They Shoot Horses Don’t They?…Grand National Odds of 5/4!

Two horses, Ornais and Dooney’s Gate, died very visibly at this year’s Grand National, and in the days since the race a range of statistics about horseracing in general, and the Grand National in particular, have been circulating. Animal Aid quote 33 deaths at the Grand National Meeting in eleven years, or 20 deaths on the Grand National course since 2000. Conversely, the British Horseracing Authority quote six deaths in the Grand National race between 2000 and 2010. The problem with these statistics is whilst they are each correct, they are not comparable. However, finding year-on-year independently compiled horse death statistics for the Grand National is all but impossible. As such, the following data is compiled from multiple sources and individual reports of the deaths of specific horses.

It seems that an obvious, if somewhat arbitrary, period for comparison is the last ten years. In the last ten years of the Grand National race itself, eight horses have died. This means that if you are an Owner or Trainer, you are entering your horse in an event where it has a 2% chance of dying. And even if your own horse survives, there is an 80% chance that somebody’s horse will die in the race. If the same 2% risk of death held for one of the world’s most famous human endurance races, then in next Monday’s papers we could expect to read about 72 dead runners at next Sunday’s London Marathon.

But the British Horseracing Authority argues that society accepts that humans use animals in leisure, sport and for food, and that the issue is the minimisation of risk. According to the British Horseracing Authority, data shows that the risks of flat racing result in 0.6 deaths for every 1000 horses that start a race, and for races involving jumps the risks are such that four in every thousand horses starting a race die. The equivalent statistic for the last ten years of the Grand National is that the risk is such that 20 horses in a thousand will die. This means that it is FIVE TIMES MORE LIKELY THAT A HORSE WILL DIE IN THE GRAND NATIONAL THAN THE AVERAGE RISK FOR JUMP RACES!

The British Horseracing Authority argue that rather than banning horseracing outright, risks should be minimised. Even though the Aintree course managers claim they have improved safety in recent years, four horses have died in the last five runnings of the race, which is exactly the same as the five years before that. The problem, therefore, is that the Grand National appears to inherently be five times more risky than the average jumps race. You don’t have to be one of the animal rights campaigning abolitionists that the British Horseracing Board appears to be seeking to demonise to see that the only way to minimise the risk to animals in this particular case is to stop running the Grand National. Unless, of course, you wish to argue that because the Grand National provides a greater spectacle than the average jumps race, it is worth a (five times) greater risk. But in the 2011 Grand National, the deaths as well as the risk became part of the spectacle, as evidenced by THIS WIDELY CIRCULATED PICTURE of Dooney’s Gate’s fatal fall.

They shoot horses don’t they? Pictures like that of Dooney’s Gate’s fall is why you’ll get no better odds than 5/4 of a positive answer to that question for next year’s Grand National!