Irish-built plastic fences to make Grand National safer
THE horses in the world's greatest steeplechase, the Aintree Grand National, will be jumping over a little piece of Ireland next Saturday.
As part of a drive to make the event safer, new fences, including the infamous Becher's Brook, have been built in Ballinasloe, Co Galway.
EasyFix, headed by former Galway hurler Michael Earls of Killimordaly, was awarded the six-figure contract to supply the "more forgiving" plastic internal structures for the fences.
But that is not the only connection between the Earls family and the big race.
Chicago Grey, a fancied National runner, is part-owned by Michael Earls's brother, John.
Trainer Gordon Elliott believes Chicago Grey has a good chance after an operation to aid breathing.
The horse has already been schooled over the new fences after EasyFix obstacles were sent to all training centres, including the Curragh, for testing.
Experts including former Grand National-winning jockey and now leading racing columnist Marcus Armytage have welcomed the change, saying the fences are a major improvement on the traditional construction which was built around a framework of wooden stakes.
"Having been at the back of the field on the second circuit of a National, I can vouch that, denuded of their covering of spruce, these stakes greet you with a smile about as welcoming as that of a great white shark," wrote Armytage, who won the race in 1990 on Mr Frisk.
"If not directly responsible for fatal injuries they will, over the years, have given vets plenty of needlework practice."
EasyFix was established in 1996 by Michael Earls and started out by developing rubber matting for slatted sheds which gave overwintering cattle softer underfoot conditions.
Since then the business has gained a global reach and reputation and employs nearly 30 people.
The new Grand National fences will be built around birch and plastic cores under their familiar layers of green spruce and will appear no different in height, width or appearance to the old ones.