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Friday, April 5, 2013

Aintree Grand National ~ Battlefront suffers heart attack and dies

In many forms of racing, steeplechase is considered arduous. It derives its name from early races in which orientation of the course was by reference to a churchsteeple, jumping fences and ditches and generally traversing the many intervening obstacles in the countryside. In Great Britain and Ireland the official term now used for the sport is National Hunt racing. The Grand National is a National Hunt horse race held annually at Aintree Racecourse near Liverpool, England. First run in 1839, it is a handicap steeplechase over 4 miles 3½ furlongs with horses jumping 30 fences over two circuits. The racecourse is triangular in shape with 16 fences,all jumped twice except The Chair (15th) and the Water Jump (16th). The course has a reputation as the ultimate test of horse and jockey. Most starters fail to complete the two circuits, with many falling at the famous fences including Becher's Brook, The Chair and the Canal Turn.

Aintree : As home to the John Smith’s Grand National, Aintree Racecourse is known worldwide. Aintree’s racing year begins with the three-day Grand National meeting in April – Liverpool Day to start, Ladies Day 24 hours later and then the Grand National Day itself on the final day. It  is the longest race run in National Hunt racing and requires the winner to negotiate two circuits of the track, 30 fences in total and cope with the longest run-in in the United Kingdom too.  It is a sell out race where tickets are hard to get.

Aintree racecourse endured a miserable opening to its Grand Nationalmeeting when Battlefront, a competitor in the Fox Hunters' Chase over the Grand National obstacles, died from a suspected heart attack after being pulled up before the 15th fence. The 11-year-old gelding was trained by Ted Walsh and ridden by his daughter Katie, who will team up again with Seabass, one of the favourites, in Saturday's Grand National. The Fox Hunters' Chase was the first race to be staged over the famous spruce fences since the wooden cores of all but a handful of the obstacles were replaced with plastic, which is designed to be more forgiving when a horse makes a jumping error. There were four fallers during the race, including two at Becher's Brook, but no injuries were sustained by either the horses or their riders.

The first race over the newly constructed Grand National fences at Aintree on Thursday  was not entirely incident free – Katie Walsh’s mount Battlefront suffered a suspected fatal heart attack after being pulled up – though the fences were generally given the thumbs-up by jockeys. The jockeys’ verdict on the restyled fences, which have had their core softened by the removal of wooden stakes, appeared to be backed up by the statistics. From 24 starters in the John Smith’s Fox Hunters’ Chase, 14 finished and, of the remaining 10, there were only four fallers. One other unseated the jockey, while the rest were pulled up.

Walsh, who partners Seabass in Saturday’s Grand National, was having a dream ride with Battlefront jumping exuberantly and leading the field over Becher’s Brook. However, when the gelding rapidly began to back-pedal through the field, she pulled him up at the 11th fence. The 11-year-old collapsed and died soon afterwards, a misfortune that could have happened to him while working on the gallops at home.  It was reported by the authorities that the cause of death would be investigated with a post-mortem, and that the day had otherwise been free of serious incident. It was stated that RSPCA inspectors would examine footage of the race before drawing any conclusions.

Critics said that “Becher’s Brook is on a yellow card ; the fence is still at an odd angle to the course,” “The horses are still encouraged by jockeys who want to take the racing line to jump the fence at an angle and that obviously creates greater stress and hazard for the horses as they’re coming in to land. Controversy aside, the race proved that Aintree is still capable of causing a fairytale result when it was won by the Scottish-trained 100-1 outsider Tartan Snow, a 13-year-old homebred gelding ridden by 18-year-old rookie Jamie Hamilton, having his first ride over the fences.

Animal welfare at the Grand National is already under scrutiny after the death of Battlefront  which was pulled up - or withdrawn from competition - during the fourth race by jockey Katie Walsh and later collapsed and died. The timing was particularly unfortunate for Ms Walsh, who rides one of the favourites for the Grand National on Saturday, after she defended the sport earlier this week, saying in a magazine interview that the horses were treated better than 'many children'.  A regional director north west of Jockey Club  was quoted as expressing his sympathies to Battlefront's owners and trainers, and adding: 'You can never remove all risk from horse racing, as with any sport. More than 150,000 race goers will descend on Aintree over the three day meeting, building up to the world-famous Grand National steeplechase on Saturday.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar.
5th April 2013.
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