Backlash after misleading reports that all Aintree runners had returned healthy

Eclair Surf and Discorama the two horses that passed away after the Grand National

Emma Lavelle, the trainer of Eclair Surf, said on Sunday morning that her eight-year-old gelding had become the second horse to die as a result of an injury sustained in the Grand National at Aintree on Saturday, further confounding hopes raised in the immediate aftermath – and shared widely online – that all 40 runners had returned to their stables with “no fatalities” in the race.

Lavelle said on Twitter that Eclair Surf had sustained “a traumatic head injury” at the third fence, and that after being treated at the racecourse he had been transferred to Liverpool University’s equine hospital, where “he was treated all night, however very sadly it was not to be”.

The news that Eclair Surf had been put down followed the announcement by Paul Nolan on Saturday evening that Discorama had suffered a fatal injury between the 12th and 13th fences. He was the third horse in the last three runnings of the National to die as a result of an injury while galloping rather than in a fall.

This year’s Grand National is the first since 2011 in which two horses have suffered fatal injuries. There were no fatalities in six consecutive runnings between 2013 and 2018, while a single horse died in both 2019 and 2021.

Elle Est Belle, trained by Dan Skelton, also died during racing at Aintree on Saturday, having suffered a suspected heart attack before collapsing on the run-in in the Mersey Novice Hurdle. Neil Mulholland’s Solwara One, meanwhile, was the first of four horses to die at this year’s meeting, having broken down in a handicap hurdle on Friday.

“We are all extremely saddened by the fatal injuries at the Grand National festival,” James Given, the British Horseracing Authority’s director of equine health and welfare, said on Sunday, “though no one will be more upset than the trainers, owners and stable staff who will have given these horses unparalleled care throughout their lives.

“Following a detailed review in 2011-12 the BHA and Aintree racecourse worked together to introduce a number of significant measures which have helped in the intervening years to reduce the injury rate at the Grand National meeting.

“However, welfare and safety is an ever-evolving commitment and the BHA works constantly alongside our racecourses to further improve the sport’s safety record and reduce avoidable risk.”

Screens around the injured horses were visible to millions of TV viewers, first as the field was directed around the third fence on the second circuit and then as they passed the point where Discorama had earlier been pulled up.

The race on Saturday was off almost to time at 17.18 and Noble Yeats, the 50-1 winner, crossed the line just over nine minutes later. At 17.50, Racing TV’s Twitter feed listed the first 10 horses across the line, with an additional statement that “all horses are OK”. This followed a statement issued to broadcasters by Jockey Club Racecourses’ on-site media team which read: “All horses returning to stables. (No fatalities. Further assessment will now be carried out where necessary.)”

ITV Racing, the Racing Post and At The Races used the same statement as the basis for tweets which have since been deleted. The tweet deleted by At The Races read: “Brilliant news! All 40 runners have returned to their stables after the Grand National” with a hand-clapping emoji.

Ed Chamberlin, ITV Racing’s lead presenter, was more circumspect, telling viewers shortly before the end of its coverage: “The horses have also all come back to the stables. Some are being assessed, in particular Discorama. If we get any news before we go off air, we’ll bring it to you first.”

While the brief statement from the course did not claim that all the runners had returned uninjured, the inclusion of the words “no fatalities” raised hopes among fans that the incidents which led to screens being erected had not been as serious as many had feared. As a result, when news broke nearly three hours after the race that Discorama had been put down, there was an angry reaction from some social media users, who felt they had been misled. Some also accused the course of trying to conceal news of the seriousness of the injuries to Discorama and Eclair Surf until after ITV’s coverage had concluded.

A spokesperson for Aintree Racecourse said: “Following the Grand National we provide a preliminary information update regarding the welfare of horses before ITV shows the race re-run. This contained accurate information provided by the veterinary team. We confirmed that all horses would be returning to the stables, there had been no fatalities in the race and some horses would require further assessment. We then provided updates to the media based on those further assessments. We always provide accurate information in a timely manner.”

- Guardian

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