Robin Oakley

The turf: Risk assessment

After the 2011 Grand National, I sided with the reformers who wanted changes to the use of the whip by jockeys. If racing is to survive we need bums on seats and have to be responsive to public opinion. In the continuing furore after this year’s National, I find myself in a different camp because most of the noise is coming from those who know nothing and would never go racing anyway.

The one thing we racing lovers were praying for in this year’s contest was an incident-free race with every horse coming home safe. That we were denied. Not only did According to Pete have to be put down when brought down by another horse when running loose after a fall, so did Synchronised, the most high-profile horse in the race since he had won this year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup, was ridden by the champion jockey Tony McCoy, was owned by the multimillionaire punter J.P. McManus and trained by the National Hunt hero Jonjo O’Neill.

Phone-ins hummed for days with the opinions of the emotional, the ignorant and, every now and then, with that rarity, the informed. Animal rights activists, ranging from those genuinely concerned with horse welfare to the crudest of class warriors, had their say, and once again racing played on the back foot.

Let me start with a question: has anybody suggested that because Piermario Morosini collapsed and died during an Italian Serie B football game or Fabrice Muamba suffered a cardiac arrest while playing for Bolton Wanderers that first-class football should be abandoned?

I accept it has limitations as a parallel.  Footballers, those with brain cells anyway, make their own decisions, horses do not. But the key point is that we cannot eliminate risk from sport, or from life.

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