IT'S April, it’s Aintree and the annual debate on the danger to horse and rider in the world’s most famous steeplechase is raging.
Katie Walsh has given her two cents on safety concerns on the Grand National and the naysayers are up in arms.
It is true to day that we have lost four beloved animals in the last two runnings of the race most notably Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Synchronized last year.
Safety concerns have been heeded by the organisers and proper adjustments have been made and the race first run in the 1830s has never been safer.
This year the actual make-up of the fences has been completely overhauled with the upright wooden posts that have long formed the solid middle of each fence being entirely absent, to be replaced with those fronds of plastic birch.
This change will mean that horses whose legs trail through the fence will be slowed down rather than stopped.
Officials at Aintree have also asked jockeys to regulate their speed on their way to the first fence.
The cavalry charge to opening obstacle in one of the key aspects of the race from spectators’ point of view but this will be curtailed.
These changes are complementing a whole raft of changes that were introduced in recent years but Katie is right, enough is enough.
Katie described how the horses involved in this Saturday’s race have been treated “better than children” which has garnered a mixed reaction and her assertion that the changes to Europe’s richest national hunt race must stop.
There is an element of danger to all equine sports, the Puissance at the Dublin Horse Show sees horses attempt to jump an obstacle over seven feet in height, but that danger forms part of the sport’s lustre and prestige.
If we continue to sanitise this race its appeal will be eroded, we will lose a great spectacle.
If you look at the bare facts of a race run over four and a half miles, with 30 fences to negotiate and 40 runners you can understand why there is trepidation but it is not justified.
The Grand National is the distillation of the best long distance national hunt thoroughbreds on the planet.
These animals have been bred to jump and stay, they have been nurtured from the time they nervously take their first steps and suckle the colstrum from their mother which gives them the antibodies to fight off disease.
They have been schooled from an early age to jump and any horse capable of even taking his chance at Aintree will have to have shown a proficiency to jump even the most daunting fence and a zest for racing.
The expertise and skill of those training and riding these wonderful creatures also reduces any risk to their welfare.
This is not a mere sport to the likes of Katie Walsh, they have been honing their abilities since they were children and know the risks involved.
It is not in their nature to put themselves or there animals into positions where they may be at risk.
Unfortunately horses are fragile creatures, unlike you and me they won’t recover from a broken leg and the most humane thing is to euthanise.
Accidents and tragedies occur in sport and there are just some things you can’t regulate for.
I hope and pray all 40 horses and riders are safe and sound when the curtain comes down on the 2013 Grand National.