People have been racing horses in the UK as early as 200AD when Roman soldiers organized casual races in Yorkshire.* By the 18th century, during the reign of Queen Anne, breeding of thoroughbreds strictly for the purpose of racing began and continues today.
There are 62 race courses in the UK and countless numbers of betting shops where people placed over £12 billion (with a B) in bets in 2009.
One of the most biggest races of the year is the Grand National which is watched by over 600 million people world wide and asks a field of 40 horses to run at top speed (which is between 35-40mph for the average race horse) AND jump over 30 hurdles for four and a half miles. That's right - FOUR and a half miles of running and jumping.
Now for some math... what does 40 horses + 30 hurdles + 4.5miles equal?
Answer: Twenty dead horses.
Since 2000, there have been 20 deaths (mostly due to broken necks) at the Grand National, including two at the lastest race which was run last weekend. Note: this is just the Saturday headline race, not the other races in the annual three day event at Aintree. There is also a jockey fighting for his life in a medically induced coma after being thrown from his horse.
The field is too crowded, the race is too long with too many jumps and despite the 150 specialist staff at Aintree who are supposedly dedicated to making the race "as safe as possible", the risk is still too high.
I appreciate hearing that the organizers of the race are taking the deaths of the horses seriously and that they aim to reduce risk in the future, but I cant help but think that it will take 20 jockey deaths (and who knows how many more horse deaths) before any changes are actually made to this sporting tradition.
I don't know if it will actually make a difference, but if you'd like to add your name to Animal Aid's petition to ban the Grand National, you can do so here. Or if you'd prefer to petition to keep the race going, but make it safer, sign this one.
*says Wikipedia, anyway. Don't hold me to it.