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‘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