You see, for all its image of "a bit of good clean fun", the Grand National is actually a rather controversial sport. The jumps are large and fixed, and the horses run at them at full speed, in a large pack. Broken necks are common (from which the horse dies instantly), as are broken legs (after which the horse will almost certainly be destroyed).
Statistically speaking you can expect three horses to die at every Grand National. Last year it was five horses, and the same the year before that. (Full list here.) The organisers have gone to pains to point out the precautions they have taken to prevent more deaths this year, but then they say that every year. I don't doubt that they do their best to minimise risk, but this is an inherently dangerous sport.
And yet we as a nation don't want to hear about Grand National deaths. The words "national institution" are muttered, and the subject is quietly dropped.
I'm hardly the person most obsessed with animal rights — I eat meat on a daily basis, and my support for animal research is pretty much entirely unreserved — but even I balk when animals are dying not for nourishment, not for the advancement of humankind, but for entertainment. I am surprised by Britain's continued love of and support for the Grand National — this, from a nation that is too squeamish to eat horse meat.
If you watch the Grand National this year, be under no illusions — if a horse falls down, and doesn't get up, then it is either dead, or shortly to become so. And wonder, if the camera lingers, whether this is just slightly in the realm of blood sports.
I won't be watching, I won't be betting; I don't have the stomach.