Nicholls tells National critics to grow up and face risks

GRAND National-winning trainer Paul Nicholls has told critics of horse racing to “grow up” and accept the risks involved, following the death of two horses in Saturday’s showpiece event at Aintree.

Synchronised, one of the favourites after winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup last month, and According To Pete were put down after breaking legs, leading to fresh calls for the race to be axed.

But Nicholls, whose charge Neptune Collonges was a surprise winner, said: “There are risks and we all try to minimise them. No stone is left unturned. There is always risk in sport. A lot of people have to grow up, and realise that it is life.

“We’ve got to be realistic about this. The horses have the best of everything they could have. They probably have better health care than we have.

“If people are going to continue to participate in sport, there is going to be both a human and animal risk. The worst thing you can do is to go too far. You make the fences smaller, they go faster and you get more fallers.”

Two horses also died following last year’s ace, prompting a thorough review of the famous course and modifications to 15 of the 40 fences.

The British Horseracing Authority said it was too early to judge the success of those changes, and pointed out four races over the same fences in the last year had passed without incident.

“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,” said chief executive Paul Bittar.

The RSPCA called for the Becher’s Brook fence, which features a drop of up to 5ft 8ins, to be scrapped and the field of 40 runners trimmed.

“Forty horses is a heck of a lot,” said chief executive Gavin Grant. “Secondly, there are unique jumps there that horses aren’t experienced in going over and I think we need to look at those jumps again.”