Horse Deaths Put Beloved Race Under Scrutiny

Steeplechase runs today in England

By John Johnson,  Newser Staff

Posted Apr 6, 2013 6:55 AM CDT

(Newser) – Might Britain's beloved Grand National steeplechase—the one made famous in this country by the Elizabeth Taylor movie National Velvet—go the way of the fox hunt? Parliament banned the latter on animal cruelty concerns, and a spate of horse deaths has activists calling for the same fate for the steeplechase, which runs today at Aintree Racecourse, reports the New York Times. In fact, two horses died at the racecourse just this week, one after a fall yesterday and another after a suspected heart attack on Thursday, reports the Guardian.

Consider, too, that a pair of horses—including the favorite, Synchronised—died during last year's Grand National, which has had 18 deaths over 20 years. The horses have to jump 30 fences, some more than five feet high, and critics say the races are not only too physically demanding for the animals, but too stressful as well. A growing body of evidence suggests the horses have what the Times calls a "deep-seated fear" of the fences. Along those lines, the Telegraph thinks both deaths this week ultimately resulted from heart attacks. In short, "the Grand National is on trial," says an official with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

In this photo from last year's Grand National, Synchronized, left, falls after a jump. The horse was later euthanized.   (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)
In this 2010 photo, Don't Push It, ridden by Tony McCoy, left, beats Black Apalachi, ridden by Dennis O'Regan, to win the Grand National steeplechase.   (AP Photo/David Davies/PA)
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