How many horses have died at the Grand National?

Four horses have died at the 2022 Grand National Festival and many more have died over the years

It is one of the world’s most iconic sporting events and watched by millions each year. But while the Grand National is an opportunity for racing fans to dress up, watch some scintillating action and maybe even win a bit of money, there is a dark side to the steeplechase with many horses losing their lives at Aintree over the years.

Four horses have died at this year’s festival. On Sunday morning, it as confirmed that Eclair Surf died from a traumatic head injury caused in a fall at the third fence. His trainer Emma Lavelle said the horse lost his fight early in the morning despite the care of first-class vets. Discorama, who fell at the 13th fence at the Grand National, also died after suffering an “untreatable” pelvic injury. There were also distressing scenes at Aintree on Saturday when, hours before the main event, Elle Est Belle suffered a suspected heart attack as she finished fourth in the novices hurdle. Solwara One, ridden by jockey Sam Twiston-Davies, had become the first fatality of this year’s race week following the 1.45pm race on Friday.

The RSCPA has condemned the deaths, saying that “the death of any horse is always one too many”, while animal rights activists and campaign groups have long called for stricter safety measures to be introduced within horse racing. These calls have been intensified following the recent Cheltenham Festival, where four horses lost their lives in just four days.

While modern steeplechase races have an average of just over four equine fatalities for every 1,000 horses taking part, according to the British Horseracing Authority, the National’s rate is considerably higher. But how many horses have died at the Grand National, and what is causing these deaths?

How many horses have died at the Grand National?

Since the first Grand National in 1839, 86 horses have died during the race itself, with nearly half of these deaths taking place between 2000 and 2012. Last year, The Long Mile had to be put down during the main race having suffered an injury while running on the flat course, two years after Up for Review lost his life at Aintree.

At Aintree alone, 55 horses have died since 2000, including 15 during the Grand National itself, while in 2021 there were 200 horse fatalities across Britain. Four horses – Eclair Surf, Discorama, Solwara One and Elle Est Belle – have died at the 2022 Festival. While modern steeplechase races have an average of just over four equine fatalities for every 1,000 horses taking part, the National had seven fatalities out of 439 horses taking part between 2000 and 2010.

Since changes to the course were introduced in 2012, there have been five deaths as a result of racing in the iconic steeplechase. The number of deaths at the main race each year since 2000 is as follows:

  • 2022 – 2
  • 2021 – 1
  • 2020 – N/A
  • 2019 – 1
  • 2018 – 0
  • 2017 – 0
  • 2016 – 0
  • 2015 – 0
  • 2014 – 0
  • 2013 – 0
  • 2012 – 2
  • 2011 – 2
  • 2010 – 0
  • 2009 – 1
  • 2008 – 1
  • 2007 – 1
  • 2006 – 1
  • 2005 – 0
  • 2004 – 0
  • 2003 – 1
  • 2002 – 2
  • 2001 – 0
  • 2000 – 0

Call for new safety measures

Chris Luffingham, director of external affairs at the League, said: “Enough is enough. Animal welfare should be at the heart of horse racing and much tighter safety measures need to be implemented – the first step is to create a new independent regulatory body which focuses purely on the welfare of the horses. The use of the whip in the sport should be banned as it is forcing horses to go beyond what they are able to cope with and results in stress, injuries and deaths. The lives of horses are being sacrificed for ‘entertainment’ and gambling.”

Following the death of Solwara One, a spokesperson for the RSPCA said: “We are deeply saddened and concerned after the death of Solwara One at the Aintree Grand National Meeting. The death of any horse is always one too many so it is crucial that steps are taken to reduce the risk of such tragedies occurring.”

Animal Aid’s Horse Racing Campaigner, Jade Emery called for the event to be banned, adding: ‘If a horse’s life is worthless to the racing industry, as we have seen every year at the Grand National meeting, then the industry itself is devoid of morals. It’s time to challenge the acceptance of this race meeting, and the associated deaths, and see it banned from taking place.’

What is the reason for these deaths and what has been done to protect horses?

The Aintree contest features 30 jumps but fences such as The Chair, Becher’s Brook, and Canal Turn have notoriously caused problems for runners over the years. However, safety improvements have recently been made.

Changes introduced since 2012 include adapting and rebuilding the fences, facilities and stables, with the The Jockey Club’s website stating: “From the very moment a horse arrives at Aintree the most important thing to the racecourse is its safety and welfare.”

Before the Grand National race begins, the veterinary team at Aintree assesses the health of horses so they are safe to race and are not a danger to themselves or will endanger other horses. New approaches and bypass areas to fences have also been added, to make the approach of each fence safer, while horses are also kept in secure stables.

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