When the rhetoric is stripped away, any defence of two horses dying in a horse race on which around £150m was bet, is bound to be feeble. The uproar is the price we pay for having the most famous race in the world. Had Dooney’s Gate and Ornais died at home on the gallops, there wouldn’t be a single mention outside the racing sections of the papers.
But they died in full view of many millions watching on TV. Not only that but the survivors were forced to take avoiding action as they galloped past the lifeless bodies of two horses who’d lined up alongside them five minutes earlier. The roadside BBC coverage of the field bypassing the fourth fence offered viewers the gruesome site of an old tarpaulin covering the body of Ornais (why no screens?).
Worse, the director cut to an aerial view as the runners sheered away to go round Becher’s, therefore exposing to the world what the screens round Dooney’s Gate were supposed to cover: a dead horse and a few people standing around it doing nothing because there was nothing to be done.
The BBC’s ‘ Grand National coverage has long been an issue for racing, in my opinion. I wrote an article on April 1st and the BBC responded formally in the comments section. I worked at Aintree in the mid ’90s and although the BBC appears to have fallen out of love with racing in general, their team at Aintree was always co-operative, enthusiastic, utterly professional and very helpful. I’ve no reason to believe anything has changed in the relationship.
The reality is that there’s little more we can do to make the race safer, other than radical changes like introducing a draw which sends runners off in three ranks through a chicane to seriously reduce speed as they they approach the first.
What is in our control,to a reasonable extent, is how the race is presented to the public via the lenses of the BBC. A structure should be agreed on coverage, and re-runs (slowmo of fallers a huge PR bullet in the foot), not just of the big race, but of the whole meeting.
In the meantime, we should feel some sympathy too for the McCains, Jason Maguire and the magnificent Ballabriggs – was there ever a more strikingly handsome Grand National winner? Their marvelous achievement in the second-fastest running of this great race has been smothered by the negative coverage. Unfortunately, their day in the sun was a literal one, the effects of the heat producing a distressing and disorganised scramble rather than a glorious return to the famous winner’s enclosure.
Doubtless, Aintree will look too at avoiding a repeat of the winning jockey battling through crowds in an inglorious return to the weighing room. They should also set up something more elaborate for the combat of heat exhaustion in horses. Water being flung rather desperately from plastic buckets over the gallant finishers did not quite convey the image of a highly organised operation; small in the scheme of events, perhaps, but leaving racing open to such barbs as ‘If that’s the best they can do for heat-stressed horses, no wonder some die on the course’.