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Paul Bittar Grand National Statement
Mon, Apr 16th, 2012

The British Horse Racing Authority Chief Executive Paul Bittar has issued the following statement in response to criticism of the 2012 Grand National:

"We extend our deepest sympathies to the connections of Synchronised and According To Pete who we know are devastated at the loss of two home-bred horses which meant so much to them.

In November last year, the BHA published the findings from a comprehensive and detailed review of all elements of the Grand National. At this stage, we believe it would be premature to suggest that modifications to the course and other changes have not been effective or will not yet prove to be effective. Since the Review and the implementation of changes, four races have been held over the course without incident prior to yesterday's running of the Grand National.We are reasonably advanced in the process of examining the incidents which led to Synchronised and According To Pete being put down. While that process still needs to be completed, it is relevant to point out that although both horses lost their riders jumping Becher's Brook, Synchronised galloped away from the fence seemingly without injury and then subsequently incurred a fracture to a hind leg when jumping riderless, while According To Pete was brought down by another horse on the second circuit .We will be collating all the relevant information and data from this year's Grand National meeting so that it can be reviewed in conjunction with the statistics and findings of the Review. Initiatives such as speed sensing on the runners in races over the Grand National course will enable BHA and Aintree to make informed decisions based on factual evidence in our efforts to minimise risk where possible. The evidence indicates that the changes and improvements in safety made over the years have led to an overall decrease in injury and fatalities, both on the Grand National course and racing in general. It is important these matters be judged over a period of time. The decade since 2000 was the safest on record for the Grand National with a fatality rate of 1.5% compared to 3.3% at the start of the 1990's. Sadly, there have been two fatalities in each of the last two runnings of the race. Naturally our objective is for there to be no fatalities, but we also recognise that we cannot remove risk altogether from such a competitive activity.

The Grand National is a unique race and it represents a unique challenge for the sport and for its regulation. It is a thrilling spectacle, but there is a higher degree of risk involved in the Grand National than other races and for this reason everyone in the sport needs to be conscious of how the race is presented to the public, the general consumer perception and their views of how the race is run. This is an event that generates huge public interest and has a global audience of more than half a billion people. We've seen record crowds of over 150,000 in attendance at Aintree this week, following on from record numbers through the gates to British Racecourses in 2011. All of this suggests that British racing is doing many things right in the eyes of the consumer. It is critically important to us that the good work being done in racing is not overshadowed by yesterday's events, and that racing continues to work collectively to develop and maintain this progress. In this context, we will be working with Aintree and its owners The Jockey Club, along with other groups in the sport to find the right balance which enables us to maintain the highest standards of safety for our horses and participants and to promote the sport to the widest possible audience.

One statistical interpretation of the changes made to fences in recent years is that they have actually made the race less safe. The two horse fatalities in 2011 and 2012 translate into a fatality rate of 5%. The sample period is too short to be authoratative but the initial evidence suggests the tinkering may have been counterproductive. This was the view of Malcolm Jefferson who lost According to Pete : 

"All owners love their horses, especially Peter. Everyone seemed to know about According To Pete, too, he had that big white face and he loved his racing. Tina Pearson, his lass, is devastated. It was just a freak accident. He was loving it, jumping for fun - I always thought he would. If he'd just been brought down and got back up again we'd be taking him back next year, but he broke his shoulder unfortunately. You can't do anything about it, it's just a freak accident that could have happened anywhere but because it was the National everyone saw it. They can't carry on making changes. In my eyes the fences should be bigger to slow them down. If they were a foot higher Pete would still have jumped them. Now they are trying to please everybody and you can't. People say make the field smaller, but what if next year another two die? Then they'll want 20 runners. Watering to ensure softer ground might help. There was a lot of carry on after last year's race, and I just wish they'd stop trying to please everyone because you can't.The National is a great race and the only reason you get such a reaction is because so many people watch it."

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