Sport Comment: National has evolved but drama remains undiminished

John Inverdale
THE ANIMAL welfare groups who were shouting from the rooftops after the opening day of Cheltenham about the cruelty of National Hunt racing were mercifully quiet after Saturday’s Grand National, and for that we should all be thankful, not least to those very same activists.

The race was its usual mixture of farce – another false start and the horse I backed deciding it wouldn’t take part at the second time of asking – spectacular falls, a loose horse taking the race leader halfway to Manchester, and a fairytale winner trained by a former GP who looked like everyone’s favourite uncle. But most importantly of all, no fatalities and no serious injuries,

It sounds ridiculous to say that is the most important statistic about a horse race. There won’t, after all, be a single paragraph written anywhere in the world this morning mentioning that nobody died in the Bahrain Grand Prix. But cast your mind back to the days of Ayrton Senna and before and realise the impact of the safety lobby demanding changes to cars and racetracks which has ensured that dicing with death at every turn is not an integral part of modern day Formula One.

The very existence of the Grand National has been under discussion for so many years now after a raft of tragic accidents that the authorities had to make changes to the course and some of its more challenging obstacles. Those, together with a bit of luck, meant that the only stories after this year’s race were happy ones, with the possible exception of jubilant bookmakers celebrating an unlikely and unfancied victor.

The National remains a unique event, its drama undiminished by the changes forced upon it; nine minutes of mayhem that are part of our sporting life. Saturday was an undoubted win for the animal rights lobby, but let us on this occasion be grateful for their determination to challenge a sporting institution because, by changing, it has been saved for the future, and that makes all of us winners.

We told you so!
City A.M. readers had particular cause to cheer the Grand National after our tipster Bill Esdaile correctly predicted success for 25-1 winner Pineau De Re in Friday’s newspaper