The 470th edition of the Wayward Lad blog.
There has been plenty of reaction to this year's Grand National and, as most who have an interest in horseracing would expect, not much of it has been good. It has come to the time when those who are involved in the sport at any level – be it owner, trainer, jockey, stable-lad or lass, farrier, vet, gambler or even the once a year punter – either gets behind the sport or accepts that horseracing in all its forms will come to an end sooner rather than later.
I'll make no bones about it, I cannot tell the difference between a horse jumping Bechers Brook and a show-jumper taking part in the "Puissance" high jump competition when horses are asked to jump a wooden wall set at a minimum height of 5ft 7in and the current record (set in 1991) is 7ft 10in. Remember, Bechers Brook on the take-off side is just 4ft 10in high and the "drop" on the landing side is 5ft 8in. Come the Olympics this summer in London, how many will be protesting about the show-jumping and 3-day event involving horses? Flat racing is also in grave danger of being abolished along with jump racing. There were 3 horses euthanized after breaking limbs at Meydan in the same race last week, a horse broke a limb and was euthanized at Royal Ascot last summer, and the last time I saw a statistical record on horse injuries in racing it was evident that far more horses suffer injury racing on the flat that they do over jumps.
What is the answer? I suppose we could sacrifice the Grand National as a loss leader but, realistically, we all know that it would not end there. We basically need to galvanise support for racing and demonstrate how much it contributes to the economy and to the British way of life as a whole.
I would like to see horseracing embark on a popularity campaign and bring more people into contact with the horses themselves. Every Saturday meeting should have a few retired horses available for the public to get close to. Ambassadors for the sport should be freely available at every Saturday meeting to answer the public's questions and concerns. The BHA need to become more transparent, more approachable and they need to distance themselves away from the hunting and shooting fraternity. In fact, I'd like to see a couple of positions on the BHA board voted in by those in the industry every couple of years.
Whatever happens, now is a time for all those who love horseracing to get behind the sport and make their feelings known. Nearly 11 million people watched the Grand National on the BBC last Saturday which is 2 million more people than the audience for the FA Cup Final last May. What did those 11 million watch the race for?
We are at a major crossroads as the financial model currently being used for horseracing does not work well enough to sustain the sport in the UK. Animal rights extremists (and that's what they are, extremists who want everyone to be vegetarian and to outlaw even pet ownership) are getting far too much media exposure for the views they represent, which are not reflected by the mass majority of the British public.
Let's work together to promote all that is good about horseracing.
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