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Hooves and High Society: Rethinking The Grand National

A Race Steeped in Tradition - Has it Finally Ran its Course?

By Amelia Boag McGlynn

Photo By Pexels courtesy of Jose Ricardo Barraza Morachis

Ah, the Grand National: an anachronistic spectacle of equine agony and aristocratic amusement. If you don't know, The Grand National is a famous annual horse race held at Aintree Racecourse in Merseyside, England, known for its long distance and challenging jumps. It began in 1839, and has been running every year since. It's almost quaint how the race, steeped in tradition, merrily gallops along the blurred lines between “sport” and animal cruelty. To understand its roots and appeal, we must whisk ourselves back to a time when men were men, women wore corsets, and horses were, well, expendable entertainment. This annual event is a mix of Edwardian nostalgia and unbridled brutality that continues to capture the nation's heart. But, why? Are we that starved for entertainment?  

To answer this question, it's important to understand that this event isn't just a race; it's a clearcut runway for the nation's elite, decked out in the latest from designers whose names carry more clout than some countries' GDPs. There they stand, the champagne swilling and monocle-wearing aristocracy, getting their annual dose of common man’s sport. Meanwhile, beneath the pomp and fascinators, horses are pushed to their limits, spurred on by whips and the roar of a crowd too titillated by the thrill of the race to notice the cost. The sight of a horse tumbling, its limbs awkwardly folding beneath it, has become an accepted hazard of the ‘sport’. And should a horse break a leg, its fate is sealed with a sombre bullet rather than a celebratory apple at the finish line. 

And oh, what a delightful distraction this race is for the public! It turns even the most conservative non-gambler into a betting fiend for a day. Suddenly everyone is a tipster, chucking money at the bookies on horses chosen for their names rather than their racing form. How charming that we can temporarily forget the harsh realities of life, like the staggering 32.7% of Merseyside living in deprivation that surrounds Aintree Race Track, as we cheer on our favourite whimsically named horse. 

But this more than a traditional track placed in an impoverished area. It is a glaring emblem of the divide slicing through Great Britain. As food banks witness record queues, influencers parade their sponsored luxury garb on social media, blissfully unaware of the irony as they prance around in outfits costing more than most of the UK's monthly mortgage payments. It’s a stark portrait of a nation divided not just by wealth, but by awareness and empathy. 

Photo by Pexels courtesy of Jose Ricardo Barraza Morachis

The Grand National isn’t just outdated; it's a relic of a less enlightened era. In a society that champions progress and kindness, continuing to endorse and celebrate this event not only undermines our claims of being animal lovers but highlights a disconnect from the economic reality many face. Isn't it time we rethink our traditions? After all, if we’re truly the nation of animal lovers we claim to be, shouldn’t we start by not using them as tools for our amusement? 


In the end, whether clad in tweed or covered in mud, both horse and spectator are merely performers in a tired, old show that should have seen its final curtain long ago. So next year, as the nation tunes in once more, perhaps it's worth asking: For whom does the finishing bell toll at the Grand National? If you listen closely, it might just be for us. 


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