Animal Aid

Call to scrap Becher's Brook

Posted 27 March 2013

Aintree named most dangerous racecourse in the country

  • Report names Aintree as most dangerous racecourse for horses
  • Demonstrations to be held at Aintree racecourse and Channel 4 in London
  • Animal Aid campaign vehicle to visit Liverpool
  • Cosmetics retailer Lush launches tombstone window displays in memory of equine fatalities
  • Adverts across London and in a national newspaper call on punters not to bet on the National

Despite much heralded ‘safety improvements’, the Grand National’s most notorious obstacle remains a potentially lethal challenge for horses running at Aintree next month. The two horses who died at last year’s event – Synchronised and According To Pete – both fell at Becher’s Brook. The same 4ft 10in fence accounted for Dooneys Gate in 2011. His back was broken after the obstacle brought him down and another horse landed on him.

Animal Aid has long criticised the hard wooden core of Becher’s Brook. Reports, therefore, that the inner structure of Becher’s and other fences will be softened represents, in our view, a positive development. However, Becher’s remains inherently lethal for many reasons, including its height, the spread, the diagonal angle of approach, the fact that it comes at the end of a fast straight of five demanding fences, and because horses must turn after the obstacle has been jumped. In addition, although changes have been made to the ground on the landing side of Becher’s, the fence is still lower there than on the take-off side, which poses another potential hazard for horses.

Animal Aid insists that the time for tinkering is over – Becher’s Brook must be removed.

Besides Becher's, other distinctive features make the Aintree annual race extraordinarily dangerous for horses. These include: an overcrowded field of 40 horses; a uniquely long distance, with more fences per mile than any other race; plus perversely challenging obstacles that vary in height and design, unlike the uniform fences found on other British courses. It is due to these and other factors that just 37 per cent of horses entered into the event over the past ten years have managed to complete the course.

Animal Aid anti-Grand National campaign initiatives include:

  • A demonstration outside Channel 4 in London on 6 April (the day of the race) by local activists and supported by Animal Aid. Channel 4 this year takes over broadcasting the Aintree meeting from the BBC.
  • Adverts, asking punters not to bet on the big race, appearing across London and in The Daily Telegraph newspaper.
  • A visit to Liverpool, on 3 April, by a converted ambulance emblazoned with stark protest imagery and messages. On the vehicle’s side, a powerful short film will be screened continuously. Leafleting will take place in various locations around the city.
  • Ethical cosmetics retailer, Lush, to feature a striking window display in its Leeds outlet, drawing attention to the horses who have died at recent Grand Nationals.
  • Animal Aid to attend the annual demonstration outside the gates of Aintree racecourse on the day of the Grand National.
  • Animal Aid’s redesigned unique database of on-course equine fatalities, Deathwatch, to be launched at the start of the Grand National meeting.
  • Animal Aid activists to distribute tens of thousands of leaflets across the country, calling on the public not to place a bet on the race, but instead back the Sanctuary not Cruelty scheme which directly funds two hard-pressed specialist sanctuaries that rescue horses – including ex-racehorses.

A number of course alterations and entry conditions were announced in November 2011, but these did not prevent two horses being killed in the 2012 Grand National. Further changes were introduced at the end of last year and more in recent weeks. But features that make the race so lethal remain unchanged.

Last month, Animal Aid published the report Deathwatch 2012, drawn from its online database that records the deaths of thoroughbreds on all British racecourses. The report reveals that Aintree was the most lethal of all Britain’s 60 racecourses in 2012, when deaths are evaluated in relation to the number of days’ racing. Six horses died at Aintree in just eight days of racing. Three of those fatalities occurred during the three-day Grand National meeting.

Says Animal Aid’s Director, Andrew Tyler:

‘The time has come for Aintree Racecourse to face what for them is an unpalatable truth: the tide of public opinion is turning against its perversely cruel spectacle. An NOP poll conducted on behalf of Animal Aid last year revealed that, of those respondents who expressed a clear opinion, the majority feels that the Grand National is cruel. Our message is clear: people should stop backing this horror show and donate their money instead to sanctuaries that help horses – not to an industry that exploits and kills them.’

Further information

  • For press enquiries, please call Andrew Tyler or Dene Stansall on 01732 364546.

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