Saturday, 14 April 2012

Falling Into The Grand National Pity Trap

You could see this evening's Grand National Twitter storm coming a mile off. Or a week to be precise, as that's how long the BBC has been ramping up the alarm. This week's phone-in entitled "Grand National: A national treasure or national disgrace?" (duplicating exactly the same 'debate' last year) was particularly inflammatory and to be expected from our right-on state broadcaster.

Two horses died but - I imagine to the horror of Aintree's organising committee - one being Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Synchronised had headlines written all over it.

The fact that Synchronised had thrown jockey A P McCoy prior to the race, and gone on a trot a mile around the track beforehand, led inevitably to vile tweets towards McCoy for having carried on with the race. The joy of hindsight from many who know sod all about racing, and wouldn't even have known the horse existed before the event, is more than depressing.

It means more headaches for Aintree and more fixes will be made but, as we know very well here, none of them will appease those who just want to see the event abolished.

It's telling that of the list of fatalities in the race's 170 year history, half have occurred since the 1970s. This coincides with the period where we stopped worrying about how to feed ourselves, make sure the kids were educated properly, and that we had clothes on our backs. The time when full-time worriers began to occupy the extra leisure time we were afforded, using the improved media we could all now see on TV instead of in laborious print.

Since then, tweaks and 'safety improvements' have continuously been made, but the fatalities have increased rather than been eradicated. The two deaths today both happened at Becher's Brook - a fence previously known as fearsome due to its big unseen drop - which had been levelled off prior to this year's race.

Risk compensation has been up to its usual mischievous tricks, it would seem.

Race horses were looked after far worse in the past than they are now, and the fences were incredibly more hazardous than they are now. Yet fatalities are increasing, simply because the risks are reduced so more chances are taken. It's counter-intuitive, but those who claim to care about the welfare of the horses will never seemingly look at the statistics and try a different approach.

There are two reasons in my opinion. Firstly, there's probably the usual class motivation behind much of the heart-bleeding. The sport has always been regarded by many as a preserve of the rich, and served by those evil bookies who want to steal money from people, despite their not being forced to give it to them. It wasn't long before a 'hilarious' tweet was circulated widely advocating similar hazards - floating mines actually - to be placed in front of the University Boat Race crews, presumably in an attempt to conflate two sporting events linked to those who are envied as better off.

Secondly, it's our entire modern attitude to risk itself, and the same ignorance of benefits which we see in other subjects discussed here.

Nothing except total prohibition will ever be risk free. Even if the fences were taken away from the Grand National entirely, there would still be the risk of fatalities due to the exhausting distance of the race, and it would destroy the spectacle and therefore the event itself. So if one truly wants to eradicate these deaths, your only option is a ban, which is the stated position of some.

If you're happy with that, fine. But the loss of enjoyment and financial benefit that the Grand National gives to the nation would be lost forever. Another bit of colour erased from the calendar of already over-populated grey and depressing days.

Yet again, we're pandering to a vocal minority, many of whom have no care about those who enjoy the race simply because they don't particularly care about it themselves. They're not affected, but want it banned anyway.

It says everything about the BBC led debate that they did so by way of repeatedly quoting their darling Ricky Gervais. It was the best way to get it aired as an unbiased piece. They omitted to point out that he objected personally, but was not of the opinion that it should be banned because of that.

Sadly, we have a nation now which is not as intelligent. Instead, it wants everything banned of which it disapproves, and in the pursuit is willing to block out all advantages and benefits without seeing that such crass stupidity is advancing the blandness of everyone's life as a result.


WitteringsfromWitney said...

Well said, DP! Not been keeping up so unaware if football is to be banned 'cause of potential for heart attacks.

My only worry is that when thee and me take over, will you have sufficient transport capability to bring me all the ammo I'll need as I travel round the country?

Objective said...

In a truly free thinking democratic State,compulsory funding of such
as the BBC would be totally unacceptable
The BBC has become so loaded and predictable on various social,moral and
international matters it can no longer be taken as neutral and objective.
It has become a mouthpiece for Hampstead chatterers,unelected,pontificating,well funded natterjack toadies.
It is well past it's sell by date,it is time for it to be put to sleep

The Ferryman


Dick_Puddlecote said...

Rugby scrums to be uncontested, boxing to be banned without headgear, the possibilities are endless. Football has already been crucified by the virtual extinction of a real tackle IMO. Tap on the ankles, you're off sunshine. ;)

P T Barnum said...

I love horses and I love steeple chasing. (And for any numpties criticising national hunt racing as elitist, they should examine the demographics of both stable workers and horse owners.) But I loathe the Grand National, to the point of refusing to watch, listen, bet or know anything of the race until it's over. It's become something so freakish, so far removed from proper racing, that all normal horse sense has been thrown out of the window. Make the fences bigger (more caution, more refusals, fewer falls), the course shorter and the field smaller and quit with the damned hype and let some sanity prevail. I hope the death of Synchronised at the constantly tweaked and endlessly worsening Beecher's will give the ignorati the hump and let the real experts back in to sort it. Ah well, a person can dream....

Edgar said...

Good point about the jockeys taking more risks when the fences are perceived as having been made safer. I have no problem at all with jockeys choosing to risk their necks. The horses, however, do not have the luxury of that choice. Still, I like a good roast dinner, so I had better not bang on too much about using animals for our own purposes.

JuliaM said...

Superb post, Dick!

AngryOfTonbridgeJones said...

Is there a campaign to ban Coronation Street yet ?

Jaxthefirst said...

I’m with Barnum on this one.  I like horseracing very much but I really, really don’t like the Grand National at all.  Horses are natural runners and I don’t see anything wrong in taking their natural instinct and channelling it for human ends, just as I don’t disapprove of dogs being trained as police dogs, or rat-catchers, or guide dogs.  But I do think that the National steps over the line between asking a lot and asking too much of our racing horses. 
However, every year when the inevitable debate blows up about this particular race, I see, sadly, another opportunity to don my anti-EU tinfoil hat!  Why? Because the National is a uniquely British horserace.  No other country has one within its schedule which is quite as long, as hard and as gruelling.  It is renowned around the world as the race which happens at Aintree just once a year, and it is recognised as the race to win.  And of course, it’s precisely that kind of unique Britishness which the EU are aiming, slowly and stealthily, under the guise of “animal welfare” or “health and safety” (or whatever reason they choose to disguise their real motives this time) to erase from all of their member states.  They managed to ban bullfighting in Spain for the same fake (and real) reasons.  Again, don’t get me wrong.  I’ve always thought that bullfighting was a cruel, one-sided, hideous “sport,” but there’s no doubting that it was uniquely Spanish.  So it had to go, supposedly under pressure from animal rights groups, but I’d bet my bottom dollar that there was a lot of support behind the scenes from the EU.
So, mark my words, the Grand National will be stopped, or at least watered down to such an extent that it’s a mere shadow of its former self, not because it’s cruel or because it’s risk to horses and jockeys – but because it’s an iconically British race.  And anything which is iconic or unique to any of their member states encourages a sense of national identity – and thus poses a threat to the required mindset of all EU subjects to identify themselves, not as British, or French, or Greek, or Italian, but as European.
And, once they’ve done away with the National, just you watch - they’ll move on to the Derby.

Johnhillanbaker said...

A very passionate post Dick. I am not a betting man but have on occassion through the years bet on the Grand National and I did so yesterday and backed the winner, by accident would you believe. I didn't know till today that two horses had died.

Not having much to do yesterday I spent a good few hours watching the pre race chit chat on the BBC's iplayer and was impressed by all the improvements that were put into place this year including an area for the horses to be cooled down after their arduous journey to the winning post.

People effected by the bansterbators bend over backwards to accommodate their concerns but it is never enough. It is sad that two horses died doing that which they clearly enjoy doing (although the horses can't tell us this) but this is never enough. My late wife was an animal lover and also said that the ban on the national should happen but she was speaking from her gut, not a prefessional rent seekers like those bansterbator's you describe above. BTW she was also for banning Guy Faulkes night due to the hullablue every year espoused by the BBC. Is there any correlation between the BBC losing their coverage of the national to another channel this year and their cloacked criticism?

Sorry for the rambling text Dick, it's Sunday and the lunchtime beer is flowing :¬)

Stephen Smith said...

i bet on steeplechasing and i work with a former jockey and both he and i say that the lowering of the fences and the ground not being watered enough have made it faster,  he says they need to slow the horses down as it is the speed they are going when they fall that causes most of the fatalities 

Lynladd said...

I definitely agree with making the field smaller and have  been saying so for years!  Half the number of starters will improve safety no end!