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JOCKEY CLUB - "In talks on animal rights"
Posted 1 February 2002
In a surprise move yesterday, the Jockey Club offered to meet animals rights activists who are campaigning for the abolition of racing to discuss its policies for the welfare of horses.
A letter to the group Animal Aid from John Maxse, the Club's public relations director, also suggests that the two organisations "may have more in common than one might expect".
Animal Aid has been campaigning against racing in general - and the Grand National in particular - for several years. This year it claims to be organising "the biggest demonstration Aintree has ever seen" on the day of the race, April 6.
In his unsolicited - and unexpected - letter to Andrew Tyler, the group's director, Maxse points out that the Jockey Club "currently has positive working relationships with both the RSPCA and the ILPH (International League for the Protection of Horses)." These relationships, he says, "have been built up over time and are based on open dialogue and respect for the respective organisations' aims."
However, unlike the RSPCA and ILPH, which are concerned primarily with animal welfare, Animal Aid pursues the cause of animal rights. Its supporters believe that since horses cannot express an opinion, either way, it is fundamentally wrong to use them for sport, particularly when they run the risk of injury and death.
Maxse's letter to the group includes a document detailing the Club's work in such areas as racecourse safety, veterinary facilities and care for horses both during and after their racing careers.
"The welfare of the horse is of primary importance to the Jockey Club," he says, "[and] it seems that Animal Aid also places great importance on the welfare of the horse. Taking that into account, it appears possible that our two organisations have more in common than one might expect."
Yet the Jockey Club's PR offensive seems unlikely to bring a halt to the Animal Aid campaign. The group's website includes claims that "every year around 300 horses are raced to death in Britain" and that "half the 8,000 foals bred each year never even see the starter's flag before they are put down".
The site also offers tickets for Animal Aid's Grand National demonstration at £5 a time, though the precise location of the protest has yet to be confirmed.
In response to Maxse, Tyler says that "Animal Aid would be happy to meet with the Jockey Club." However, he also insists that racing is "an exploitative sport that causes, by its very nature, immense equine suffering and significant premature mortality."
He also describes the Club's insistence that the safety of horses is of primary importance as "nauseating". Whether a meeting will actually take place, and how much common ground will be found, if it ever does, remains to be seen.
Red Marauder, who won the Grand National last year, and Paddy's Return, who took out nine horses when he veered riderless across the Canal Turn, were both among the names removed from the running for this year's event at the first declaration stage yesterday. Ever Blessed, the 1999 Hennessy Gold Cup winner, was also scratched.
A record total of 121 remain, including Moor Lane, the easy winner of the Great Yorkshire Chase last month and the general ante-post favourite for Aintree. It has yet to be decided whether the ride at Liverpool will be offered to Norman Williamson or Barry Fenton.