Racing defends itself as jockey fights for his life
Two horses die on live TV and a rider is in a coma, but criticism of the sport is branded a ‘disgrace’
Jockey Peter Toole remains in a critical condition in a coma in hospital following a fall at Aintree on the same day as two horses died in the Grand National, as the debate over the safety of horse racing continues to be played out in the media - and the racing fraternity try to downplay the events of Saturday.
Toole, a 22-year-old conditional jockey with trainer Charlie Mann, was riding 100-1 outsider Classic Fly when he fell at the first fence in the Maghull Novices Chase at Aintree. He suffered injuries including a dislocated shoulder after being trampled by some of the other horses in the field and was taken to hospital. On Sunday doctors put him into a medically induced coma as they battled to treat bleeding on the right side of his brain. There are fears that he could have suffered brain damage and he remains critical.
During the Grand National later that day two horses died and for the first time in the race's history two fences had to be skipped on the second lap because of what the BBC described as "obstacles" - in reality, the carcasses of Dooneys Gate and Ornais.
The racing fraternity has dismissed the public's shock as an over-reaction. Indeed, John Stewart, the owner of Ornais described the media reaction to the death of his horse as a "disgrace". He said: "This whole hyped-up situation regarding the Grand National is totally wrong... We love the sport and when I get up to read the papers, I think why are people writing this nonsense?"
Ginger McCain, the legendary trainer who oversaw Red Rum's three National triumphs said attempts by "do-gooders" to make the course safer by changing some of the fences had inadvertantly made it more dangerous. McCain, whose son Donald trained this year's winner Ballabriggs, said: "It has encouraged the horses to go quicker. It is speed that kills."
One racing journalist contacted The First Post today offering to write a 'defence' of the sport in the face of the criticism it has come under. When asked what the defence would be he said it was that "horses die all the time".
The extraordinarily short-sighted attitude brings to mind Jackie Stewart's battle to make motor-racing safer in the late 1960s. In those days drivers were routinely killed each year and even the use of seatbelts was not mandatory. His pleas for change - safety barriers and better medical facilities - were initially dismissed and he later said: "I would have been a much more popular World Champion if I had always said what people wanted to hear. I might have been dead, but definitely more popular."
At present horse racing does not appear to have anyone who is prepared to point out the absurdities of a sport that shrugs off the deaths of horses and regards injuries like Toole's as par for the course. Perhaps it will be only when it is a jockey lying under a tarpaulin presenting the rest of the field with an 'obstacle' that changes will be introduced. ·
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