Two horses die after falls in Grand National races on eve of main event

Giovinco, who died yesterday, pictured with jockey Stephen Mulqueen at the Ladbrokes Christmas Festival in December 2023 (Picture: PA)

Two horses have died during a Ladies’ Day race at the Grand National amid continued calls to end the sport.

Giovinco and Pikar fell at jumps in two different races at Aintree Race Course in Liverpool yesterday – on the eve of the main event, which kicks off today at 4pm.

Giovinco, who was being ridden by Stephen Muqueen, fell at the last hurdle during the Mildmay Novices’ Chase just before 2pm.

The seven-year-old was treated at the track but put down due to the seriousness of his injuries.

Giovinco was trained by two-time Grand National winner Lucinda Russell, who posted a photo of the two together on Facebook.

She wrote: ‘Thank you for your kind words about Giovinco who sadly died at Aintree this afternoon.

‘A shock and devastating for those who loved him, including Wendy, Stephen, his owners Colin, Nicola, Tom, Lenore and Tony and everyone at home.

Two-time Grand National winner Lucinda Russell, who trained Giovinco, posted a photo of the two together on Facebook after his death (Picture: Facebook/Lucinda Russell Racing)

‘Gio was a most talented young chaser whose third at the Festival showed his promise. He will be missed deeply.’

Pikar fell at the final jump of the Alder Hay Handicap Hurdle (Conditional Jockeys’ And Amateur Riders’ Race), the last race of the day.

He was treated at the scene but could not be saved.

Campaign Group Animal Aid claimed Pikar broke his neck, ITV news reports.

The deaths come amid calls to increase safety measures, while some say horse racing should be banned altogether.

Animal Aid said: ‘If the death toll was this high in any other ‘sport’, it would be banned immediately.

Jockeys and horses jump a hurdle in one of yesterday’s Ladies Day races (Picture: David Davies for The Jockey Club/PA Wire)

‘However, because it’s ‘just’ horses being killed, then the racing industry and the government seem content to allow these innocent animals to suffer horrific injuries and die.’

Since the first Grand National in 1839, around 90 horses have died during the Aintree meeting.

Around 41 of those deaths took place between 2000 and 2012.

According to the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), steeplechasing events have an average of four deaths per 1,000 horses taking part, although this average is higher at Aintree.

Several safety measures have been introduced for the 2024 races.

These include holding the race at an earlier time of 4pm to ‘ensure optimal conditions’ on the track, a reduced field of 34 horses, down from 40, a standing start, a reduction in height to one of the fences and added foam and rubber toe boards on every fence.

A member of the ground staff prepares a fence ahead of today’s main event (Picture: Mike Egerton/PA Wire)

Last year the race was delayed by almost 15 minutes after Animal Rising activists gained entry to the course, leading to more than 100 arrests.

An email said to have been sent by the group’s co-founder Dan Kidby to Jockey Club chief executive Nevin Truesdale said the group had no intention of disrupting the event this year.

Mr Kidby wrote: ‘Animal Rising’s actions last year shone a spotlight on the deaths that happen during the Grand National Festival.

‘This light continues to shine and we don’t believe disruption is needed to draw attention to this again.

‘Horses have died almost every single year at the Grand National; the safest bet one could make is that a horse would die.

‘This continues to be the case in spite of rule changes, which are nothing more than a PR exercise to try to win back public opinion.’

Animal rights protesters are detained by police during last year’s Grand National (Picture: PA)

Speaking about yesterday’s death, an Aintree Racecourse spokesperson told the Metro: ‘During our first race of the day, Giovinco fell at the last fence and was immediately attended to by our expert veterinary professionals.

‘After assessment, sadly they concluded the necessary course of action for the horse’s welfare was to put him to sleep.

‘Pikar sadly passed away following a fall at the second last hurdle in the last race of the day, having also been attended to on course by our veterinary team.

‘Our heartfelt condolences are with the connections of both horses.’

In regards to concerns over the welfare of horses taking part in Grand National races, a spokesperson for The Jockey Club, which runs Aintree Racecourse and the Grand National, said: ‘The welfare of all our participants will always be our number one priority and over the past 20 years the sport has invested more than £47 million in equine welfare. 

‘As a result, horseracing today is safer than it has ever been, with 99.82% of all horses returning home safely from their races in 2023 from around 90,000 runners in a full uninterrupted year of racing.’

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