David Parry (pictured right) of David Parry Racing is the latest to add his thoughts on the Grand National fallout.
When Ballabriggs crossed the line victorious in the 2011 Grand National, it signalled the start of an at times frenzied examination of the future of the race. What was predictable was that the debate would be led by those long opposed to racing in general. What was less so was the reaction of many actively involved in the sport already.
There can be no doubt that the deaths of two of the runners was not a desired outcome – but nor can it have come as the shocking, attitude changing eureka moment that some in the sport are claiming it to be. Racing horses, particularly over obstacles, is a challenging and thrilling pursuit. Inherent in it is a danger to both horse and rider and to claim that this was not known to those involved in the sport is nonsense.
Those involved in racing DO acknowledge the danger and we do to some extent embrace that danger. At the same time, we manage that danger and continually assess whether or not more needs to be done.
The list of changes to the National format and to jumps racing in general is a long one already and there is no shortage of new suggestions; Limit further the number of runners, produce slower ground, make fences smaller/bigger, introduce age restrictions on horses, chicane style start to reduce speed. We should examine all of these, if only as part of the normal appraisal of the sport. To do nothing & hope for the best is not an acceptable PR position but more than that, it is simply rank bad business practice.
Changes if implemented need to be subtle – can we reduce further the risk whilst maintaining the spectacle, the challenge & the elements that make the National what it is. There are plenty of marathon chases in the programme book but only one gets beamed around the world. That is the very reason why we should be looking to make changes if needed but maintaining the unique elements of the race.
The essence of the National is a large field, long distance handicap run over obstacles that are both unique in appearance & construction and challenging due to the variety of fences involved. All of that should be maintained. If we can manage down the risks involved still further whilst maintaining that essence it will be a job well done.
Of all the suggestions that I have heard, the desire for good to soft ground (or softer) makes the most sense to me. It both limits speed over the ground & (often) produces a sliding fall rather than a crunching fall. Removing or reducing those two elements (speed & an unforgiving surface) is where any change should be focused.
A thorough and measured examination of the race is appropriate and that is planned. Let us hope that the response is centred on managing the risks rather than the criticism.
One final thought about the immediate aftermath of the race. Much has been made of horses being dismounted, unsaddled & cooled down with water immediately after the line. It transpires that this was not a reaction to dehydrated horses but a pre planned action by the BHA in acknowledgement of a hot day. Why not tell the press/BBC that beforehand & so have the actions reported as a sensible precaution to protect horses rather than as a panic measure?