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Is it time to ban the National?

Some say so, yet Liverpool has millions riding on it. What does Larry Neild say?

Published on April 11th 2011.

Is it time to ban the National?

MY first boss, when I was a teenage cub reporter, was a cantankerous master word-smith named Cyril Briggs.

I’m still unsure whether the horses enjoy the challenge or are petrified as they head for Becher’s Brook or one of the other tough hurdles

If I made a mistake he had no hesitation in giving me a bit of a whacking, or he’d twist my ear if I made a spelling error. I quickly learned how to duck.

I also learned a lesson from Mr Briggs that reporters (we weren’t called journalists in those days) must never presume, never assume.

I got one of those painful and summary admonishments when I wrote a story saying two Liverpool men had been remanded on a charge of burglary.

Mr B pointed out they had actually been charged with buggery, but I had assumed it was a mistake on the court list as I could never imagine such a word being written down in an official document from the local Petty Sessional Division. Though in mitigation (before my earlope begged for mercy) I did say to Mr B I wondered why two men would want to burgle the public convenience in Runcorn High Street.

During my apprenticeship under Mr Briggs (I never in my life called him by his first name), I was taught everything I needed to know about what we now call the meeja.

So it was, as I studied the Grand National field at a BetFred office in Southport on Saturday, wondering what – if anything – to back, I spotted that name - Briggs.

With the scientific logic that comes from the close-you-eyes-and-stick-a pin-into-the-list theory, I wagered a modest amount on 14-1 Ballabriggs, thinking here’s to you Cyril – he’s dead so it’s safe to call him by his “Christian” name.

But should I – a person who rescues bluebottles from the deadly swat - be a willing participant in the world’s toughest steeplechase?

Should the Grand National be banned, as some animal rights campaigners have demanded, yet again, this weekend.

The deaths of two horses in this year's race brings to 20 the number that have now perished on the Grand National course since 2000.

Just 19 of the 40 starters finished the race, while the winner, Ballabriggs, reportedly came close to collapse from dehydration.

Of course it is tragic, and I’m still unsure whether the horses enjoy the challenge or are petrified as they head for Becher’s Brook or one of the other tough hurdles.

The National is worth millions to Liverpool’s economy, but is death or injury to a number of fine equine specimens worth the price?

Aintree Racecourse managing director Julian Thick said the deaths were "desperately sad" but he added that safety was the priority.

"All horses and riders in the Grand National have to meet very high standards set by an independent panel of experts," he said. "The Grand National is a well organised and professional race."

But Andrew Tyler of Animal Aid begs to differ: "The public has been conned into believing that the Grand National is a great sporting spectacle when, in reality, it is straightforward animal abuse that is on a par with Spanish bullfighting.”

Indeed, I have always given Spain a wide berth because of my opposition to that particular spectacle, but the difference is in bullfighting the little white bull is doomed, more or less, to meet its (artificially inseminated) maker.

The race is at its very best when every horse comes out of it unharmed. I admit to having nagging (sorry) doubts about the race: is it cruel and should it be banned?

The organisers and the sponsors of the Grand National, the cheering crowds and no doubt bodies like the RSPCA will be delighted if every horse cantering along that amazing course, survives the race uninjured.

Ban the Grand National and the same logic could be applied to almost any sport.

I come to the conclusion death is inevitable in some activities – yes, the horses don’t have a say. Neither do the fish netted (and probably eaten) in a sea angling contest, or the beautiful pheasants used as target practice by gun-totting toffs.

What we need to hear is a full enquiry into the deaths at this year’s Aintree meeting, what lessons are learned and whether that learning will be applied to make the steeplechase the greatest, safest race in the world.

As for my brief expedition into the world of gambling, nice one Cyril.

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11 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Horse WhisphererApril 12th 2011.

Sad, but the National is so barbaric. It is so unfair to inflict this race on horses who have little or no say. The National really is on a par with the equally barbaric bullfighting in spain. Let those magnificent horses proudly ride into the sunset and retire the national, gracefully. Sadly, so much money is involved it's not gonna happen.

NoMoreInsideJobsApril 12th 2011.

We should ban the orange tarts !

WorkNeededApril 12th 2011.

Hey. keep yer 'ands off our national. The university vet school needs the work. One thing though. I'd hate to think some of these fine running machines are put down and sent to the knackers yard simply because they are lame. There should be a special National Fund to pay for any injured horses to end their days in a friendly sanctuary.

Pop TartApril 12th 2011.

As a family we have always had horses and The Grand National is a very special day for us. However, my 'special day' turned into 'emotional trauma' this year. I don't think we should ban the National becuase it has grown into a fabulous festival but please, please, please can't we lower the fences? It's a long run, the horses have to be super fit but the fences don't have to be quite so enormous.....

BooApril 12th 2011.

I think the fences need lowering a little and maybe a few less horses, 30 instead of 40 perhaps? Just seems there are too many horses galloping at the same fence, falls are inevitable! I love horses and have owned them and ridden for almost 30 years. I don't think the race should be banned just because very sadly, 2 horses died this year. yes the horses had little or no say, but I'm sure up until that point had been very well cared for and looked after. Funny how 2 horses dying in a race causes such uproar, yet it's ok for ... let say...millions of innocent cows to be slaughtered each and every year, without them having any choice, so that they can be cut up and served up as food probably for those same people having a rant about the National!

No NagsApril 12th 2011.

Lets be honest, if there was no horse racing these fine animals would be bred for dog meat. so keep the race and please do not let rent a mob, who will all be on benefits, disrupt the National.

CHAMPIONApril 12th 2011.

WHY BREED COWS.SHEEP.PIGS, CHICKENS AS ALL THEY ARE BRED FOR IS TO BE KILLED SO AS WE COULD EAT.Any of those protesting against the national must all be VEGITARIANS and if any of them say they dont eat any of the above then they must be boring to go out with to have a meal

S*** HappensApril 12th 2011.

Speed kills in racing, so lower fences are not the answer, as horses would run quicker. Went to Aintree on Thurs, where Inventor was put down after falling in a very fast hurdle, where they hardly have to jump at all. In an earlier race, one horse refused to start. They sent him out again on Friday, and he refused again. If you go to the races and know anything about horses, it is quite clear they like it - and they refuse to start or jump if they don't. They have more choice than most people realise. Incidentally, our household had bets on Nos 1,2,3,4,5&6 in the big race, I keep lurchers and I like fox-hunting.

ArkleApril 12th 2011.

The National wouldn't be the National with lower fences, it would just be any other horse race.

It is the fact that they have taken measures to make it safer, ie, lowered the drops on fences like Bechers that has made it more dangerous. The lack of drops means the horses go faster and, as we all know, speed kills.

Devout Beatles' fan and Cains loverApril 12th 2011.

I don't believe that horses are dumb animals, because I am convinced that they are intelligent enough to know in themselves whether or not they can't jump a particular fence. Then they would just pull up, and often do hence all the unseated riders. If it was banned then what next angling? I am sure anglers along the Mersey will certainly object if they were told they could no longer fish anymore. So I say the Grand National should remain forever.

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