Death or glory?

AP McCoy and Synchronised falls at Bechers in the Grand National during day three of the 2012 John Smith's Grand National meeting at Aintree Racecourse, Liverpool. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday April 14, 2012. See PA story RACING Aintree. Photo credit should read: Peter Byrne/PA Wire
AP McCoy and Synchronised falls at Bechers in the Grand National during day three of the 2012 John Smith's Grand National meeting at Aintree Racecourse, Liverpool. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday April 14, 2012. See PA story RACING Aintree. Photo credit should read: Peter Byrne/PA Wire
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ONE of the most exciting events on the sporting calendar or a brutal and cruel race where animals are relentlessly pushed beyond their limits?

Every year, when the Grand National runs at Aintree Racecourse, this heated debate sparks back into life.

But with two horses dying following the last race, more fuel has been poured on the flames of the debate with calls for increased safety measures or the race to be scrapped completely.

The RSPCA have urged further review, particularly into ‘drop’ fences such as Becher’s Brook after the deaths of Synchronised and According to Pete during the four mile, 856 yards course.

Synchronised, ridden by the 2010 BBC Sports Personality of the Year jockey Tony McCoy, fell at Becher’s, but only broke down when running loose.

World Horse Welfare, based at Penny Farm on Preston New Road, Westby, has called for immediate changes in the way the Grand National operates.

Chief executive Roly Owers is set to meet with the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) in the coming weeks to push for improvements in safety.

He said: “Racing must understand the public can no longer stomach almost regular deaths in this high profile race.

“We fully appreciate, as should everyone, that all horse sport carries risks, but there are acceptable risks and unacceptable risks and it doesn’t appear as if that balance is right in the Grand National.

“In particular, we’ll be asking questions about the number of fallers, the number of runners, the structure of the fences and the ‘drop’ fences which have lower landings than take-offs, among other issues.”

Peter Nelson, from North Yorkshire, owned According to Pete, who fell at Becher’s Brook on the second circuit and had to be put down.

He said: “It’s terrible. He was a family pet, part of the family.

“If he’d have done well we’d have been chuffed for him, but it’s a chance you take.

“You always think it’s going to be someone else’s horse.”

Mandy Leigh, owner of Easterleigh Animal Sanctuary, St Annes, takes care of seven retired horses.

She has never watched the Grand National – this year won by Neptune Collonges – because of the cruelty she says it heaps on the animals.

Mrs Leigh said: “I would like to see it stopped. It’s too cruel for them and there are too many horses in the race.

“A lot of the horses are racing when they are not up for it. The jumps are too high and I’m surprised they have got away with it for so long.”

Mrs Leigh was left outraged following the death of four horses in two years, but says money does a lot of the talking in deciding if the race will go ahead each year.

She added: “People say the horses won’t jump if they don’t want to, but of course they will.

“It’s just a money-spinner for humans because who would want to put a horse in a race with a 50/50 chance of it dying?”

Alan Halsall, a racehorse owner from Lytham, lost his horse Brother Bob at Bangor-on-Dee racecourse last year.

However, despite going through the pain of losing an animal, he says the way the Grand National currently operates should not be changed.

He added: “Horses die when they are racing in Dubai on the flat and it’s not always at courses like Aintree.

“If changes are made to make the course easier, the horses will only go faster which makes it more dangerous.

“We racehorse owners love our horses and we understand the risk taken in the name of sport. There are risks in lots of sport and we can never eliminate risk.

“We have to bear that in mind and we have to be very careful about rushing in changes which could make the horses go quicker.”