Cruelty? You can bet on it!
Thinking of a 'harmless' flutter on this year's Grand National? Before placing your bet, consider these 10 facts first...
The three-day Grand National meet is designed to push horses to their limits - and beyond. The race is run over an extreme distance of 4½ miles and confronts horses with a bewildering combination of 30 punishing jumps. Deaths at the three-day event are routine. Since 1997, the Aintree meet has claimed the lives of 30 horses.
Every year, more than 370 horses are raced to death in Britain. Around 30% of the annual fatalities occur during or immediately after a race; the remaining horses are killed because of injuries received in training, or after being assessed by their owners as no-hopers.
Very few horses make it to events like the Grand National. Only a third of the 15,000 foals bred each year actually see the starter's flag. The fate of the rest remains an industry secret, and rumours are rife that thousands of the horses are killed.
Racehorses are stabled for up to 20 hours a day, causing frustration and stress. Horses are social animals who are meant to be continuously grazing and moving.
During a race such as the Grand National, the heartbeat of a horse can increase tenfold. This can lead to potential collapse and heart attack.
The majority of horses suffer stress-related lung haemorrhages during a race. And veterinary studies have found that ulcerated stomachs were almost universal amongst racing horses.
There have long been strong links between fox hunting and horseracing. Many older animals have been withdrawn from racing and made to hunt in order 'to sweeten them up'. The hunting fraternity has also held its own race meetings, known as point-to-points. Horses can 'graduate' from these to recognised racecourses such as Aintree - and take part in 'prime' events like the Martell Fox Hunters' Chase, which is staged during the three-day Grand National meet. In 1999, the British Horse Racing Board gave financial support to the campaign to preserve hunting.
The horseracing industry invests around £1 million each year in painful experiments that are intended to keep their investments profitable. Some of the experiments have involved infecting low-value Welsh mountain ponies with potentially lethal viruses. Symptoms suffered have included paralysis and abortion.
In an effort to keep injured horses racing, hundreds are subjected each year to painful surgical mutilations such as pinfiring. First used 100 years ago, this procedure involves inserting red-hot needles through the skin to burn the leg tendons.
5,000 racehorses end their careers every year. Few enjoy a decent retirement. Many go into a wretched downward spiral, passed from owner to owner. Some end up as pet food, or go into the human food chain.