The death of two horses in the Grand National at Aintree on Saturday afternoon has inevitably sparked a debate about the safety of the race.
I've very little interest in flat racing and not much more in National Hunt racing but I always look forward to the Grand National. The excitement is admittedly heightened by having a couple of pounds on a horse but I also enjoy the spectacle of the race itself. The Grand National is probably the safest it's been in its history, and the safest it's ever going to be short of taking down the fences. Aiming for a National that is completely safe and still exciting is a non-starter.
I accept that the Grand National has safety issues and more can probably still be done to minimise equine fatalities. But I find the arguments of the race's opponents less than convincing. The death rate for horses in the National is a bit higher than in flat and other National Hunt racing but is still relatively low (about 2% over the last ten years). The argument that if that number of jockeys died the race would be stopped may or may not be true but in any case implies that human and animal life are of equal value. If that were true, it would lead to far wider consequences than banning the National, including the introduction of compulsory vegetarianism, if not veganism. That may well be a rational thing to do in terms of the environment and avoiding animal cruelty but the moral case is to me less clear. Human beings have evolved over the millenia to enjoy eating meat and riding horses and the best we can do in current social conditions is attempt to ensure that the activities associated with them lead to as little animal suffering as possible.