The Grand National is a spectacular event but that doesn't mean it shouldn't move with the times

17 April 2023, 12:52 | Updated: 17 April 2023, 16:20

The Grand National is a spectacular event but that doesn't mean it shouldn't move with the times
The Grand National is a spectacular event but that doesn't mean it shouldn't move with the times. Picture: LBC

By StephenRigley

Even for a horse racing fan like myself Saturday's Grand National made uncomfortable viewing.

I am fortunate in that I have been to Aintree on many occasions and have attended two Grand Nationals. It truly is a magical place and a fantastic event.

It is the spiritual home of Red Rum, Aldaniti and Tiger Roll. The scene of so many epic sporting triumphs and endeavours throughout the years.

Growing up, the Grand National - like the FA Cup Final - was one of the annual sporting spectacles that brought us all together.

No matter who you were, everyone had a bet. Every high-street bookmaker had a queue stretching outside as dukes, dustmen, school children, housewives, everyone lined up to back their favourite.

Everyone had a stake in the 'people's race'.

I will never forget watching the great Bob Champion win the 1981 Grand National aboard the legendary Aldaniti. I didn't back it but couldn't help but be moved by Champion's bravery and the courage shown by both jockey and horse.

But that was then.

It was difficult to watch Saturday's ugly scenes of protesters with ladders trying to scale the fences surrounding Aintree and storm the course.

Can I just say I have absolutely no sympathy with these misguided activists. They speak about horse welfare but fail to understand that these animals are bred for racing - they are not pets.

They are looked after in first-class facilities and when a tragedy has occurred I have seen heartbroken owners, trainers, jockeys and stable staff in tears.

I feel huge sympathy for the connections of Hill Sixteen and trainer Sandy Thomson who blamed the 'mayhem' caused by the protesters for his horse's death.

But it is too symplistic to simply blame the protestors for what happened at Aintree.

Aintree has shown a willingness to change over the years and the Grand National fences are very different today from the ones faced by the equine superstars of yesteryear.

Take Becher's Brook for example. The jump originally consisted of an eight feet-wide brook with a fence set back a yard in front of the water, the ground on the landing side three ft lower than the take-off side.

It has been modified several times over the years and since 2011 the landing side of Becher's was re-profiled to reduce the current drop by between four and five inches across the width of the fence.

The drop is now approximately 10 inches on the inside of the course and six inches on the outside of the course.

But that is not to say that modifying some fences should be the end of the changes to keep the Grand National in its rightful place in our hearts.

I remember speaking to a jockey several years ago but told me the best way to ride the national.

Before the race, it's all about keeping yourself and your horse calm, relaxed and focused then when the race starts keep as far away from the main pack as possible to try and avoid getting bought down.

An analysis of Saturday's race showed seven horses fell within the first three fences. That is too many.

In the past trainers were wary of entering their best horses in the Grand National because of the danger caused by too many horses that are not good enough to be in a quality race.

That is not the case now.

And if we cut the number of runners to 30, it will keep its place as a class race and its rightful place at the centre of the nation's sporting hearts.