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Aintree under increasing pressure to make course safer after fatalities

AS the debate over the future of the Grand National intensified on Monday, the British Horseracing Authority said it was too early yet to say when its review into the race, in which two horses died, would be completed. The authority is updating last year’s thorough examination with additional data from Saturday.

The race remained under great pressure yesterday and was the subject of numerous UK radio phone-ins. Roly Owers, chief executive of World Horse Welfare, which worked with the BHA and Aintree to produce the modifications to the course, said that the public would not stomach many more tragedies at the event.

Robin Mounsey, the BHA’s spokesman, said: “We did the full-scale review last year and we’re in the process of gathering extra data and adding to it. There were new elements, like speed sensors on the number cloths, and when we have all the data together it will be an extension to the process begun last year. It’s too early to say when it will be finished.”

Owers, who will be meeting with Paul Bittar, chief executive of the BHA, next week when the National will be top of his agenda, said: ¬“Racing must understand that the public can no longer stomach almost regular deaths in this high-profile race.

“We fully appreciate, as should everyone, that all horse sport carries risks, but there are acceptable risks and unacceptable risks and it doesn’t appear as if that balance is right in the Grand National.”

Of his meeting with Bittar he added: “We will be asking serious questions of the BHA and will also be talking to Aintree racecourse once they have completed their review.

“In particular, we will be asking questions about the number and nature of fallers, the number of ¬runners, the structure of the fences and the 'drop’ fences which have lower landings than take-offs, among other issues. Where we deem changes are necessary, we will press strongly for them.

“As a welfare organisation that bases its policies on scientific ¬evidence and experience, we will want to consider all the facts before making any specific conclusions.

“Change for the sake of change is not what is required but it is clear there is a question mark over the future of the Grand National in its current format.”

But slightly contradicting the opinion of Owers, it was announced that 11.1? million people watched this year’s race on the BBC. That is three million more than watched last year’s race, which sparked the most comprehensive review of the safety of the race for more than 20 years.

It was the highest viewing figure for eight years and an estimated 600?million saw the race worldwide. Aintree was also sold out, with 70,000 turning up despite the Everton-Liverpool FA Cup semi-final at Wembley.