Protesters are to blame for my horse’s death at the Grand National, trainer claims


The man who trained the horse that suffered a fatal fall at Saturday’s Grand National has blamed “ignorant” protesters for his animal’s death.

The Aintree flagship race was delayed by almost 15 minutes after protesters attempted to enter the racecourse and fix themselves to the fences and railings along the route.

Hill Sixteen – trained by Sandy Thomson – suffered a fatal fall at the first fence.

The Scottish handler described the horse as “hyper” due to the protests, and blamed the activists for why it fell for the first time in his career.

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“He just hasn’t taken off at the first fence; he’s got so bloody hyper because of the carry on,” he told the Racing Post.

He said he tried to calm the horse by washing him off but to no avail. Hill Sixteen had to be put down after the race was over.

“Unfortunately, it’s a statistic we’re all trying to avoid,” Thomson said. “He’s jumped round here twice and never had a bother. I don’t know when he last fell.

“I know how ignorant these people are and they haven’t a bloody clue. They just cause more problems than they ever solve.”

Horse deaths ‘unavoidable’ in racing

But Animal Rising told Sky News its actions at the Grand National “aimed to prevent exactly that from happening”.

The group said: “Firstly, we want to offer our deepest condolences to anyone connected to Hill Sixteen or who has been impacted by their death. Animal Rising’s actions at The Grand National aimed to prevent exactly that from happening.

“Horse deaths and injuries are an unavoidable consequence of the way we use animals for sport, not dissimilar to the way we cause billions of animal deaths in our food system.

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Grand National protester arrested

“The only way to prevent more harm from coming to these beautiful creatures is by completely re-evaluating our connection to them and finding a way of loving them that doesn’t put them in harm’s way.

“We’d welcome dialogue with Sandy Thomson or Jimmy Fyffe about how to move forwards together and really transform our relationship to horses and, indeed, to all animals and nature.”

Hill Sixteen had previously raced over the National fences twice – finishing second in the 2021 Becher Chase and seventh in this year’s running of the same race.

More than 118 animal rights protesters were arrested on Saturday – although 42 were later “de-arrested”. More than 60 remain in custody.

Police officers respond to Animal Rising activists attempting to invade the race course
Police officers respond to Animal Rising activists attempting to invade the race course

Three horses die at Aintree

Hill Sixteen was the third racehorse to die during the Grand National meeting, watched by 70,000-strong crowds. Dark Raven died earlier in the day and Envoye Special died on Thursday, the first day of the three-day festival.

The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) has since said it will “analyse” the races “in painstaking detail” following the deaths.

“The BHA and Aintree racecourse will now analyse the races in painstaking detail, as is the case every year, to build on our existing data and help us understand what caused these incidents,” BHA chief executive Julie Harrington said.

Read more:
British Horseracing Authority to ‘analyse’ Grand National ‘in painstaking detail’

Roly Owers, the chief executive of charity World Horse Welfare, called it a “very sad day”.

He said: “From Aintree to television screens across the world, this year’s meet was difficult to watch. The loss of Envoye Special, Dark Raven, and Hill Sixteen is heart-breaking and we offer our condolences to their connections who we know will be devastated.

Runners and riders during the Randox Grand National Handicap Chase on day three of the Randox Grand National Festival at Aintree Racecourse, Liverpool. Picture date: Saturday April 15, 2023.

“Whilst it is true that accidents can happen anywhere – and the risks can never be removed altogether – jump racing poses specific risks that it has a responsibility to relentlessly reduce wherever possible.

“It is clear to us that despite the changes made by Aintree and racing to date, much more needs to be done.”