilute the quality, (positive) drama, or - ultimately - the race results.

Secondly, by reducing the run from the race start to the first fence by a distance of around a furlong, one would reduce the speed at which that first fence is taken. That is extremely controversial, and something I've not read or heard mentioned anywhere else.

Sure, it would reduce the distance of the race by a furlong. But at 4m3f, the Grand National would still be the longest race in the British calendar, and it would retain all of its fences (not all of which have been jumped in the last two years).

And there would still be a furlong run before horses were asked to leave the ground, and a two and a half furlong run in past the elbow at the finish. In other words, the change would be cosmetic from a visual perspective, but could be transformational from a safety perspective.

Would a 4m3f race really be materially any less of a stamina test?

There will be those that argue that it would have changed the result of this year's race, and that may be true. It may however also be true that Neptune Collonges would have been asked for maximum effort sooner, thus replicating the result over a furlong shorter trip.

Such arguments are matters of conjecture and add little value here.

In summary, much has been made of the extremely unfortunate deaths of four horses in the last two Grand Nationals. It should however be taken in the wider context that, prior to the last two years, the fatality rate this century was 1.5%. Whilst this will never appease some parts of society, it is considerably more acceptable than the 3.3% fatality rate witnessed in the 1990s.

Those same factions of society will generally not rest until racing is banned: jump racing first, and then the focus would turn to the flat. And those same factions of society often have little to no right to make such comments. At the very least, they generally do not have the right to be as vociferous.

In Rod Street's excellent blog on the matter, he found that about two-fifths of the British population have no interest whatsoever in horse racing. That's fair enough. But, of that 39%, a quarter of them said they thought racing was 'cruel'. Based on what awareness is this? As Street says,

At the centre of this issue is the animal and, again, we need to show greater collective confidence here. At the very heart of our sport are people who love the horse, (sometimes to the exclusion of all other things). When I hear those opposed to racing making unqualified assertions about horse welfare, I’m saddened that a greater voice is not given to both those who know their stuff and those that care deeply. Although we do have to face up to the fact that reasoned argument will never make as good copy or airtime as melodramatic assertions.

Who was more deeply affected by the loss of two horses yesterday? The once-removed haters or the teams driving back to their yard with an empty horse box? Who better understands the level of care provide to racehorses? The annual radio phone-in guest or those who work in the sport seven days a week?

The losses this year and last are a high price to pay for the brilliant spectacle of the Grand National, and it is my contention that the less obvious elements of the course constitution (i.e. the distance to the first fence),  and the number of participants, are the areas for consideration, not the fences themselves.

If we can make the race safer, we need to do that. Not for those outside of the sport, who have little or no interest in anything constructive, but for those of us who have a passion for the sport, and the animals.

It's time for racing to deal unequivocally with its persecution complex!

So that's my view...

What are your thoughts on the National? How can we retain its place as a spectacle whilst maintaining the central premise of horse and rider welfare?

********

On a more positive note, unless you backed Sunnyhill Boy, here is the photo finish from the race. It really was a double heart break for JP McManus, as another of his entries was mugged on the line by a horse who almost refused to race at the start.

Grand National 2012 photo finish

Grand National 2012 photo finish

Matt

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68 replies
  1. Chris says:

    Matt, I couldn’t agree more.
    In fact, I discussed the very same with friends at the weekend. A shortening of the run to the opening fence would reduce the speed of impact and a field of 20 (maybe 24 maximum) would eliminate much of the jostling for position too. The Grand National will never be a true handicap, due to its unusual race length, but such changes might make it a fairer contest.

  2. Ken. says:

    Sorry Matt, the only solution is drastically reduce the size of the field. Look at the fox hunters. 25 runners. No casualties. Ken.

  3. Stuart says:

    Fantastic article, Matt. I’m an animal lover to the point that I’ve been vegetarian for 22 years and counting, but the knee-jerk reaction (which is prevalent in modern society to any unfortunate incident, it would seem) is clearly misguided here. There are some people out there who won’t be happy until all accidents have been eradicated from life. The fact that life will then be so boring it won’t be worth living has passed them by. It’s great that Aintree has invested time and money in making the course safer, but of course accidents are still going to happen. Should we ban cars and/or driving after every motorway pile-up? Of course not; we should find out what happened and try to prevent it happening again. Without banning cars. That’s what they do, and for most people it’s enough. And so it should be.

  4. DAVE YEATES says:

    Good and heartfelt account of a sport you clearly have a deep passion and insight for. I have been trying to convince the several people who listened to my tips that Junior and West End Rocker were both excellent choices with 1 career fall between them in the past, and yet both only got as far as fence 2. I’m sticking to that of course, but I did say to them that I thought it was fairly obvious that they are more likely to come unstuck in that huge wall of horses in the early stages of the race, and that the numbers should be reduced. My gut instinct is 25 max, but that’s not very scientific. And it wouldn’t have saved Synchronised, to be fair. And yes, I did have £40 win only on Sunnyhill Boy. Doh!
    On another note, is it really always necessary to put down a horse for a fractured leg bone? I mean, imagine the outcry if they did that with us lot!

  5. Tim says:

    Excellent post some very important points raised you should send this to the rspca who I feel have only made matters worse.

  6. Ian S says:

    “by reducing the run from the race start to the first fence by a distance of around a furlong, one would reduce the speed at which that first fence is taken.”

    Why? Jockeys will still go full tilt for the first because, as you say, there is a perception amongst them that you have to be up front to win. With less time to sort themselves out there would be more falls at this fence.

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      Disagree Ian. It’s very hard to get up to a fast racing speed in just a furlong, much more so than over twice as far. Allied to less runners, I think – obviously, that’s why I wrote it – that this would help considerably to slow the race in the early part.

      Best,
      Matt

  7. Ian - SP2A Owner says:

    Excellent article Matt MUCH of which I agree with 100%..

    My added suggestions would be this (some may be considered extreme)…

    I WOULD keep 40 runners as this makes it the race it is!

    I WOULD reduce the run to the first but to do this I would build a chute to take the Start AWAY from the Stands as the “fannying around” for 10 minutes while idiots mess with a bit of elastic right in front of 000’s does NOT help!

    I would make it abundantly CLEAR to ALL concerned that the National will be run on ground no firmer than GOOD TO SOFT – SOFT in places….speed as you point out is the killer – if the few Trainers who produce purely Good Ground horses (Hobbs springs to mind) want to bleat – so be it – In my very humble Opinion Winter Jumping is about strength,stamina and guts…..and the Grand National is a WINTER race….

    (by all means let Aintree put on a Summer National later on with say 20 runners)….

    I am also in a minority of ONE probably in thinking that the BBC losing this race will be a god-send…..the HYPE is too much – the near 60 minute lead in time is too much…..it winds the horses up…DITCH THE PARADE….ditch the hype…..the GOLD CUP is run far more as a “normal race” in terms of its pre-race build up….

    I am frankly sick and tired of hearing about Clare Balding being eulogised as this that and the other….on Saturday whilst BBC were showing POINTLESS re-runs of the race FAILING to tell us REAL news about what was happening Stations NOT BROADCASTING there like ATR/Sky were actually relaying true facts and true information…

    The BBC dont give a fig about racing 50 weeks of the year,Channel 4 aren’t perfect BUT ,they CARE about racing EVERY WEEK!…..so I hpe C4 will encompass the National, cut the hype and help Aintree and the BHA to adopt sensible not knee-jerk measures….

    A loss of ANY HORSE is a tragedy…..but the do-gooders leave a nasty taste…the MAIL and EXPRESS as an example support Hunting – which maims far more horses than any NH race (not to mention the dogs and foxes hurt every time a hunt hunts) some racing journalists who make a living from racing act disgracefully in knocking the very sport that feeds them.

    My FINAL point is this…..Synchronised got up unhurt from a fall and was injured RIDERLESS – that could happen anywhere any day…

    According to Pete did NOT fall, it was bought down – again an accident that could happen any day any where….

    These were racing accidents – desperately sad but racing accidents and NOT in any way unique to Aintree….

  8. Peter says:

    This is a very reasoned and well thought through article. Richard Pitman seems to agree with you http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/horse-racing/17723531
    As Paul Nicholls said life is not possible without risk and we really must not let the townies take over completely. These horse are adored by their connections. The racing instinct is inbuilt now and long after retirement can be seen in the horse. Our ex racer would jump a 2 inch stick at the slightest excuse and clearly loved doing it right up to his passing at the ripe old age of 26.
    What I suggest is important is that the racing community present a united and informed front and resist ill considered pressure with all its weight.

  9. Steve says:

    A well reasoned article Matt.

    Synchronised should have been withdrawn after spooking at the start, his reaction after being shown the first fence once remounted should have told his connections that he was in no fit state of mind to race, this isn’t in hindsight I said so at the time, it was obvious he did not want to race.

    As for Bechers they should simply get rid of the drop, it would take nothing from the race and the vast majority of once a year punters would not even notice, i agree entirely about shortening the run to the first and the jockeys themselves need to sit down together and agree on a sensible pace over the first mile or so.

    There will always be accidents when you ask horse and jockey to jump fences, regardless of the size of them, but if we’re not careful we will turn the public against the sport we love.

  10. Peter Anderson says:

    The success of The Grand National is its attraction to the person in the street (who may also be an annual radio phone in guest), so it is counter-productive to dismiss their views. I have stopped betting on the national as something inside me told me it was not right. The organisers are giving the impression of reacting to events rather than being in control and providing a lead. I hope the kind of changes you outline are implemented and I can once again feel happy to put on my annual bet.

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      Hi Peter

      Your point is, in my opinion, very well reasoned, and hard to disagree with.

      Best,
      Matt

  11. Bob says:

    Very thought provoking as usual Matt, again I would totally concur with the reduction in field size to 30. What, if anything I wonder though, can be done about loose horses? There were certainly occasions this year when various jockey’s attentions were more concerned with the actions of a loose horse than how they jumped a fence/ Could regular gaps in the running rail be introduced to allow riderless horses to exit the course/ These could be netted off to prevent access to the peopled areas and allow the horses to be caught or restrained easily. If not I see another Foinavon and similar instances occurring again in the near future
    Bob

  12. Billy says:

    Matt, A cracking article full of insight and common sense. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head that early speed is the biggest issue. This year public opinion is not due to the number of horses killed and the manner in which they died, but the high profile they held. The BBC showed a wonderful and warm pre-race feature on According to Pete and his owners. It showed the public just how much the owners and trainers care for and nurture their horses. The double edged sword though is that the public felt his loss all the more for it.
    The fantastic finish thrilled regular punters and national day only ones alike. The kind of finish that reminds us why we love racing so much and attracts more people to the sport. With the changes you suggest we’ll get more horses completing leading to more finishes like this. Yes we’d be dumbing down the spectacle of start but if that leads to more thrilling finishes, we get back at he end of the race and more what we lose. Maybe greater safety and a cracking racing spectacle needn’t be mutually exclusive?

  13. Mike says:

    Matt
    I think your analysis of the situation is spot on. I have always thought that a field of 40 is far too many. When they set off you
    get a good view on TV from the rear of the field and you can see all the horses funneling together towards the first fence. I hadn’t thought about the 2 furlongs to the first fence being a problem but your thoughts about it make a lot of sense, particularly when you consider the sectional times for this part of the race. When I came into work today, there were a number of people, who as you say, have no knowledge or interest in racing, saying the race should be banned. As you say, they cannot possibly feel as bad about it as the people who were connected to Synchronised and According To Pete.

  14. Mondo Ray says:

    The Formula 1 crowd made great hue and cry over the years for greater safety features to prevent horrendous accidents and many deaths, but very few said the sport should be banned. The pressure, however, resulted in a lot of technological advancement which has produced a safe, but unspectacular, procession. Do we want that in the the National (or in any horse race)?

    Your suggestion for a shorter run-in to the first fence is eminently sensible, as is the possible reduction in the number of runners.

    Serie B footie star Piermario Morosini died of a heart attack on the pitch on Saturday. Not the first, and won’t be the last; and where are the Ban Football Brigade? Er, there aren’t any.

  15. Werner Keller says:

    The National is the most barbaric race on the planet and should be scrapped. It is an anachronism these days and for each horse running in it the race represents a form of Russian roulette.

    Your contention that the connections were to be congratulated for running Synchronised in the National borders on the insane. The horse had run its heart out to win the Gold Cup and should have been given a long summer break. Instead it was clearly naked monetary greed that made O’Neil, McManus and McCoy decide to run him in the National.The horse had no chance whatsoever to win the race under top weight. To say he was well handicapped overlooks the fact that the handicap mark applied to races up to 3 1/4 miles and not to the National. In any case, no Gold Cup winner – make that no horse – should ever be asked to run in this truly barbaric “spectacle”.

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      Werner, I’ll let other comment generally on this, but one point I should highlight is thus.

      You say: “it was clearly naked monetary greed that made O’Neil, McManus and McCoy decide to run him in the National.”

      I say, how can it ‘clearly’ be that when the owner is a billionaire?

      Some elements of the National (field size, for instance) may be anachronistic, but on balance it is not barbaric by any dictionary definition of the term.

      Matt

      • Werner Keller says:

        Just one retort – the fact that McManus is a billionaire (he isn’t by the way)does not mean that his actions are not greed-driven – quite the contrary.

    • Ian - SP2A Owner says:

      You totally miss the point.

      Syncronhised injured itself running loose – it could have been on any track, any place , anywhere…..a few weeks ago a horse trained by Mick Channon careered free in the Parade Ring chute at Lingfield, it sprinted 200 yards through railing and then ran a mile around a tarmac road…..it was uninjured – it was a Flat horse in a Flat race….

      According to Pete was bought down….a few weeks ago a horse slipped up on the All weather at Wolverhampton sadly it broke its leg and had to be put down – it bought down other horses who were thankfully not badly hurt…

      These accidents I refer to happened on Flat tracks – the FACTS are that the fatalities on Saturday could happen any day, any time, any Course anywhere in the world…..

      Are you seriously advocating banning horse racing??…

      If so lets ban football,rugby union,rugby league,greyhound racing,angling,cricket,F1,speedway racing,Moto Gp…..more people die of heart attacks on a golf course than horses did racing each year….shall we ban golf??….

  16. Pete says:

    Excellent points made Matt. I always watch the GN with a sickly feeling as I see 40 half ton animals rushing to the first fence – so God knows what the connections must feel for their animals! I couldn’t agree more with your suggestions for minimising risk, but your micro analysis probably negates the argument. There are fatalities throughout the calendar for a multitude of reasons and risk can only be minimised but not eradicated – that’s life. The GN just highlights the risk in a media frenzy giving the ignorant carte blanche to protest about cruelty. Common sense suggests a reduction in numbers would help – that has always been my belief, but even if this was the case the multiplicity of risk is constant as was seen with the death of a horse in the first race at Aintree this year. Minimise risk by all means, but freedom of choice should remain constant too!

  17. Liam says:

    I fully agree with you!
    The run up to the first fence is the start of the toubles if any are going to occur.
    Horse’s and riders need to get into a a rhythm and may I suggest find their running position to settle down to run their race.
    One more furlong at the start would not only be safer but more entertaining for the spectators as no one knows what is happening until the 2nd fence as so many are muddled together.

    I have long been concerned about the waste of good horses and I am sure we would have seen many Cheltenhams of great value to spectators if we had not lost those two wonderful horses.

    I can not feel too happy that I got the winner! At the expense of loosing a horse that had not only filled my pocket on two occassions but also together with others nearly bought him at the yearling sales, alas too expensive for us. These lost Horses should be enough to make responsible stewards and others take note of our concerns.
    I have just now from the Postman received my Racing Post Members Badge I hope they will Support you in your proposal as I do. Radical or not Safety is Paramount for Horse and Jockey.

  18. Jim says:

    Matt

    Some serious stuff here.

    The suggestion of reducing the run in may have the desired effect but as a non-jockey, I am not sure I feel competent to judge. There is no doubt that the start is always a noisy affair with the roar of the crowd getting everybody gee’d up but a shorter run in may make things worse….

    The reduction of field size has been raised and maybe will go through as an easy to implement change. But the question is then what sort of reduction? 35 runners? 30? 25? where do you go for analysis – Foxhunters and Bechers chases may give some historic perspective but the races are different.

    The whip brigade were out again and the real fear is that there will be a continued regular attack on the National year after year. I remember when the race was targeted by the animal rights group – they will keep up the pressure.

    The other big issue here is that the National still features as a National event – there are still many visitors to the course for the race and millions have their flutter. The need to continue this and to present an alternative perspective is as ever a critical task. Here’s hoping the BHA manage to stay focused.

    Jim

  19. Kevin Jackson says:

    Great article Matt. I have held similar views with regard to the field size for some time. Statistically the number of falls increases as the field sizes get larger.

    If the idea of reducing the length of the race was too much maybe they should reduce the height of the first fence to that of a regular one to compensate for jockeys going too fast initially.

    Drop fences – notably involved in both the deaths last year and since altered, and the fence which claimed both horses this year. Is there really any need for them? I don’t think they add to the spectacle at all. i’d rather see them gone and a few more horses stay on there feet making the finish more competitive.

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      Good points in the main, Kevin.

      But we need to be clear that the drop fence ‘per se’ was not responsible for either fatality this year. Synch ran on riderless before coming to grief; According To Pete was brought down by another horse, implying that field size was the issue (though, of course, there is correlation).

      Best,
      Matt

  20. St3v3D says:

    A great article and and some great debate in the responses. I particularly agree with Ian on the impact of the BBC hype.

    And despite all the micro discussion I fear we must concentrate on the macro. The GN is extreme in distance, fences and number of runners. It is not typical of horse racing (flat of jumps) in UK. As an outlier it therefore distorts the public view. Once public confidence is lost then the sport is endangered.

    My own preference would be to concentrate on quality, not quantity. I was equally apprehensive at some of the big fields at Cheltenham. At a time when good meetings are short supply the £500k prize money of the GN can be redistibuted in better ways. The industry needs to be more innnovative.

    Congratulations to Neptune Collenges and all connections.

  21. Brian says:

    Very well thought through post Matt.

    I read a quote from Mick Fitzgerald this morning saying that reducing the drop at the inside of Bechers could have made things worse because, in the past, jockeys used to spread out at the fence to avoid the biggest drop on the inside but this year, because there was less worry about the drop, more jockeys stayed on the inside creating more congestion.

    I think a reduction in field size to 30 makes a lot of sense. As to reducing the distance to the first, I’d prefer not to see this until the effect of the reduced numbers is seen.

    • Mondo Ray says:

      Thanks for bringing that article to everyone’s attention Tony. I’ve followed horseracing for a few decades and thought I was versed in the whys and wherefores of racing injuries, but this easy-to-read mini-lecture has superbly and concisely explained what happens after a fall, and more importantly, why.

      Cheers.

  22. Robin says:

    As always, Matt, a well-reasoned analysis. I concur with your ideas on possible changes. This may possibly be because they largely echo my own! I had not thought of “losing” a furlong or so from the run to the first fence, but this sounds more sensible than just reducing the distance and number of fences.

  23. Phil says:

    Matt, quite a number of people point to the fact that like many other sports racing carries risk, as if this somehow justifies the death of two horses. Brough Scott was typical, reported in the telegraph, about how people die going mountaineering.

    If other sports want to be dragged into the debate then, as a previous poster has pointed out, look at F1. In the 60’s and 70’s drivers frequently lost their lives and doubtless people said this sport is risky. But huge strides were made to improve safety which worked. Racing has to do the same. Because if it doesn’t the outcry will grow and it won’t be long before the likes of John Smith’s will pull sponsorship.

    The national is a fantastic event but it’s record of fatalities is twice the Steeplechase average (according to wiki)and one fence, Becher’s Brook, has claimed twice as many lives as any other fence on the national course. That seems like a good place to start.

  24. Frank says:

    Matt, your perspicacity is without equal, but I must challenge you about the decision to run the Gold Cup winner, Synchronised. While I accept your comments, complete with supporting statistics, there is always going to be a greater risk of fatality in the Grand National. Your own stats showed that there was little chance of success. What a shame!!
    To my mind the field size is irrelevant, but your comments about early speed need to be addressed by
    both trainers and jockeys.
    The Grand National is watched live by more people than any other horse race. Long may it continue.

    Frank

  25. david seddon says:

    good stuff…. the days of the 100/1 shot has long gone..but the way the race is going the better class of horse is compressing the handicap so even if you have a horse good enough to run in the race it may not get in. 160 rated horses are going to struggle to get in shortly , so if the class of the race is higher the falls should be less , unfortunately accidents will happen

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      Hi David,

      Apologies for this but I have to take slight issue with both ‘the days of the 100/1 shot are long gone’ and ‘higher class equates to lower falls’.

      Mon Mome won at 100/1 as recently as 2009, and the highest rated horse in the race was Synchronised, who of course very sadly fell.

      Matt

  26. Pat Dennehy says:

    I backed sunny hill boy among others I can’t buy a winner presently
    Interesting point about the run to the first and I concur the run to the first is too long but wouldn’t agree with reducing the field
    We lost 2 fillies last yr on the flat one on track and the other on the gallops following a promising run
    These things happen

    Pat

  27. Christopher says:

    Hi Matt, I do think a shorter run to the first is required. I also think they should water the whole track to ensure good to soft ground. The size of the field is fine by me. I think trainers should only be allowed to run their horses at Cheltenham or Aintree and not both. They are driven by greed and not putting the animal first.
    Christopher.

  28. John says:

    I think reducing the entry from 40 would help and anything which would reduce the early pace would help.
    Since most injuries were sustained by riderless horses, perhaps glueing jockeys to the saddle would also help!

  29. john says:

    I couldn’t agree more about the problem being speed and the related point that Ian – SP2A Owner makes about the going.

    I blogged on Friday that the Grand National course was riding a lot faster than the Mildmay course and the race times bear this out:

    http://www.grabilla.com/02410-f75b5f3f-efb7-4d14-9aa4-8c208ddb4339.png

    The race was won in a time over 4 seconds faster than the Racing Post’s standard time, (yet the Post has the time based going as Good!).

    Whilst I think your proposals would improve things, I again concur with Ian that jumping is a winter game and would therefore propose something more revolutionary – that it is run earlier in the year, perhaps February.

    That way “good jumping ground”, which various Clerks of the Course keep trying to achieve would be a fact rather than fiction.

    I realise this would have an effect on Cheltenham but 1) this would be minimal and 2) given the similar problems at the festival lately – again, in my opinion due to horses falling on Firmish ground at speed rather than off a slower pace on Good to Soft – it might not be too bad an idea to rethink the timing of that festival too.

  30. ColinB says:

    Matt, as usual , a brilliant analysis – if as I fear the “National” will continue, one can only hope that your and others thinking will result in a safer event. While not doubting your sincerity and that of similar points made by other of your correspondents, I worry that much of what is being written by the apologists for the barbaric nature of the National is an attempt to defend the indefensible.

    The dreadful Paul Nicholls – being portrayed as reasonable- told those complaining that they “should grow up” How insulting. It is he that needs to grow up. But of course he had just benefited from a big lump of dosh finding its way into his bank account. No wonder he wants it to continue.

    That the death of horses is “just one of those things” is a disgraceful attitude to take. And please remember the kill rate of “only 1.5%” is nothing more than pulling the wool over our eyes. The last 2 years the “National” death rate
    has been 5% and if you add those badly hurt, it is nearer 10%. and do not discount this higher percentage, it is the trend,and trends are what tipsters and system sellers like to emphasise when it is to their advantage

    Were the jockey fatality rate to be 2 per National, it would soon be stopped. What is it about the horse racing fraternity that makes a (willing) jockeys’ life more valuable than that of a horse?

    There are many activities that are full of risk – whether one chooses to climb a rockface, swim the ocean, parachute jump, boxing, but I am not aware that any of the participants take part unwillingly or without knowledge of the risks – and I include in this race jockeys.
    But in none of those activities other than that of racing, is there a colaterall risk that in general results in harm or death to others, and in racing , it is a fact that the risk of harm and death to the other participant, the horse, is many hundreds of % higher than that of the willing participant.

    Forget the crocodile tears of those that”love their horses” are “devestated” by their death, are “inconsoleable” at the harm caused to the animal – if their love was true, there is no way they would expose them to such a significant and known risk.

    Colin Blamire

  31. ColinB says:

    Matt, as usual , a brilliant analysis – if as I fear the “National” will continue, one can only hope that your and others thinking will result in a safer event. While not doubting your sincerity and that of similar points made by other of your correspondents, I worry that much of what is being written by the apologists for the barbaric nature of the National is an attempt to defend the indefensible.

    The dreadful Paul Nicholls – being portrayed as reasonable- told those complaining that they “should grow up” How insulting. It is he that needs to grow up. But of course he had just benefited from a big lump of dosh finding its way into his bank account. No wonder he wants it to continue.

    That the death of horses is “just one of those things” is a disgraceful attitude to take. And please remember the kill rate of “only 1.5%” is nothing more than pulling the wool over our eyes. The last 2 years the “National” death rate
    has been 5% and if you add those badly hurt, it is nearer 10%. and do not discount this higher percentage, it is the trend,and trends are what tipsters and system sellers like to emphasise when it is to their advantage

    Were the jockey fatality rate to be 2 per National, it would soon be stopped. What is it about the horse racing fraternity that makes a (willing) jockeys’ life more valuable than that of a horse?

    There are many activities that are full of risk – whether one chooses to climb a rockface, swim the ocean, parachute jump, boxing, but I am not aware that any of the participants take part unwillingly or without knowledge of the risks – and I include in this race jockeys.
    But in none of those activities other than that of racing, is there a colaterall risk that in general results in harm or death to others, and in racing , it is a fact that the risk of harm and death to the other participant, the horse, is many hundreds of % higher than that of the willing participant.

    Forget the crocodile tears of those that”love their horses” are “devestated” by their death, are “inconsoleable” at the harm caused to the animal – if their love was true, there is no way they would expose them to such a significant and known risk.

    Colin B

  32. john says:

    Great ideas Matt but being a racing fan first and foremost I would be happy to see the race banned.Its not that I dont like the race- i like all racing- its because if we carry on with these deaths and dragging the sports name through the mud then someone will try to ban not just the national but all of our jump racing.
    The only time I hear racing debated is after the national. These people know nothing of the heroism shown by jockeys and horses alike on a daily basis. Or of the love that the owners, trainers and stable hands have for the horses. Just get rid. Its one race. Leave me and thousands of true fans, who understand the risks taken and the fantastic lives these equine atheltes enjoy, to enjoy our racing. Because if we dont we may lose the whole lot one day. John

  33. Brendan Foley says:

    Perhaps Synchronised, had to many hard races, and should not

    have been asked to carry top weight, so soon after winning the

    Gold Cup, Dawn Run springs to mind.

    Brendan Foley.

  34. Rob Pacitto says:

    Excellent article Matt. Apologies if these have already been offered elsewhere in your responses, but here are the Grand National fatalities / average runners in last 50 years…

    1963-1972 – 4 / 40.1
    1973-1982 – 7 / 36.4
    1983-1992 – 7 / 39.9
    1993-2002 – 9 / 35.9
    2003-2012 – 9 / 39.9

    Clearly, there is no evidence that the changes to the course and other alleged safety measures have improved matters. In my humble opinion the recent changes have just made the race quicker, and thus more dangerous. So, in the spirot of the knee-jerk and over-emotive language used in these sort of debates, I would say that the increased fatality rate is the fault of the RSPCA.

    Also, I must take issue with your assertion (in replying to Ian S) that it’s very hard to get up to racing speed in a furlong. In fact, it isn’t hard at all, it’s very easy. 220 yards is more than enough for any horse to get into a full gallop.

    Just for the record, all things considered, I think the Grand National is an amazing spectacle that should be left pretty much as is.

  35. Catherine says:

    This article is interesting and informative. Thanks to the commenter for the link to why horses’ broken legs can’t be healed. I’ve felt for some time that the numbers in the Grand National should be reduced, but I can’t back that up with facts, it’s just a gut feeling. I also find it hard to judge about the speed/distance factor, partly because I’m not a jockey and partly because I’m blind so don’t get a very accurate understanding of what happens. Personally since I started getting interested in racing about 5 years ago I’ve never been a fan of the Grand National and increasingly now feel horrified as it goes on, wondering who will be injured next while others around me cheer at the TV. Something needs to be done to make it safer that’s for sure, but I do wonder at the hypocrisy of people who take no interest in racing the rest of the year watching it and then complaining about how dangerous it is – isn’t it the danger that attracts them in the first place? Also, whatever changes are made, they need to be reasoned openly and precisely, as otherwise I fear it will be a slippery slope to calling for the sport itself to be banned. As for horses being unwilling participants, I have never owned one and who can really be inside a horse’s mind, but isn’t it notable that some of the horses after unseating their riders carry on running and jumping? To me that shows they want to race. Of course a horse can’t choose to do the Grand National or any other specific race but there seems to be a lot of nonsense in the media coverage about horses “being forced” to do it.

  36. Kate Austin says:

    Well done hun! I hope that all who have posted sensible comments on here also contact the papers/ radio & TV stations to challenge the agendas & deliberate misinfo that’s churned out.

    Werner, I can assure you that JP McManus is not greedy when it comes to his horses. What you hv written abt the O’neills, JP & AP is tantamount to deformation, & so far from the truth as to be utterly contemptible.

  37. CJ says:

    A very sensibly argued proposal, but I have been doing a spot of research (cos I’m a bit of an anorak sadly) and I thought I would subject you to my findings!

    Since 1955 there have been 57 Nationals with 2138 runners in total. 24 of those races have produced fatalities (42.1%) with 34 horses dying (1.59% of the total runners).

    As far as field size is concerned it is interesting that the ratio of fatalities to runners is 1.59% for Nationals with 40 or more runners and 1.59% for Nationals with under 40 runners. Even more interesting is that in the 15 Nationals with fewer than 35 runners involved there have been 5 races (33.3%) in which there was a fatality with the deaths of 7 horses from 459 runners (1.52%). For the 9 races with 41 or more runners there were only 2 which produced fatalities (22.2%) and only 3 deaths (0.76%). This would suggest that field size is not necessarily a major factor on its own.

    More relevant would seem to be speed. Of the 19 Nationals which were won on a time of over 9m 40s there were 5 which produced fatalities (26.3%) and 9 deaths from 711 runners (1.27%). Of the 16 which were won in less than 9m 20s, 11 resulted in fatalities (68.8%) killing 15 horses from 605 (2.48%).

    It took 41 runnings from 1955 to 1996 for the first half of the 34 fatalities to take place and only 16 since then for the second half.

    Indeed in the 34 runnings from 1955 to 1988 there were 12 fatalities from 9 Nationals meaning 25 were death free and a fatality average of 0.95%. Since then there have been 15 Nationals from 23 runnings in which deaths occurred and 22 fatalities from 880 runners (2.5%).

    All of this points me in one direction. Since the attempts made (perfectly understandably) to make the fences easier, a better class of horse has entered, meaning the races are quicker and there are more horses pushing each other onwards at all stages of the race. In the 18 races from 1955 to 1972 (the year before Red Rum) the average winning time was 9m 42s and there were only TWO deaths. In the freakish 11 minute long mudbath race of 2001 only 4 horses finished but there were no deaths. Since then there have been 11 in 11 races and the average winning time has been 9m 17s.

    It may seem ridiculous and counter-intuitive to non racing lovers but a combination of “easier” fences and “better” ground seem to me to be the most likely reasons for the increased death-toll.

    As has been mentioned by someone, the jockeys used to fan out across the track approaching Becher’s as the outside line had the smaller drop. Now they all try to cut the corner and that is what did for According to Pete.

    Anyway I have probably gone on a bit too long! Keep up the good work mate!

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      Great stuff, CJ.

      When looking at the longer term, as you have, it also becomes necessary to consider both breeding and training.

      In the 60’s and 70’s (and 80′), horses were bred more stoutly and were generally more robust creatures. This has been exacerbated in the 90’s and since the turn of the century by training methods, which are extremely ‘coddling’ of horses.

      For instance, road work used to be a common part of the training regime of horses, and most trainers (and, presumably, vets) believed this contributed to the strength of horses’ legs.

      These days, as has been referenced in the piece from the Guardian, a horse’s leg is structure built from a brittle substance, more prone to shattering when landing steeply on faster ground.

      The point about the going, which has been well mentioned by a number of commenters, is something of a bete noire of mine when it comes to Jockey Club Racecourses, owners of both Cheltenham and Aintree. The fact that, not only is good ground deliberately cultivated, but also that going reports are still a work of art rather than science, is beyond belief. This MUST be standardized using a universally accepted empirical methodology. No more shenanigans!

      Soapbox away again.

      Matt

  38. ian says:

    I wonder if Brough Scott read this before going on Talksport radio this morning, this was the two point he made to make the race safer, both of which I agree with. Think it still protects the essence of the race which is what a lot of the protesters are trying to do away with. If they had their way the National would no longer be the race it is, these two suggestions wouldn’t detract from the spectatcle.

  39. Craig says:

    I too blame the RSPCA and other ignorant voices whose logic is flawed. Making the fences smaller has made the race more dangerous, not less…..Big fences need to be jumped properly and carefully. This slows the momentum between fences, slows the race generally. So when horses do fall they don’t fall as heavily as they do when jumping lower but faster.

    I feel that the smaller fences are not feared as much as they should be by either jockeys or horses. In the old days, horses that were faced with an obstacle of significant size they would tend to refuse, or land, relatively safely on the fence, and crawl over slowly but safely before getting pulled up or stopping of their own accord. Increasingly the class of the contenders mean more of them keep going longer on masse….previously the 40 runners were soon strung out like washing and the sort of pile ups we saw on Saturday were rare.

    The facts speak for themselves. Four deaths in the two years of so called saftey improvements compared to five in the previous seven years!

    The only way now to make the race safer (apart from making the fences bigger!) is to reduce the field size to give more racing room, less manic galloping for early positions etc. It doesn’t have to be drastic….Try 35 runners next year, or 30. No less than that otherwise it loses nearly everything about it that makes it unique. Your idea about taking a furlong off the start is a good one too.

    And finally, get the RSPCA to f’ck off out of the decision making because they know nothing about the dynamics of horse racing.

  40. ColinB says:

    It appears Werner and I are in a minority of 2.

    I am happy to make my points and debate them – indeed Matt is so generous in allowing people of all opinions to write and we can all learn something from it, but will not respond as some have to Werner, with insults

    But I will respond to those saying the money is not the driving force by asking some questions.

    Why do trainers train – to get paid?

    Why do jockeys ride – to earn an income? Mr McCoy was recorded as saying (I heard the interview) that his horse was NOT a good jumper – and as his jockey, one assumes he would know – it is a small horse in stature and the other fences he has tackled were not akin to Aintree’s, and he had the top weight despite, I believe, not have tackled either such a distance , number of fences and possibly, never carried such a weight before. And presumably a pretty good clue was to be had in that it got rid of MrMcCoy before the race started, whether he put a foot in a hole, was spooked or simply didn’t want to know is irrelevant. If Messrs McCoy, O’Neil and the owner were unable to work out this was probably a disaster (If I am wrong on any of the facts regarding the horses past, my apologies and I stand corrected) waiting to happen, well, it begs the question of either their motive or judgement. Just a reminder that the prize to the winner was some £1/2 million of which Messrs McCoy and O’Neil would receive substantial shares.

    Why do breeder breed – to make a lot of money?
    Why do punters bet – to (hopefully!) make an alternative living?

    Nothing illegal about any of it – but it is an industry and while there are philanthropists as in many other circles, it is still a commercial enterprise which relies on one thing and one thing only – the horse. Without them, no racing so the “grow up” merchants had better start taking more care of their most valuable assett than they do now.

    Why is there so many column inches and so many tipsters – multiple correspondents, tipsters in most papers – it must pay?Yes, some people like horses and horse racing but are blinkered as to its consequences on the main participant.

    I am not saying that those who support the claim that horses injuries and not infrequent deaths are justifed are bad people – but just because they like their racing and accept the pain and suffering involved, are not qualified to say that those who do not follow racing but are apalled at what happens are hypocites.They just have a different point of view – again , one which Matt to his everlasting credit allows us to express without censure- though this being a racing followers forum will inevitably be weighted towards the racing peoples point of view. Thats o.k. But do nbot slag off those individuals who do not share it

    And to CATHERINE – I would gently point out that it is an easy assumption to make that because a horse continues running without a rider,it enjoys racing. In actuality it is that by nature they are herd animals, and a fallen horse will try to recover its feet and follow the leader. Just watch poinies in the New Forest and Dartmoor – one runs, they all run. And in a racing situation that is another danger, for without a jockey, they are likely to jump at angles and interfere with,
    /bring down others as tragically happened on Saturday.
    I accept that no stable lad/girl. owners trainers and jockeys want harm to come to their charges, but horse racing is inherently dangerous and for the life of me how anyone can put another living being at the known and significant risks involved in the name of “a magnificent spectacle” I cannot understand.

    And as to those that say there are deaths in flat racing too, I simply ask if that makes it O.K. then ?

    Incidentally, I really don’t know about the death stats for golfers, but they are probably ancient old gits like me at the end of their days anyway and probably of the mind that “If I have to go, I might as well go doing something I like” whereas those poor horses are “athletes” at the prime of their life and if asked would no doubt answer that they wouldn’t choose a fall from some 6 foot high onto hard ground, suffering the pain of broken limbs and then being put to death as a consequence.

    Colin B

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      Hi Colin (et al)

      As you know, I am very proud of the fact that everybody is entitled to an opinion, and to freely express it here, without fear of reprisal.

      This is a most emotive subject, and all sides of the argument are welcome to make their points, and have done so.

      I think 95%+ of the commentary is well reasoned, and 100% is heartfelt. As such, nobody should feel insulted. Although a couple of sentences have come close, I don’t think anyone has overstepped that mark, which is right enough.

      A subject like this – which polarizes opinion – can never find harmony in its readers and writers, so we all need to acknowledge that, share our views in a grown up manner, and maybe take something from the opinions of others.

      To a very high degree I feel that has been the case, and – again – I am proud to be able to provide a largely self-policing and extremely considered platform for that debate.

      Best,
      Matt

  41. Julie M says:

    The public prefer to see the jockey stay down rather than the horse. I prefer TO SEE the jockey stay down rather than the horse.

    Limiting the field may decrease fatalities but the fences are the ultimate test of ability, stamina, strength, speed etc etc – that’s what makes it the National. Leave it alone.

    Racing is the new bloodsport of the media. It’s sometimes terribly heartbreaking but so is life.

    Even the BBC concentrate on the tapes drama and try to sanitise our viewing throughout.

    I think the GN will benefit from the new start at CH4R where welfare for the whole industry is balanced & sensible.

  42. paul says:

    Whilst obviously well meaning, I don’t think your suggestions are radical enough Matt.
    The only figures that really matter are the number of deaths, and there are simply too many.
    You don’t see this kind of thing in the Gold Cup and for me (and most other racing fans) that’s a much more anticipated race.
    If that was the race the whole public were paying attention too once per year instead of the Grand National, I think racing would have a much better image and less of the problems it faces.
    The Grand National, with all its history and drama, in its current guise, is dead in the water as far as I’m concerned.
    The country needs a race that the “once a year” punters and general population can watch without the expectation of fatalities.
    Fatalities in this race need to at a level where they are rare, not the norm, like in almost every other NH race on the calendar. Whatever changes need to happen to necessitate that should be made, even if it means the end of race as we know it.

  43. Brian Harfoot says:

    Good analysis. Only 2 horses fell in the Topham yet 13 of these good chasers failed to survive the first 8 fences of the National. I think the reason is clear, they were going to fast. Ironically increasing prize money has meant increasing competivity and thus problems.
    Surely the jockeys must take some responsibility for this and they should be urged to go slower while at the same time the Clerk of the Course must make sure the ground must be on the soft side.
    Additionally more efforts must be made to catch loose horses.
    Let’s not tamper with the distance and fences (difficulty of fences didn’t directly cause this year’s deaths) until we have sorted these things out. I would prefer not to see reduction in field size but accept this may have to come.

  44. brendan griffiith says:

    i am racings biggest fan..and i watched the gn in my packed local..i amongst many others were amazed to see synch running..once hed lost his jockey ran loose for bout a mile and delayed things for about 10minutes..only to be killed..i find that decision very difficult to justiy..yes vets said he was ok to run but unless he shes a physical injury its unlikely hed be withdrawn..many in my pub were almost reduced to tears when it was annonced hd died especially when the majority wanted him withdrawn..the people who wanted him to run were the guys who had backed him..im anti gn now completely…greed has taken over for me in this very gruelling and challenging race..any sign of stress should deem a horse to be withdrawn certainly afyer 10 minute delay..but the hotse had no choice..i love racing and the horse is my hero…but hey id never put my hero in thay stock car race..but if i fid snd hed throen a jockey and ran freely too before tackling 5ft fences over 4.5 miles..i think many would say..are you concerned anout the horse or intetested in s return on your investment..unfortunately…the latter took priority…and too top it all i see forims etc where so called animal lovers would still do yhe same again..gn needs many changes..many….but this was a pr disaster…which could have bn avoided

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      Hi Brendan

      I disagree with much of what you wrote, as a huge fan of racing, an animal lover, and a fan of Synchronised. I do not agree that the delay (which was more like nine minutes late off, and that after two false starts) was a major factor in Synch’s downfall, but it was probably a contributory element. That he was able to jump without a rider for a number more fences was more material to my eye.

      But what I can’t disagree with is that the public perception is, as you say, negative right now.

      My feeling is that, like last year, the race will re-gain its pre-eminence in the national psyche before next year, but it cannot be ignored that there remain safety issues which need addressing.

  45. Patrick says:

    Dont know as much about it as many other correspondents but my understanding is that JP McManus keeps quite a few yards going, is a genuine lover of the sport and the animals and I think assertions like this should be supported with evidence. Not my impression at all that he would risk Synchronised for the money…..

  46. ColinB says:

    Julie – it is the “National” that is the bloodsport
    Brendan -I, at least, agree with you 100%
    Patrick – John Lewis’s support keeps many factories in existence.
    I have nothing for or against Mr McManus, but one reason that horses are at different yards is the spread of risk, some trainers have success with different types of horse, different racing modes, different class of racing..
    You often see a horse not doing well at one stable, moving to another and then doing well. With his huge investment in livestock I would not dismisss the possibility that the disperal of horses by him “supporting many yards” could well be a means of protecting that investment.

    My final point and I will not trespass here further is that Matt and others have looked really hard at what happened. Matts’ is the most detailed and while he and I are diametrically opposed in our opinions as to the validity of National Hunt Racing, I respect his vast experience and knowledge and I trust that he and like persons’ counsel takes precedence over the dinasours of the Industry who , when push come to shove, consider that horses are just a commodity in their persuit of profit and pleasure, in helping to mitigate the disgrace that this particular race is.

    Colin Blamire

  47. ColinB says:

    Matt sorry, but just a few notes on Mr McManus as his name has cropped up here a few times

    He currently has some 400 horses in training – thus the need for a number of trainers. He has one in France and the creme de la creme in England and Ireland, O’Neil. Hobbs. Henderson, Roche, Swan and O’grady ()and possibly O’Brien)
    He also owns a stud.
    Whether or not the prize money he gets supports training costs – but the ill fated Synchronise won him £500,000 prior to chasing the Nationsal’s £400,000 first prize. So no wonder he looked grim at the horses demise, it had up to then been a milch cow. Istabraq alone won 19 Group ones which would have put the Synchronise earnings in the shade. He also gambles – it is said he filled his boots on 1 race of Istabraq to approaching a £1m gamble ( Havn’t been able to verify that)

    His personal wealth is said to be £500m to £900m ( clearly a catch all range as probably only he knows) which he has built up from his inital bookmaker business at the dogs

    His income comes from racing. the money exchange markets, investments like Sandy Lane and bought- and sold ventures e.g Man U.

    A very succesful businessman.

    Colin Blamire

    .

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      To be clear Colin, as a (small time) race horse owner, and payer of bills, I can tell you that it costs at least £15,000 and far more like £20,000 to train, stable, feed, enter, and transport a horse per year. Taking a mid-point…

      400 x £17,500 = £7,000,000

      It was the first time he won the Gold Cup. He won a lot more for winning the Grand National with Don’t Push It.

      His British / Irish prize money figures are below:

      GB 2011-12 – £1.39m
      Ire 2011-12 – €1.58m (c. £1.3m at today’s exchange rate)

      Total – £2.69m

      A loss on investment of £1.31 (or a a third as near as doesn’t matter)

      GB 2010-11 – £0.82
      Ire 2010-11 – €1.50m (c. £1.24m at today’s exchange rate)

      Total – £2.06m

      A loss on investment of £1.94m (or a half as near as doesn’t matter)

      Whilst I have sympathy with a lot of arguments in the ‘anti’ GN comments, the point about McManus being greedy is – frankly – offensive to one of racing’s biggest supporters, in the context of the figures above.

      It took me five minutes to establish these facts.

      I’d politely request that others check the data before slandering… (Colin, I know you well enough to know that wasn’t your intention, but you’re badly misguided on this occasion. However heavily, or uncomfortably, it sits with you, this was a sporting decision by a man with four HUNDRED horses in training).

      Matt

  48. Les Gallagher says:

    A very insightful article Matt. I am a stats man myself and found it interesting your profile on where horses have fallen at which fences. It would appear to me that the biggest danger for horses being injured or killed is when they become riderless.
    Using statistics, you could ascertain which particular fences are likely to cause a horse to become riderless and make provision at certain places to get these riderless horses off the course as soon as possible. Other courses have run offs where riderless horses run down so I think this would be quite easy to implement at Aintree.
    Another point is due to the stamina sapping 4 1/2 miles and 30 fences, any horses that have a recent history of falling or unseating riders should in my opinion not be allowed to race. If they have fallen or unseated their rider on other courses, I think there is a very good chance they will do it in this race too.
    Finally I do feel by reducing the number of horses to 30 would be another good move and would have very little impact on the quality of the race.

    Les

  49. ColinB says:

    My last post was inadvertently misleading with regard to Mr McManus.
    I wrote “Whether or not his prize money covers the cost of training” should have read “Whether or not his prize money covers the cost of training or not I do not know” (I couldn’t find the resource Matt had)which hopefully now makes sense of the information I was trying to convey.

    I made this mistake as I was distracted as was typing while watching a late night rerun of Tom and Jerry and was distrracted at the denouement !

    With Matts info I now do know his prize money runs short of his
    training costs and that should be noted.

    ColinB

  50. HeatherS says:

    Sorry i am not as eloquant as others on here, so please bear with me.

    What a great piece Matt, i really enjoyed reading it and i agree with everything you say.

    Although i am afraid i am on the side of reducing the field too. As someone who knows a bit about horses as well, my opinion is that in a field of so many, a horse, if jumping awkwardly needs the room to correct itself.

    In the Grand National, the first few fences, going at the speed they do, and the major lack of room, means that if a horse lands awkwardly not only can it correct itself, it can clip others or bump them, causing the other horses to lose action etc and it’s just mayhem, either they fall or the jolt on another horse can lead to the Jockey thrown out the side door.

    I think they need to look into to speed to the first 4-5 fences and cut the size down, even by 5 horses, and it could make a difference.

    I know the grand national is known for “The Cavalry Charge” at the beginning and that is what makes it thrilling, but at the end of the day, the safety of the horses and jockeys is paramount, to the thirll of the race, however saying that, they cannot change too much because doing so would change what the grand national is, and that is a complete test of stamina and jumping, which only the best will finish.

    And i have to add, how angry it makes me that the minority of people once a year, crawl out from under their rocks and make stupid, uneducated, comments about something that actually know nothing about. I constantly am in debates about broken legs, someone suggested a prosthetic leg for the horse but also said it wouldn’t happen because the owners do not care about the horses, just making money. It makes me want to go and shake that person and then lecture them on horse racing and why you cannot put a prosthetic leg on a horse.

    Anyway thank you for your piece, it’s good to know there are some clear minded, and intelligent people out there

  51. HeatherS says:

    Also i hope you do not mind but i passed it onto Claire Blading and Mick Fitzgerald, they are talking about it a lot.

  52. Denis says:

    Hi Matt,a very illuminating article Matt and one I thoroughly recommend.

    1. I of course am not fully aware of the injuries to the two horses. However, it seems to me that veterinary practice here should be very carefully examined. There have been cases of fetlock injuries being repaired and the horse returned to racing.On the Flat only I think ; Seabiscuit probably the most famous. My next paragraph would be quite feasible if the horse was able to graze or run freely in the meadow.

    Therefore , the decision should be very carefully considered in the case of a horse like According to Pete. He was the trainers only asset. If a repair was remotely possible the animal could have been put to stud.

    2. Your point about speed to the first jump is very well made indeed. This should be implemented. However, I think the rest of the points you make on this subject do not really apply ; they are really about tactics.

    3. I now come to a radical suggestion about this wonderful race. This would meet the statements of the respondents who have pointed to the need for a proactive stance by the racing community.

    Can you or anybody else tell me why the World Championship of Jump Racing is still a handicap race?.

    A. If it was a stakes race a whole raft of arguments against it would immediately disappear.

    B. Reduced to 30 – only the finest equine jumpers would be entered. Almost certainly the number of fallers would reduce substantially over 2or 3 years.

    C. I could imagine that some other countries would wish to stage elimination jumps events to qualify for entry to the Grand National World Championships.

    D. I am sure a notional handicap market could be devised. In my athletic club we devised various such events. Delayed starts etc. Also a sealed handicap. This was based on time and was unknown to the runners. Two cups were given – 1 for the first in the race and the other for the winner of the handicap obviously unsealed at the end of the race. This would not create a betting market but something like it would if it was known to the general public. It could of course be based on weights instead of time. It would end up as a halfway house, as it were , to virtual racing. All the handicappers apply their skills and analysis in this market. As well as the Championship ra

  53. Denis says:

    Hello Matt,

    I wish to enquire as to why my response on ‘Whither the Grand National’ was not accepted. Was the idea of changing to a stakes race too radical for your consumption?. I contend that this is what will happen eventually so I think having it on the agenda is very important. Geegeez will be very influential in horse racing and this is why I sent it to you.

    You need to forward responses like this to the BHA as part of the groups of different responses. Why not put together a seperate case grouping for voting and include a 100/1 outsider like mine.

    Incidentally, in the 70’s I backed the winner 5 out of 6 yrs. Rhyme n Reason being my favourite.

    I had Sunnyhill Boy ew and According to Pete to win this year.

    According to Pete was the only horse I have backed to have been put down or killed in 60 yrs of betting on this event.

    Best wishes,

    Denis.

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      Hi Denis

      Your comment was certainly accepted, and is in this thread above where you wrote just now!!

      There is a delay sometimes as all posts are individually reviewed for links, rudeness, etc., and I do need to sleep sometimes. 😉

      In point of fact, there are good reasons for not making it a stakes race – it would lose almost all of its mass appeal in that case. However, I respect the idea and certainly wouldn’t think of failing to publish because I disagreed.

      All the best,
      Matt

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