Some people like horse-riding. That’s fine by me. My wife rides all the time, and I have actually been on a holiday where you ride horses around the Welsh countryside. It’s like hiking without the walking basically, and it was a lot of fun. I’ve never much understood the sort of riding where you sit in a small paddock and ride in a circle for an hour, or dressage, where you spend ages combing your horse and then make it dance. But whatever, if that suits you, go for it.
Similarly, if you enjoy horse-racing, whether it is as an owner, trainer, jockey or just spectator, you go for it. Never mind that approximately 100% of all racing spectators are likely only there to gamble, whatever, that isn’t my concern. You go live your life.
The world of horses should be able to exist with my minimal participation. It doesn’t bother me, and I don’t get too involved either, unless it’s on my terms. But once a year, this fragile detente breaks down as the Grand National horse race rears (joke alert!) its ugly, metaphorical head. The grand national is stupid, there I said it. The world’s fastest horses all line up for what is (according to the adverts that for some reason are now showing on tv?) the greatest horse race ever. Add in some ballast, er, I mean jockeys, and you have yourself a show.
Ah yes, the jockeys. Blessed with the amazing skills of being small, wearing silk clothing and being able to whip an animal for no good reason while sitting on it, those guys are subject to the same sort of distaste I normally reserve for racing drivers. I don’t want to offend jockeys too much, because I have this feeling that they all love a bit of a scrap, and that after a while their superior numbers would overwhelm me. But I will just say that they don’t do all that much.
Then there are the fair weather enthusiasts. Every year, some wise-guy in my office will organise a sweepstake for this pointless race, and I will inevitably end up picking some 500/1 outsider to back with a £5 “investment”. Then I will realise that the 40/1 odds offered by the sweepstake a far shorter than those on offer by any bookies, and that I would have been 12.5x better off if I had just gone straight there to place the bet I didn’t even want in the first place. Unfortunately, you can’t opt out of these things unless you are prepared to risk being forever outcast from future work social events and gain (another) derogatory nickname.
We all then take the weekend to pretend that we know and care about horse-racing. People will tell you about the bets that they placed (and mark my words as I repeat them, no one will watch this race if they haven’t got a bet riding on it), and how they once had a horse place 3rd in the 2009 event, only to find that he’d backed the bloody thing to win, haha! That is actually funny to me, but only because it reminds me that you are an arse, so don’t be encouraged if I walk away from our conversation chuckling to myself. I have already spent more than the 0 hours I had hoped to allocate to thinking about this subject (which I suppose is partially my fault) and I’m really just looking to escape.
And finally we get to the REAL problem that I have with this race. Even if it wasn’t televised and rammed down the public consciousness, I would still find it pretty awful, because no matter how you cut the statistics, on average one horse will die as a direct result of running in this race. Most fall at a fence and break a crucial bone in their body, at which point they will then attempt to get up and keep running. I haven’t actually seen a horse try and run with a broken back, the agony and fear clearly visible in its eyes, but I have been told that it is a very heartwrenching scene and that having a vet shoot the poor creature is most definitely the right thing to do at this point. Others will collapse after, up to days later, but always due to a concussion or heart attack or something like that, caused by the race.
When you think about it (and I hope you do), it’s pretty fucking barbaric. Imagine if every time the London Marathon was run, nearly 1,000 of the entrants died? Wouldn’t you think someone would put a stop to it? I know that the GN is supposed to be the most challenging race in the world, designed to test even the best horses and riders, but surely the same could be said of a human running a marathon? I doubt people would enter the marathon in such numbers if they faced a death rate of 2.5%, but then again maybe they would fancy those odds. The worst thing is that as humans, those runners would be capable of making the decision, armed with the facts. I wouldn’t stop someone running in that sort of race, as long as they knew what they were risking. The horses in the Grand National have no such privilege. They are entered by their owners, who don’t seem to mind risking someone else’s life for the winnings on offer. It is a steaming pile of horse-shit, and that isn’t a joke, because it isn’t funny.