Not Our Greatest Day

First of all may I offer thoughts and best wishes to young jockey Peter Toole, his family and friends. Peter, a promising young rider, is critically ill in hospital after suffering an horrendous fall in one of the earlier races at Aintree. Let’s hope he makes a full recovery. The latest news is he has bleeding in his brain and he is being kept under sedation at a specialist neurological unit.

Just 24 hours ago, before the big race, I asked if the Grand National is the best race for the sports shop window.

How prophetic that question turned out to be as yesterdays renewal turned out to be a PR disaster for the sport.

I will imagine Racing For Change’s Rod Street would have had a sleepless night as a great deal of their hard work was undone yesterday afternoon.

I must confess I had a very sleepless night, I couldn’t get some of the images out of my head.

I case you were on another planet and are not aware, two horses were sadly killed on the first circuit, which resulted, for the first time, in fences being by-passed in the race.

At the first by-passed fence viewers were “treated” to the sight of a dead horse lying on the ground, covered in a tarpaulin.

Even worse was the shot at the by-passed Bechers Brook, where an overhead shot showed clearly what was happening behind the screens.

Yes horses do sadly die in horse races but in “normal” racing coverage the Racetech directors and camera operators are usually very careful in avoiding shots of dead and stricken horses wherever possible.

With yesterday’s effort you actually have to seriously question the motives of the BBC director. Why were the specific shots used? Did they have an ulterior motive? Did they deliberately show the most dramatic shots in order to shock?

I think the BBC were boasting they had 40 cameras covering the race. Are they seriously saying it was not possible to have shown the by-passed fences with more “sensitive” camera angles?

Indeed I believe the shot at Bechers directly contravenes the BHA guidelines which forbids transmission of images of what is happening behind the screens.

Aintree themselves are not exactly blame free. Why was Ornais covered in a tarpaulin. Yes the horse was dead but surely somebody at the fence would have realised a tarpaulin draped across a horse does not look good. Would it not have been more sensitive to have left the screens up, at least until the field had passed on the second circuit.

However the potential damage done to the image of the sport by shots of dead horses pales into insignificance when compared with the scenes at the end of the race.

The shots of horses finishing exhausted was unedifying, it actually looked cruel.

Winning jockey Jason Maguire quickly dismounted the winner as he was clearly distressed. Now I know the adrenalin must be flowing at the end of the race but shouldn’t Maguire’s first concern have been the welfare of the horse and making sure he was OK, not celebrating the win?
Full marks to fellow jockey Davey Russell who dis appreciate what was happening and he got the horse unsaddled.

It could not have helped the distressed horses having a scrum of photographers in the unsaddling area. I cannot help but agree with a comment made by Graham Cunningham where he was suggesting a number of those photographers were simply waiting to get a photograph of a horse collapsing.

The scenes at the finish yesterday were frankly a disgrace. The already distressed horses could not have been helped by the disorganised scrum.

Instead of being a showcase for our sport yesterday’s race illustrated much that was bad about racing.

Obviously an enquiry needs to be held, which I’m sure it will be. In particular the BBC coverage of the second circuit and the disgraceful scenes at the end of the race.

I will always try to defend the sport where I can. In the face of yesterday’s coverage of the Grand National even I am struggling to defend what was shown.


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