Animal welfare organisation PETA has urged punters to think twice about their “harmless flutter” as millions try their luck at picking the winner of the annual event in Liverpool. PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has been heavily critical of the British sporting event and it says the “fact that it’s a cause for celebration when no horses die during the Grand National says everything that anyone should need to know about this event”. It also suggests horses are forced to run at “breakneck speed” around the four-and-three-quarter mile track and even if they go around unscathed horses “may develop debilitating medical conditions including bleeding lungs and gastric ulcers”.
PETA’s director, Elisa Allen told Express.co.uk: “The fact that it’s a cause for celebration when no horses die during the Grand National says everything that anyone should need to know about this event and the horse-racing industry generally.
“Forcing horses to run at breakneck speed around a course deliberately designed to be hazardous is, as we’ve seen, a recipe for disaster.
“Those who don’t suffer heart attacks – or sustain horrific injuries when they crash face-first onto the track – may develop debilitating medical conditions, including bleeding lungs and gastric ulcers. If they make it to “retirement” age, many are discarded like used betting slips – handed over to rescue charities, shot at stables, or sold for their flesh.”
In recent years Aintree racecourse has invested £1.5m in safety measures including on fence construction, cooling fans, turf management and irrigation.
Since these increased measures there has been no fatalities in the last six runnings, and the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) say in overall jump racing 99.47 percent of runners complete their races without sustaining any form of injury.
However the charity believe the dangers are still there and these “minor improvements” and “merely token gestures” with one of the main issues of ill treatment is the continued use of the whip by jockeys.
Ms Allen said: “It’s the danger of the race that draws in crowds and lines bookies’ pockets – and it’s the horses who suffer as a result.
“It should be noted, too, that while the horse-racing industry pays lip service to animal welfare, it has yet to remove the requirement that jockeys carry a whip, which they can and do use to make horses run to and beyond their breaking point.”
PETA insist the “tide is turning” in public perception and has been helped by the “stomach-turning footage that circulates on social media” after some races.
Ms Allen added: “Watching a racing event like the Grand National is as unacceptable as watching a bullfight. Horse racing is a stain on the UK’s reputation as a nation that cares about animals, and it needs to be put out to pasture.”
However the BHA has insisted the safety of horses is the “number one priority for everyone” and it “leaves no stone unturned”.
A spokesman for the BHA told Express.co.uk: “The safety of participants is the number one priority for everyone involved in the sport.
“In 2011/12 the BHA and Aintree racecourse carried out a comprehensive review of the Grand National and implemented a number of measures to make the race safer. Since these measures have been implemented no horses have been fatally injured in the race, in six runnings.”
It added: “On top of the provision of first class veterinary and medical facilities in place at the racecourse every year, every horse in every race will be checked by veterinary surgeons before competing.
“The BHA and Aintree leave no stone unturned to ensure that avoidable risk is removed where possible. The overall fatal injury rate in British racing has decreased by one third in the last 20 years, to just 0.2% of runners”.
Last year’s winner Tiger Roll heads the field of 40 declared runners, the race is live on ITV at 5.15pm on Saturday.
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