Picture credit: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

Show and tell

Racing must win over the public, not protestors

Turf Account

This article is taken from the June 2023 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

I’ve written before about the existential threat to racing posed by the gambling White Paper and the so-called “affordability checks” pushed by the Gambling Commission. But awful as those may be, they at least have the veneer of being part of a supposedly democratic process. 

Try explaining that idea to the Tarquins, Henriettas and Jolyons of the so-called animal rights brigade. Aintree staff and the Liverpool police have not received enough praise for the way they dealt with protestors at the Grand National. Yes, they had a head start thanks to the Mail on Sunday infiltrating the Animal Rising group and publishing their plans. But the perimeter of Aintree is hellishly difficult to cordon off and the race could easily have been abandoned had the authorities not managed to stop them.

Racing has wonderful stories to tell — and horse welfare is one of them

i was especially impressed by the actions of what the commentators described as “ordinary Liverpudlians”, who helped the police keep Animal Rising off the course. You got the sense they were not acting entirely altruistically, that the chance to stick it to the protesters was one not to be missed.

It’s of a piece with those (unfortunately all-too-rare) videos of frustrated drivers picking up motionless loons sitting in the road and then dumping them on the pavement. Enraging as the actions of Extinction Rebellion and the other all-purpose protest groups are, there must also be a real sense of satisfaction if you do manage to deal with one of them yourself.

there’s been much comment within racing over how to respond to what’s clearly a growing threat. The thrust of it is, “We need to engage with them”. TV pundits, for example, have offered to show them round stables so they can see how royally racehorses are looked after. But it is difficult to imagine a more wrong-headed response, which reveals a complete failure to understand what is going on.

This has nothing to do with animal rights or horses’ well-being; it’s about the lifestyle and mentality of the protestors, for whom protest is its own purpose. Racing is in the dock simply because it’s part of society.

This isn’t a column about education but you can’t consider the derangements of the likes of Animal Rising and Extinction Rebellion without realising they are the products of the perversion of higher education — inadequate minds filled with postmodern drivel acting out juvenile ideas under the illusion they have developed some form of critical thinking. 

reasoning with people for whom reason is an alien concept is pointless. There’s a glorious clip on social media of Kevin Blake, the ITV pundit, asking one of them in a radio discussion what he plans to do with the 50,000 thoroughbreds if racing is banned. His inability to comprehend that this might be an issue, let alone have a clue how to deal with it, is a glorious commentary on stupidity itself.

You can only deal with these people not by engaging with them but by treating them as they merit: facing them down and then ignoring them when they look to get a rise out of you.

But ignoring what they say would be no less wrong-headed, because their words do have an impact on those with open minds. 

The vast majority of the British public do not want to see the Grand National banned, let alone racing itself. But as any politician knows, the more you repeat the same line, the more it takes hold. So the idea that racing is in some way cruel has taken hold.

 These are the people racing needs to target: decent people with no axe to grind, happy to live and let live, but who are concerned at the idea horses might be suffering.

The focus needs to be on showing that the opposite is true: that as a general rule a horse involved in racing is throughout its life — including long after retirement — privileged to be so well cared for. It’s an easy task because it’s the truth. All that is needed is transparency.

For racing’s powers-that-be, that has never been a priority, but that’s changing, albeit too slowly. Racing has wonderful stories to tell — and horse welfare is one of them.

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover