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Grand National 2013: Last year"s fatalities put jump racing under the microscope

Grand National faces biggest test with fatalities putting jump racing under the microscope

By
Marcus Townend

PUBLISHED:

21:04 GMT, 3 April 2013

|

UPDATED:

21:04 GMT, 3 April 2013

Four Grade One races of rare quality grace today’s opening day of Aintree’s Grand National meeting while tomorrow the clash between steeplechase superstar Sprinter Sacre, Cue Card and Flemenstar is being billed as the race of the season.

But which horses pass the winning line first over the next three days won’t matter a jot if Saturday’s big race turns into another visceral examination of jump racing.

Twelve months ago, when two horses were killed for a second year running, including Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Synchronised, the joy was squeezed out of the victory of Neptune Collonges.

Scroll down for Peter Scudamore's inside track on Aintree's new fences

Preparations: Aintree ground staff were tending to the new safer fences ahead of the three-day meeting

Preparations: Aintree ground staff were tending to the new safer fences ahead of the three-day meeting

The deaths of Synchronised and According To Pete raised questions as to whether the race could even survive in its present form.

RSPCA chief executive Gavin Grant called the deaths ‘totally unacceptable’ while branding the famous Becher’s Brook, where According To Pete was brought down before being hit by another horse, a ‘killer fence’. A nervous calm precedes this year’s race but a major modification to the fences’ construction has been welcomed (see graphic above).

Spokesmen for the RSPCA and World Horse Welfare deny the race is on trial but another body blow would be serious given a sponsor is being sought with John Smiths leaving after Saturday’s race.

Finishing touch: The grass on the Grand National finish line was cut this week before the Aintree showpiece

Finishing touch: The grass on the Grand National finish line was cut this week before the Aintree showpiece

WHW chief executive Roly Owers said: ‘There is still huge support for the race but there also are increasing voices within racing questioning whether the National is doing the sport any good. The warning bells have sounded and Aintree have recognised that.

‘Our biggest issue with the National is the number of fallers. It is five times higher than a normal steeplechase. The fewer fallers, the less chance of injury. The changes to the fence core are a real step forward and we also welcome the improvements in irrigation.

‘We recognise you can’t eliminate risk. The responsibility is to minimise it.’

WHW have repeated a call to reduce the number of starters.Owers said: ‘We believe there should be a trial reduction of three years. We recognise it has to be a great test but you can’t just accept the regular death of horses.’

Scrutiny: Last year's Grand National (above) saw the fatalities of According to Pete and Synchronised

Scrutiny: Last year's Grand National (above) saw the fatalities of According to Pete and Synchronised

RSPCA equine consultant David Muir added: ‘With 40 runners, you have 40 chances of things going wrong. I’d like to see them reduce it to 30 but we don’t run racing.’

Jockeys have been asked to moderate their speed to the first fence and the run-up to it has been shortened by 90 yards by moving the start further away from the unsettling cauldron of noise coming from of the grandstands.

Jamie Stier, BHA director of raceday operations, said: ‘The changes are all designed for horse welfare but at the same time we have maintained the shape, size and character of the fences.

Fences

‘People have to understand the position of the race within the fabric of society. Attendance figures last year were 155,000 at the meeting and more people watch the Grand National on TV than the FA Cup final — more than 11million — with a global audience of 600m in 140 countries.

‘We don’t feel it is on trial. It is down to the BHA and Aintree to find a way forward.’

Still, a lot of people will be holding their breath on Saturday.

Peter Scudamore looks at the major fences at this year's Grand…

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JT McNamara in "very positive frame of mind" after being paralysed by horror fall

McNamara in 'very positive frame of mind' despite being paralysed by horror fall

By
Marcus Townend

PUBLISHED:

19:16 GMT, 29 March 2013

|

UPDATED:

23:57 GMT, 29 March 2013

Jockey JT McNamara, seriously injured in
a fall at the Cheltenham Festival earlier this month, has expressed his
gratitude for the support he has received as it was publicly confirmed
he has been left paralysed.

A statement issued by Dr Adrian McGoldrick, Irish Turf Club Senior
Medical Officer and Lisa Hancock, CEO, Injured Jockeys Fund on behalf of
the McNamara Family, said: ‘JT McNamara remains in the Frenchay
Hospital, Bristol.

Moving: JT McNamara is improving and will be moved to a hospital in Ireland

Moving: JT McNamara is improving and will be moved to a hospital in Ireland

‘Whilst he suffered a serious neck injury resulting in paralysis, he has made progress in the last week and is in a very positive frame of mind.

‘He is greatly appreciative of the many messages, cards and letters received and also wishes to thank the Frenchay Hospital who are looking after him so well.’

McNamara was injured in a first fence fall from Galaxy Rock in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup.

Speaking to Sky Sports News, Hancock said: 'It's a risky sport. Safety is important and it continues to be, but it is a risky sport and every jockey knows that. We are looking at safety measures and continue to do so.]

'But at the end of the day you're riding a horse at speed and jumping fences at speed so the risk is always there.'

JT McNamara

Paul Struthers, chief excutive of the Professional Jockeys Association, tweeted: 'Awful news with confirmation of the extent of JT's injuries. The risks faced/sacrifices made by our brave boys & girls face to entertain us.'

The Jockey Club tweeted: 'We echo the sentiments expressed across our sport & beyond, and send our very best wishes to JT McNamara & those dear to him.'

Grand National-winning rider Mick Fitzgerald has also spoken of his sadness and of the risks involved in racing.

Now a successful pundit on television and radio, Fitzgerald told Sky Sports News: 'It's a mixture of sadness, it's the end of a great career for a jockey who was an amateur and did it because he loved the game.

'When it happened at the time a sombre (mood) descended on Cheltenham, everyone had everything crossed and plenty of people were praying their worse fears wouldn't be realised. This is the end of a glittering career.

'The great thing I can say is that he's in a positive frame of mind and that is number one. He's surrounded by people who love him and I can only extend my best wishes to him and his family.

'It's a high-risk sport and this is one of the things that can happen. As a jump jockey you go out to ride every day knowing it could be your last. You never think it could be you, it always happens to someone else.

'We devote our lives to the sport we love. None of us want to see a jockey injured, the same goes for the horse.

Sombre: Former Grand National winner and racing pundit Mick Fitzgerald spoke out about his sadness

Sombre: Former Grand National winner and racing pundit Mick Fitzgerald spoke out about his sadness

'Getting injured is always in the back of your mind but if you were thinking about it, you wouldn't be able to do your job.

'He's alive and well and in a positive frame of mind. It's important that racing does what it can to help him enjoy the rest of life. I cannot tell you how nice a guy he is.'

The latest statement on McNamara's condition was issued jointly by Dr Adrian McGoldrick, Irish Turf Club Senior Medical Officer and Lisa Hancock, CEO, Injured Jockeys Fund, on behalf of the rider's family and read: 'JT McNamara remains in the Frenchay Hospital, Bristol. Whilst he suffered a serious neck injury resulting in paralysis, he has made progress in the last week and is in a very positive frame of mind.

'He is greatly appreciative of the many messages, cards and letters received and also wishes to thank the Frenchay Hospital who are looking after him so well.'

Cheltenham Racecourse set for 45million makeover to grandstand and royal box

The Jockey Club unveils ambitious 45m vision for Cheltenham Racecourse

By
Marcus Townend

PUBLISHED:

14:58 GMT, 28 March 2013

|

UPDATED:

21:27 GMT, 28 March 2013

Cheltenham have unveiled plans for a new 45million grandstand to be completed in time for the 2016 Festival.

Officials have dismissed threats
that the biggest commercial project ever undertaken by Jockey Club
Racecourses (JCR), owners of the flagship track, could be hindered by
established boxholders angry at losing their current vantage points.

Visionary: This artist's impression shows how the stand will look after the renovation

Visionary: This artist's impression shows how the stand will look after the renovation

Visionary: This artist's impression shows how the stand will look after the renovation

There had been suggestions that those with boxes in the New Stand, which will be demolished to accommodate the new five-floor development, could seek to protect the old building by applying for Listed Building status.

But a threatened demonstration yesterday failed to materialise and Simon Bazalgette, chief executive of JCR, said: ‘We have confirmation from English Heritage that (the New Stand) does not meet any requirements for Listed status.

‘Cheltenham needs to be considered as a world-class sports venue and it needs to keep pace with what our customers expect. We think it will be one of the most exciting developments not just in racing but in sport for the next few years.’

Officials were keen to point out that there would be elevated viewing terraces at the rear of the stand overlooking the parade ring and raised walkways to aid viewing and crowd flow.

‘They will create a wonderful amphitheatre and ensure the horse is at the centre of everything we do,’ said Ian Renton, JCR’s south west regional director.

Replacement: The new grandstand will have a capacity of 6,500 and will replace a smaller 1920s block

Replacement: The new grandstand will have a capacity of 6,500 and will replace a smaller 1920s block

Replacement: The new grandstand will have a capacity of 6,500 and will replace a smaller 1920s block

JCR are hoping to secure planning permission by the summer to build the stand, which will include a new Royal Box.

Construction should start after the Festival next March with the project completed two months ahead of the 2016 Festival.
The 1,500 spectators now housed in the New Stand, who will be offered
their own dedicated facility in the new build, will be found temporary
facilities during construction but racing will not be interrupted.
Renton said: ‘We will accommodate approximately 6,500 people (5,000 more
than the New Stand) and that will make a difference, particularly on
Gold Cup day which puts huge pressure on facilities.’

Renton added that the additional grandstand space would not necessarily
mean increased capacity but there will be financial pressure to do so
in order to fund such an expensive project. Paul Fisher, managing
director of JCR, denied that the development will be forced to cater for
richer and corporate guests, adding: ‘This is not just a grandstand for
corporate but will improve the experience for all racegoers.’

However, plans do include a ‘Super Club’, with facilities on the top
floor which will be something like the palatial Royal Ascot Racing
Club.

Bazalgette denied suggestions that financial pressure could make an
extra day being added to the Festival more likely or that the meeting
may be moved to include a Saturday.

He added that previous suggestions that a development could include a
hotel or venue for Cheltenham Town football club were not in mind ‘at
the moment’.

Cheltenham Festival video: Peter Scudamore, Sam Turner and Marcus Townend preview the big races

VIDEO: Sportsmail's top team preview the big races at the Cheltenham Festival

PUBLISHED:

13:22 GMT, 18 February 2013

|

UPDATED:

13:58 GMT, 19 February 2013

Racing doesn't get any better than the Cheltenham Festival so to preview the famous meeting we've put together the best team in the business.

Our man Marcus Townend talks to our top tipster Sam Turner and columnist and former champion jockey Peter Scudamore.

Sportsmail's award-winning photographer Graham Chadwick is the man behind the camera who put it all together.

VIDEO For top tips on runners and riders check out Sportsmail's special preview

Play Video

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Marcus Townend: Broadcast challenge for new kings Channel 4

Marcus Townend: Channel 4 face one helluva broadcast challenge in replacing the BBC

|

UPDATED:

22:00 GMT, 25 December 2012

How ironic that the final BBC racing broadcast at abandoned Chepstow will not even manage to make it out of the starting stalls.

Leaving the sport with not even a whimper seems appropriate for an organisation whose divorce from racing has been coming for a long time.

The faces in front of camera soldiered on but the BBC television executives above them steadily lost interest, their mood not helped by the period when they were paying for their dwindling rights and Channel 4 was being handed cheques by the sport to keep its cameras rolling.

Changing of the guard: Clare Balding will be the new face of Channel 4 racing

Changing of the guard: Clare Balding will be the new face of Channel 4 racing

The landscape was transformed when bookmakers were allowed to start advertising on television and suddenly a live broadcast from Sandown became much more than merely an expensive, work-intensive option to another repeat of The Sound of Music.

Channel 4’s interest surged. Make no mistake, they have not signed a four-year deal for the terrestrial racing rights simply because they are in love with the sport.
It would be easy to drift away on sentimental memories but the truth is that the new

Channel 4 racing coverage has the potential to innovate and excite.

When cricket took the same journey from BBC to Channel 4, the station impressed with its refreshing new approach.

No show: Chepstow races which was due to the the last meet shown on the BBC has been postponed due to the weather

No show: Chepstow races which was due to the the last meet shown on the BBC has been postponed due to the weather

A re-jigged team of pundits line up under the leadership of the BBC’s transferred Clare Balding —not a bad signing given her current standing in the post-Olympics world of sports broadcasting. The new squad could have been more radical but it will be the attitude and tone set by their masters that is all important and early mission statements look promising.

Channel 4 looks enthused by their new venture and that, in contrast to the BBC’s attitude, has the capacity to shine through on screen.
Of course, adverts for the first time during the Grand National or at Royal Ascot will grate but longer programmes and less races will make the shows feel less like a mad dash through betting opportunities.

The BBC has a huge archive of racing memories — Red Rum at the 1977 Sports Personality of the Year show; Bing Crosby appearing on Grandstand on the day in the 1970s when the chaser Uncle Bing won and Frankie Dettori’s magnificent seven at Ascot in 1996.

But the baton has been passed on and it might not be a bad thing. A challenge has been set Channel 4. We will see in the coming weeks and months how well it does.

Ruby Walsh aims to win the King George VI on Kauto Stone

'He's not Kauto Star but there'll never be another', says Walsh as he aims for King George VI glory on Kauto Stone

|

UPDATED:

22:45 GMT, 23 December 2012

Ruby Walsh talks to Racing Correspondent Marcus Townend about his attempt to win a sixth King George VI Chase on Kauto Star's little brother Kauto Stone.

Christmas, a time for families. Ruby Walsh hopes that’s the case at Kempton on Boxing Day.

For five of the last six years, the Irish jockey has written ever more remarkable chapters in the King George VI Chase story as Kauto Star made history and ultimately eclipsed the achievements of legendary four-time winner Desert Orchid.

On Wednesday, Walsh will try to write the next one not in stone but on Stone, Kauto Stone, little brother of his horse of a lifetime.

The Christmas king: Ruby Walsh is focussed on fresh challenges as the steeplechasing world has changed

The Christmas king: Ruby Walsh is focussed on fresh challenges as the steeplechasing world has changed

‘He’s not Kauto Star,’ Walsh says with a smile, ‘there won’t ever be another Kauto Star. They’re like chalk and cheese really. Kauto Stone is a different colour and much smaller. But, then again, my brother’s six foot two!’

The 7-1 chance was a grade one winner in France before making the same trip across the Channel last year that Kauto Star made in 2004.

Kauto Stone opened up with a grade two chase win before four defeats, including a flop behind King George rival Riverside Theatre at Ascot in February when Walsh feels he was off colour. That setback dented the horse’s reputation.

But expectations have risen with last month’s win in Down Royal’s three-mile Grade One JNWine.com Champion Chase, a race Kauto Star won twice, when he fended off Flight Lieutenant, the subsequent Hennessy Gold Cup third.

Up for the challenge: Walsh talks to Sportsmail's Racing Correspondent Marcus Townend

Up for the challenge: Walsh talks to Sportsmail's Racing Correspondent Marcus Townend

Walsh, 33, says: ‘Kauto Stone is a decent horse in his own right. He was good when he won at Down Royal (in November). He proved he gets the three-mile trip which is a question mark for some of the others like Cue Card.

‘He was very good in France and at six-years-old, you’d be hoping there is a bit of improvement there. Trainer Paul Nicholls is very happy with him and Paul’s got a great record in the King George. If he’s happy, I’m happy.’

Happiness is not something that has come gift-wrapped in the Kauto Star world in the last fortnight with the public spat between owner Clive Smith and trainer Nicholls as the retired 12-year-old suddenly left the stable.

Walsh is careful not to get drawn into the crossfire.

The pressure is on: Walsh on-board Kauto Stone at Aintree earlier this year

The pressure is on: Walsh on-board Kauto Stone at Aintree earlier this year

‘I’ve been reading about it but my time with Kauto Star finished in March. I will forever love him and be indebted to him but I knew when he pulled up in the Gold Cup that I was finished with him,’ Walsh says.

‘My biggest nightmare had always been standing at the back of a fence holding him and waiting for a vet to come.

‘That didn’t happen so when we pulled up, I felt we had had a good time together.
‘I hope I did him justice, he gave me great days and we parted company on a happy note. I didn’t make a big deal of it because that was (Gold Cup winner) Synchronised’s day.

‘I hate it when the horse that is bowing out overshadows the winner. This game is about winning.’

In the post-Kauto Star era, winning the King George will look possible to all 10 jockeys who line up at Kempton.

The fight to be top staying chaser will continue in the Lexus Case at Leopardstown on Friday, when Flemenstar and Sir Des Champs clash again.

Past glory: Ruby Walsh smiles as he looks at Kauto Star after winning The William Hill King George VI in 2011

Past glory: Ruby Walsh smiles as he looks at Kauto Star after winning The William Hill King George VI in 2011

The landscape has changed, especially for Walsh. Old allies Denman, Neptune Collonges and Master Minded are all retired while Al Ferof, who would have been his King George mount, has a long-term injury.

The rider, too, is back to searching for the new chasing king and he detects vulnerability in 7-4 King George favourite Long Run, the former Gold Cup and King George winner who jousted with Kauto Star in his last two seasons.

The jockey says: ‘Long Run won the (2009) Feltham Novices’ Chase as a four-year-old. He was good at five and six when he won a King George and Gold Cup.

‘Maybe that was his peak, not unlike another French-bred, Master Minded. He was a runaway Champion Chase winner at five, just won at six and not the same at seven. Long Run is still running to a high level of form but not to the level when he won the King George and Gold Cup. Criticism of his amateur jockey Sam Waley-Cohen is not fair, but life is not fair.

‘When you get beaten you’re wrong. The first person to point a finger at is the guy on his back, be it AP, me or Sam.

‘People are jumping on the bandwagon because he is Mr Sam Waley-Cohen but I don’t agree with it. He is still the guy who won a King George, Gold Cup and Feltham Chase on him.

‘He is not doing anything different. I’d say the difference is the horse, not the jockey.’
But for Walsh, the horse really will be different on Boxing Day. Kauto Stone not Kauto Star.

He says: ‘It is different challenge on a new horse. A different era and a different time. It’s like anything, the more you are attached to it the more it hurts when it is not there and there is uncertainty, I suppose. But life moves on and so will I.’

Like a rolling Stone, maybe.

Ruby Walsh is sponsored by Racing UK and Daily Mail readers can enjoy a 25 per cent saving to the premium racing channel on Sky for 12 months. Call 0844 472 5777 (UK) or 0818 776 779 (ROI) and quote 'Daily Mail offer' before December 31.

Cheltenham Festival live: Day two

CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL LIVE: All the action as it happens on day two of the greatest show on turf

|

UPDATED:

11:43 GMT, 14 March 2012

CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL DAY TWO

Follow Racemail's Marcus Townend on Twitter

Sam Turner's top tips for Tuesday

Guide to the Queen Mother Champion Chase

The fashion stakes are raised as the girls come out to play on Ladies Day at the Cheltenham Festival.

The Queen Mother Champion Chase (3.20) is the big race today with defending champion Sizing Europe the heavy favourite.

Well bring you the winners as soon as they pass the post plus all the latest action as it happens and the best pictures from Prestbury Park.

Hurricane Fly was beaten by a rampant Rock On Ruby yesterday in the Champion Hurdle but Sprinter Sacre and Quevega came in for favourite backers.

Stick with Sportsmail to find out how the drama unfolds today.

**Full coverage from 1pm***

Bumper crowds: Punters poured in to Cheltenham on Tuesday and huge numbers are expected again today

Bumper crowds: Punters poured in to Cheltenham on Tuesday and huge numbers are expected again today

Cheltenham Festival 2012: Willie Mullins issues Champions Hurdle warning

Mullins issues warning to Champions Hurdle hopefuls: my Fly is better than ever

|

UPDATED:

20:29 GMT, 11 March 2012

Willie Mullins has sounded a sobering warning to Champion Hurdle aspirants that reigning champion Hurricane Fly is a more mature, complete racehorse than he was 12 months ago.

Ruby Walsh's mount faces nine rivals in Tuesday's 370,000 contest, including stablemate Zaidpour (Paul Townend) plus four runners trained by Paul Nicholls – Brampour (Harry Derham), Celestial Halo (Harry Skelton), Rock On Ruby (Noel Fehily) and Zarkandar (Daryl Jacob).

Hurricane Fly, a 10-time grade-one winner, is 4-5 favourite with sponsors Stan James to defend his crown on the back of his six-length demolition of Oscars Well in January's Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown.

Champion Hurdle: Ruby Walsh on Hurricane Fly wins in 2011

Champion Hurdle: Ruby Walsh on Hurricane Fly wins in 2011

That has been his only run of the season and Mullins admitted that getting the son of Montjeu back to the Festival had once again been a nerve-wracking experience.

But the Irish trainer was as impressed by his demeanor as his performance on that January run.

He said: 'The fact that he has been to the Festival before is a positive. He used to get quite buzzed up. Hopefully, that is just maturity and he is settling into his racing.

'Last year, it was just relief when I put the saddle on him, sent him into the parade ring and handed him to Ruby.

'It will be more relief again, but everything has gone pretty well since Christmas.'

Mullins admits the prospect of the ground drying out during the week had influenced him in running last season's Supreme Novices' Hurdle seventh Zaidpour on Tuesday, rather than in Thursday's World Hurdle where the stable's 2011 Champion Hurdle fourth Thousand Stars now takes his chance.

Festival march: Willie Mullins string during exercise prior to Cheltenham

Festival march: Willie Mullins string during exercise prior to Cheltenham

He said: 'Thousand Stars won the French Champion Hurdle over three miles, one and a half furlongs (in June 2011). With Hurricane Fly and Zaidpour, I thought I had enough in the Champion Hurdle.

'Looking at the weather, I said to Zaidpour's owner that if we took him to Cheltenham it looked like being the first day. He is a grade one winner over two miles.'

Mullins is evens favourite to retain the top Festival trainer title he won last year with four of Ireland's record 13 wins. Those odds will not look unreasonable if Hurricane Fly and Quevega, his other day one banker, oblige.

Quevega is odds-on favourite to win the OLBG Mares' Hurdle for a fourth consecutive time.

Mullins added: 'She is in good form and has had similar preparation to last year.'

He opens up tomorrow with Allure of Illusion, Midnight Game and Simenon in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle.

His other big chances include Allee Garde in Wednesday's National Hunt Chase and Boston Bob in Friday's Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle.