‘How horseracing lives with the spectre of death’

Not my title, Alistair Down’s in the Racing Post (read the full online version here).

I quite often have a problem with Mr Down’s writing style; it’s a kind of why use one set of flowery adjectives, when multiple ones will do. However, on this occasion, he has toned it down and given the subject (the death of two horses in Saturday’s Grand National) the levity it warrants. But still, it grates somehow.

For a start, I do not believe ‘horseracing lives with the spectre of death’. It is most rare to see a racehorse running on the flat (no jumps) knuckle over and die. Of course it happens occasionally, sadly, but it happens mainly because of some intrinsic issue with the horse – not because we have popped some very extrinsic fences in the way of their progress. So yes, jump racing does indeed live with that spectre, because a fence can trip up a horse at any time, occasionally fatally, but deaths in flat racing are far less usual.

I know horses do not jump obstacles naturally. Show me footage of horses sailing over obstacles in the wild? Even a horse schooled by humans to clear a fence will stand patiently in a field waiting to be taken back to their stable at dinner time – they do not jump over the gate (Tesio, Breeding the Racehorse). Jumping ability is not hereditary in horses, because it is not a genetic predisposition. We train them and ask that they do it. We should take responsibility for that. Allowing horses that have never jumped the peculiar technicalities of a National fence, in a field of 30+ horses is, I would venture, inviting tragedy. Of course danger can never be removed, but asking a horse and rider to jump an obstacle at any speed is always going to cause falls and those falls lead to injury, sometimes death.

I can’t bear falls. I don’t watch jump racing really for that reason. It’s not a moral stance, it’s a position borne out of logic, observation and personal taste. As Down says, in jump racing, ‘fatalities are inevitable’. I am not prepared to back that inevitability.

See you on the Rowley Mile Alistair? Oh no, I won’t will I. But we won’t fall out if I do because you say you ‘have no argument with those who disapprove of jump racing. But with those who seek to emasculate it beyond recognition or ban it entirely I am implacably at odds.’

Actually, I wouldn’t mind a ban; I think they have gone that far in the state of Victoria, Australia already.

And then I lose patience with the man entirely, as he reverts to type.

‘Those who love jump racing hail from every geographical corner and inhabit all social strata of these islands. They are Everyman and they are legion.’

No, mate, they bloody aren’t. If they were, we would still be hunting foxes.

Ribot: not bred by Tesio to jump

Posted on April 12, 2011, in Horse racing, Jump racing, Sport, Television and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. This is not entirely meant as a throwing stones in a glass house exercise…

    I also wonder about the merits of running 2 year olds on the flat. The imperative is evidently economic: just over 2 years running costs before you get any enjoyment and a 3 year old Classic season.

  2. I felt sad when I read about the deaths in the paper. Also, as a child I cried when watching westerns where the horses fell and died, could not give a toss about the indians or cowboys though.

  3. Stephen Foster

    Where do you stand on hurdling makemeadiva? Plenty of the animals I back run straight through those to make sure they can’t win or anything absurd like that.

  4. Good jump racing appeals to my aesthetic sense I suppose, but there are too many unappealing sights under the code for me to enjoy hurdling and chasing completely.

    Actually I am more turned off by exhausted horses finishing in the mud, or the sight of Ballabriggs under the cosh in the run in after 4 miles than the falls, but when I put it all into the scales, it tips against.

  5. Down has produced a flawed article in keeping with his gluttoness character. Why does he think people are trying to ban jump racing? The national is a stand alone death trap. The question is do you mind horses having a 1 in 20 chance of dying as a bi-product of creating the greatest spectacle in racing.

  6. Stephen Foster

    People aren’t really trying to ban jump racing though are they Jamie? It’s just the more-or-less annual post-national jizz fest by newspaper Eds looking to fill space with controversy for two days while Charlie Sheen is in rehab. No one will care next week and 99.9% of everyone who has an opinion knows next to nothing about it. I actually heard whoever it is who does the sport on Radio 2 say at 8.30am last Friday, in response to the host’s’ question, that his tip for the National was AP McCoy because he has such a great track record in the race.

    • I understand what Down is saying about a direct route into a heightened experience, but for me 4 and a half miles and knackered horses just gives me nerves and anxiety.

      Banning it is extreme – where do you draw the line? You can jump but not race and jump. Having jumped horses myself I know that some of them seem to ‘enjoy’ it.

      I actually have more of a problem with the Scottish National. It comes later in the season and always seems to be run on quite firm ground. The Irish National occupies a spot in the calendar when the ground is nearly always slower which seems to be more sensible, although then the horses are knackered from mud, not heat exhaustion.

      Difficult questions. The press have a lot to answer for though. They hype it up on the day, print the sweepstake kits and form pull outs and then change their tune the next day altogether.

      That makes me cross too.

  7. ‘They’ were saying on 5live that horses die in their boxes! Reminds me of Alan PArtridge and his debate with farmers. ‘They’ also said it’s banned in New Zealand.

  8. The late, great Mr Frisk died after slipping and falling on a quiet hack out, at walking pace, in the lanes round his retirement home.

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