Nothing has changed in the dangerous realm of horse racing
There will always be an inherent danger in the sport
The fact that that beauty can enthral so many means it is incumbent on those in charge of thoroughbreds to be as professional as possible when it comes to maintaining safety standards. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
It’s never good when you are asked how you sleep at night. Usually lurking somewhere in the background is a guilty conscience. So a recent exchange about my nocturnal habits produced a reflex queasiness.
I’m a stooge, a defender of the indefensible, a barbarian even. Apparently this is because I make my living from the gee-gees, which actually isn’t true. To the relief of everyone within racing, I remain outside the horsey tent. Such designation always comes down to who pays you.
It is true, however, that I make my living from covering the gee-gees and the sleep query arose from my disgraceful unwillingness to highlight and condemn the “carnage” taking place on the nation’s racecourses, racing’s “sinister secret” which is being facilitated by a complicit establishment and a craven media.
You see the recent splendid weather has been a tonic for most of us but it has produced a massive challenge for Ireland’s racecourses in producing ground that isn’t rock hard, and as a result potentially lethal on large animals designed to run very fast on very thin and very vulnerable limbs. Millions of gallons of water have been put out, and mostly to real effect. The authorities at Galway are putting out up to 100,000 gallons a day ahead of next week’s festival alone.
And yet casualties have still occurred, including a couple of fatalities at Killarney last week.
This is where the sleep query arose, in terms of a conscience that should be torn up about the toll being taken on horses for public entertainment. It’s the sort of indignation that usually crops up after the Grand National, and is often presumed to be a mostly UK phenomenon, a dangerous presumption considering the picture painted for me about what’s been supposedly happening in sub-Saharan Ireland.
The thing is, though, there hasn’t been a spike in equine fatalities in recent weeks. Neither have there been no casualties.
It has been what it always is: a dangerous game, with disaster potentially always just a step away. It wasn’t the ground that killed those two unfortunate horses in Killarney. They were injured in falls – a distinction without a difference for my critic who believes asking horses to jump on quick ground is intrinsically unfair anyway. “The horses don’t have a choice,” was a final and undeniable statement to me from someone whose indignation was in proportion to her obvious decency and sincerity.
And no, the horses don’t get a choice, a fact that usually serves as a righteously definitive full-stop to those who despair at the toll racing can take on the animals around which an entire industry revolves, and a fact that everyone who is even mildly enthusiastic about the game eventually has to acknowledge, before continuing with their enthusiasm.