RSPCA call for Becher's Brook to be removed after deaths at Aintree Grand National
THE RSPCA has called for Becher’s Brook to be eliminated from the Grand National course, and for a reduction in the field of 40 runners, following the deaths of two horses in Saturday’s race.
As racing assessed the fallout from an eventful National, won by Neptune Collonges by the narrowest of margins, feedback from jockeys has pointed to course modifications at Becher’s actually adding to traffic problems on the inside, which led to a potential pile-up.
Gavin Grant, the chief executive of the RSPCA, said that Aintree was clearly not safe enough and called for further modifications. “Three horses have died at Aintree this week, and five died at Cheltenham five weeks ago,” he said.
“Changes have to happen here. We recognise racing is part and parcel of the fabric of our country but we’ve all got a responsibility as human beings – after all, the horses haven’t got a choice, they can’t make the decisions – to make racing as safe as it can be.
“As far as the Grand National is concerned, there are lots of factors. Firstly, the scale of the field. Forty horses is a heck of a lot.
"Secondly, there are unique jumps that horses aren’t experienced in going over, and I think we need to look at those again. Becher’s Brook has claimed another casualty [According To Pete] and perhaps it’s time for that to go.
“We need to look at the landing areas. Some improvements have been made there, but when you’ve got a drop on the other side of the fence, a horse isn’t expecting that.”
The impact of the two equine deaths was felt right across racing’s broad church, particularly the sad demise of Synchronised, J P McManus’s Cheltenham Gold Cup winner.
The course was modified after two deaths last year but ex-jockey Mick Fitzgerald, a winner of the race on Rough Quest, said changes to Becher’s may have made it more dangerous.
“I spoke to Robbie Power [who rode Killyglen] after the race, and he said normally when you got to Becher’s there was a lot of room because the way the ‘drop’ was before, nobody except the really brave men and the guys who were on horses they knew would be able to cope with the drop went down the inside.
“It meant the whole field spread out when they got to Becher’s, whereas now the drop’s been levelled off, nobody moved off that inside. Because of that, you had a bit of a pile-up situation and a knock-on effect almost.
“That’s the danger. Suddenly, nobody wants to go to the outside of the fence. They all piled up on the inner, hence the reason you get a faller and one being brought down.”
Synchronised came down at Becher’s on the first circuit, but he then galloped riderless, jumping a further five fences before breaking his leg.
A microchip inserted in his number cloth is expected to supply vital data to assist in the compilation of a report that will determine whether changes are to be made to the course.
The process of speed sensing acts like a GPS, which can list in detail the exact route taken by the horse and the speed at which he was travelling.
Crucially in this case, it will also indicate how long it was before the hind-leg fracture he sustained restricted his movement to the point where he could be caught.
Paul Bittar, the chief executive of the BHA, said it would be premature to suggest more changes to the course, but added that a report on Saturday’s race was “reasonably advanced.”
He said that changes and improvements in safety had led to a decrease in injury and fatalities, both on the Grand National course and racing in general.
“It is important that these matters are judged over a period of time. The decade since 2000 was the safest on record for the Grand National, with a fatality rate of 1.5 per cent compared to 3.3 per cent at the start of the 1990s,” Bittar said.