Grand National jockey, Katie Walsh, has been criticised by a children's charity after claiming that racehorses are looked after "better than some children"
Katie Walsh was responding to criticism that the race was dangerous and cruel to animals. Two horses died in last year's race, leading for calls for it to be scrapped and prompting a series of changes for this Saturday's event.
Miss Walsh, who finished third last year and is among the favourites to win this year's Grand National, said those who think horseracing is brutal do not understand the sport:
"Anyone who gets up on Christmas Day and mucks out loves animals," she said. "Sure, it's a dangerous sport. But every night, all over the world, a lot of horses are left out in fields starving. These horses are so well looked after. Better than some children, to be honest with you."
Claude Knights, the director of Kidscape, a child welfare charity, said that comparing the two was not appropriate:
"Obviously we have a duty of care to look after animals but it doesn't compare to the duty of care we have for our children," she said. "Racehorses, while not exploited, are still tools that are being used for commercial use. They are being used, and asked to perform, and I would hope they are looked after well. When children are used in the same way, on shows like the X Factor, when their emotions are seen very publicly, the consequences are not very pleasant. I don't think making comparisons helps either cause."
Several changes have been made to the Aintree course this year after the deaths of two horses, which led to calls for the Grand National to be scrapped. Changes include fences being made easier, the start being moved further away from the grandstand and a system put in place which can water the entire course to avoid ground conditions which enable the race to be run too fast. There will also be an increase in numbers of horse-catchers and run-off areas where loose horses can be rounded up.
Miss Walsh, 28, wants to become the first female jockey to win the race. Her brother, Ruby, has won the National twice. She told the Radio Times: "Any changes that make it safer are a good thing, but I hope they leave it at this and don't change anything else. I hope to God there are no accidents this year, but these things happen, and they are horses at the end of the day." She said she did not read criticism of racing "because it's not worth it". She added: "At the end of the day it would be a lot worse if it had been two jockeys who lost their lives. I think everyone should remember that."
The RSPCA welcomed the changes to the Grand National, but Gavin Grant, its chief executive, said it was still concerned about the existence of Becher's Brook, the most controversial fence in the race, and that the maximum number of runners had not been reduced from 40.
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