Isn’t Andrew Tyler a credit to the English language? For clearly written, sincerely thought out prose, the opponents of racing could hardly do better. Tyler, from the animal rights group Animal Aid, wrote a piece last year before the Grand National at Aintree that specifically described his views of the cruelty of racing, which was published in the Guardian and can be read in its entirety below**.
Despite Tyler’s clarity of purpose and lucid explanation, is the argument against racing fit for logical examination? To be “cruel,” one must “have the disposition to harm and satisfaction in or indifference to suffering,” according to the American Heritage dictionary.
Although harm may come to horses who participate in racing, or to some animals who stand quietly in fields, the questions of “disposition to harm,” “satisfaction,” or “indifference” seem notably lacking among the supporters of racing.
Instead, those in racing and those outside of it have a differing perspective of the same scene.
From Tyler’s perspective, the race for the Grand National is an expression of the worst in racing:
By design, it is an extremely hazardous event into which the horses are conscripted, while the jockeys participate voluntarily. It is longer than any other race (four miles and a half). It is dangerously crowded with 40 runners taking part (when a horse jumps, he needs a clear, uncluttered view of the obstacle). And the course presents 30 uniquely high and unpredictable fences that feature drops, ditches, sharp turns and slopes.
To many people in racing and to thousands in the general public who watch a race or two annually, the Grand National is historic and exciting, a great outing to watch beautiful horses race in the country, or an opportunity to bet money on the uncertain outcome of races where horses jump over tall fences. To others in racing, it is the knuckle-dragging Neanterthal in the spectrum of our sport.
And to all, our interpretation of the race really depends on what we “see.”
This is an important question of a society, as well as of individuals, and looking back a century or more to the greatest interest in the Grand National, it is clear society has changed quite a bit in attitudes towards animals, as well as the treatment of people.
Does this change mean that the Grand National will eventually wither and die, as Tyler hopes?
Yes, I suspect that it will. Our sport is more a reflection of our culture and our moral fiber than most realize, and if we do not value a segment of sport, it will either be radically changed or put in the scrap heap.
guardian.co.uk, Friday 3 April 2009 17.30 BST
Four days before last year’s Grand National, Guardian racing correspondent Greg Wood wrote wrote that the Grand National course is not the threat to horses’ welfare that it was even 10 years ago. “The sport is moving on,” he asserted.
Two days later, two horses perished while running on the Grand National course. The event was Topham Chase. Time To Sell was killed by The Chair, an apparently much safer obstacle. In The High Grass perished after hitting the top of the eighth fence and turning a complete somersault.
Then, on the Saturday, McKelvey died racing in the Grand National itself, after unseating his rider and crashing into rails. He should never have taken part, having been badly injured in the 2007 National. But he had been a star feature for months on BBC1’s The One Show, as he received treatment for his tendon injury and was made ready for the 2008 event. The BBC – which extracts a great deal of value-added from the Aintree meeting and whose airbrushed coverage reflects that fact – was not to be deprived.
This year’s three-day meeting got off to a predictably grim start yesterday with two deaths and at least two near misses. One of the casualties was the highly-rated Exotic Dancer, riding in the three-mile Totesport Bowl Chase, who managed to finish second after being pushed hard for about half the race. Back in the stables, he suffered a fatal heart attack. The other horse, Mel In Blue, was riding in the Foxhunters’ Chase, run over part of the Grand National course. He came to grief at the supposedly less-fearsome-than-it-was Becher’s Brook.
Mel in Blue, the 200-1 outsider, had not raced for 347 days, and in his last two races was unable to complete the course. His chances of survival were not improved by having an amateur jockey on his back or that he was forced to carry 12 stone, the same weight as the winning horse.
The Foxhunter’s Chase also nearly claimed De Luain Gorm. It was at the Chair that he was pitched into a complete somersault and appeared to land on his head.
Tomorrow is Grand National day. I am obliged to monitor the race, but it is a painful, distressing business that leaves me and my colleagues feeling bewildered and angry that such a sick spectacle can pass itself off as sport.
By design, it is an extremely hazardous event into which the horses are conscripted, while the jockeys participate voluntarily. It is longer than any other race (four miles and a half). It is dangerously crowded with 40 runners taking part (when a horse jumps, he needs a clear, uncluttered view of the obstacle). And the course presents 30 uniquely high and unpredictable fences that feature drops, ditches, sharp turns and slopes. It is little wonder that, over last decade, 20 horses have perished on the Grand National course at the annual Aintree meeting.
While the Grand National illustrates the brutal nature of the racing business, the industry’s problems don’t start and end with thee-three day Aintree meeting. Around 420 horses are killed on Britain’s racecourses every year or die as a result of training injuries. A far larger number are killed in their yards or slaughtered for meat because they either failed to make the grade or stopped being profitable. And this is not a credit crunch issue. Massive over-production of thoroughbreds has been going on for decades. Then there are other potent welfare issues such as use of the whip and provision for retired horses.
We at Animal Aid regard racing as inherently exploitative and believe that it doesn’t warrant public support through betting money and attendance fees. We are not pressing the government to unilaterally introduce a ban: but if our argument prevails and the public withholds its support from racing, then the “sport” will wither away and the number of horses in training and at stud – if the industry responds rationally – will reduce in line with declining public interest.
The scenes at Aintree yesterday were extremely distressing. I anticipate a truly grim Saturday watching horses tumbling and somersaulting, and BBC commentators pretending we’re in a Tom and Jerry cartoon where the felled characters bounce harmlessly back to their feet. At Aintree, real bones are broken and real horses die. It is an obscene and degrading spectacle. I would love tomorrow’s event to be the last.
Addendum on Exotic Dancer, mentioned above:
Exotic Dancer notes from running in Totesport Bowl 3apr09 Aintree, from Racing Post: Not fluent, towards rear, mistake 8th, headway to chase leaders 13th, clear 3rd 15th, soon driven, hit 3 out, left 8 lengths 2nd next, kept on, never able to challenge, died after race (op 10-3 tchd 3-1 and 4-1 in places)
from Racing Post: Trainer Jonjo O’Neill, who described Exotic Dancer as “the core of our stable and an impossible horse to replace,” added: “I thought he looked more tired than usual when he came back, and Hannah (Jordan) wasn’t happy with him when she was walking him round the stable yard so she showed him to the vet. She took him back to his box, where he laid down and went bump. It was as simple as that.”
The winner of eight of his 28 starts, Exotic Dancer landed the Paddy Power and Boylesports.com Gold Cups in 2006 and also finished second to Kauto Star in the 2007 Cheltenham Gold Cup and third in the race last month. In all he won £780,939 in win and place prize money.