| Do you think the Grand National is cruel?|
|It probably won't strengthen the case of those who support the Grand National in its current form to hear the jockey Katie Walsh say: "I hope to God there are no accidents this year, but these things happen, and they are horses at the end of the day."|
Walsh, who came third last year, told the Radio Times that she didn't read criticism of the event, which has been increasingly scrutinised after two horses died two years' running, because, "at the end of the day, it would be a lot worse if it had been two jockeys who lost their lives. I think everyone should remember that."
Since 2000, 11 horses have been killed during the course, and even if there are no fatalities this year, we probably won't have to wait long for the next – the fatality rate of horses in jump races is four out of every 1,000 runners (by comparison, the number in flat racing is 0.6). In the Grand National, this is 15 per 1,000.
The British Horse Authority has responded by making alterations to the race, including raising the age at which horses can compete and making changes to fences, though critics say this is not far enough, pointing to its length, more fences per mile than other races, the crowded field and unpredictable obstacles, including the notorious Becher's Brook.
Every year, the same debate about whether the Grand National is cruel or not is reignited, but is any of it actually filtering down to the public? Attendance since those recent shocking deaths doesn't appear to have changed – on main race day, it has hovered around 70,000 for the past few years. According to William Hill, £4.5m was bet on the race in 2012, up from £4.3m the year before – though they don't keep data on whether more people are betting, or whether the same number of people or fewer are just placing larger bets. With the average stake around £5, "it is generally a mass-market betting event", says spokesperson Kate Miller. Does she think people have been put off by the horse welfare issues? It will be hard to tell until the end of this year's race, says Miller. "The high-profile events happened last year and they [the BHA] have made a lot of changes, but it depends which story gathers more resonance in the media I guess."
Andrew Tyler, director of Animal Aid, which has campaigned for a safer Grand National for years, if not a ban, isn't put off. "The debate is comparatively new," he says. "There have been years of conditioning of the public of this being a big cultural event and that's what props it up at present." But, he adds: "I really do think it's on the turn."
Has anything changed for you?