MELISSA JONES SAYS: Grand National critics way off the mark
THE Grand National is like Marmite – you either love it or you hate it – and never before has the race been attacked by the health and safety brigade like in the last two renewals.
It is a unique event that has always brought controversy, from the pile-up at Becher’s Brook in 1967 to the abandonment in 1993 when riders failed to notice a false start had been declared.
But this year it was whipped into a tornado of criticism that swept through the country following a number of incidents.
First there were the farcical scenes at the start when the starting tape, which is nearly the equivalent of a large elastic band, was broken by the eager riders. Surely there could be a more sophisticated way of starting the world’s most famous steeplechase given all the technology at our fingertips.
Prior to that there was Synchronised, Gold Cup winner and one of the toughest equine athletes, dumping champ McCoy on the Aintree turf and running loose.
It is here I think some of the criticism levelled at the race is justified – the nine-year-old should never have been in the line-up.
Winners of the Cheltenham Blue Riband are not normally asked to run in the National – you would not see Best Mate or Kauto Star even entered for the race.
The reason the gelding was entered was because at the start of the season no serious punter dared to mention Gold Cup and Synchronised in the same breath for fear of being laughed at.
Although he was clearly a useful tool on the back of his Welsh and Midlands National triumphs, before victory in the Lexus Chase, Nationals were his forte.
Understandably his connections – JP McManus and Jonjo O’Neill – were overjoyed when he battled on bravely to success at Cheltenham and I think that should have been his final race of the season.
That day, his jumping left something to be desired, like it has always done twisting in the air, and he has never struck me as the ideal type for Aintree.
He fell jumping over Becher’s Brook first time round and continued riderless, having the option to avoid the fences if he wished, but followed the rest of the pack.
No blame can be put on Aintree, or the Grand National for that matter, for him fracturing his leg at a later obstacle.
It was a freak accident, along with that which led to According to Pete’s demise.
Much has been made of the two deaths, but I don’t think they were preventable – by their very make-up horses have fragile legs and accidents happen even on the Flat.
You cannot eliminate risk in sport, making more changes to the Grand National would be like removing some of the hairpin bends in Formula One.
Horses are bred to race, they are intelligent animals, and I would ask those criticising the race would they continue to jump the fences if they didn’t like it?
Racing is likely to receive more of a backlash from animal welfare organisations and the public, but we must remember these horses have the best of diet, care, they are appreciated by horse-racing lovers.
Everyone is entitled to air their opinion, but the Grand National is racing’s equivalent of the Olympics and it must be here to stay.