If you were watching the build-up to the Grand National, it wouldn’t have escaped your notice that trainer Gordon Elliot had no less than 13 runners in the race. 7 of these were owned by Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown stable. Immensely wealthy owners and their trainers are now dominating proceedings and some say that this is ruining the nation’s favourite race.
Are superpower’s ruining racing?
Horse racing has never been a sport for the poor but these days the superpowers of racing are more dominant than ever. Racing is mirroring football where mega-rich owners have ensured that the big prizes are out of reach for all but a handful of teams. It has been suggested that owners and trainers should be restricted to a certain number of runners in the Grand National. Others feel that this would be a terrible idea. Who’s right?
Record runners by a single trainer
Gordon Elliot’s 13 runners in this year’s race beat the previous record of 10 by Martin Pipe in 2001. However, as the big stables control the pick of the current crop of horses, restricting the number they can run in the Grand National would dilute the quality of the race. Would a winner seem so laudable if you knew that there could be better horses who were not allowed to run?
The bigger picture
The big issue here is the sheer number of leading horses which are controlled by the richest stables which are able to snap up the majority of the talent before anyone else gets a look in. Perhaps if there are to be restrictions, these should be on the number of horses belonging to a stable or in the hands of any one trainer. Such restrictions would be almost impossible to enforce, given that the stables are or could be based in several different countries. In addition, you have to ask if it is fair to place limits on the activities of a legitimate business?
Would there be more injuries?
It is also worth mentioning that diluting the quality of the field in the Grand National could lead to more serious and fatal injuries. It is a challenging event and if more places are available to smaller stables, horses which are not up to tackling the course could be run.
On the other hand, when an owner has several horses in a race, would they be tempted to cheat in order to yield a higher-priced winner? This is unlikely in the case of the Grand National as it would be a very difficult race to manipulate. But there have been suggestions that such cheating has occurred in flat racing. Suspicions remain over the 1993 Epsom Derby in which the hot favourite Tenby performed miserably and his stable mate, Commander In Chief, romped to victory.
The Grand National safety net
There is a Grand National review panel, empowered to withdraw any horse at any stage if they believe that it should not be competing at Aintree. This should prevent horses from running if they are not appropriate but may not be fool-proof. The current system of choosing runners for the race sees the 40 highest ranked horses entered gaining a place and that has to be a good thing. If owners or trainers were restricted to 3 entries each, for instance, the organisers of the race might be selecting horses ranked outside of the top 100 entries.
You could also argue that the wealthy owners have contributed enormously to the sport and if their activities were restricted, the entire industry could be damaged for the sake of a handful of races. There is no ideal situation here but surely the Grand National should be contested by the best horses.