An estimated 600 million people worldwide watched Saturday's 165th Grand National, the annual steeplechase held outside Liverpool with a purse worth more than $1.5 million. Outside of World Cup finals and India-Pakistan cricket matches, it is the world's most-viewed sporting event (it has four times as many viewers as the Super Bowl). This year's running of the four-mile, four-furlong race resulted in the closest finish in the event's history, a photo finish claimed by Neptune Collonges.
Synchronised, the race favorite, wasn't around to participate in the glory of the exciting finish. He was down with a broken leg, waiting to be killed, as was the longshot According To Pete. Their deaths brought the tally of horses killed at the Grand National to 11 over the past 11 years—four of them in the two years since race organizers claimed to have made the course safer. Synchronised and According To Pete both fell at the Becher's Brook jump; a total of 54 horses have fallen there since 1997.
This sort of madness is, amazingly, integral to the event that markets itself as "Spills & Thrills." Even Synchronised's owner, billionaire J.P. McManus, remains a full supporter of the event. It is not entirely different from the billionaire owners of NFL teams who market the sport's big hits with the knowledge those hits lead to shorter and worse lives.
NFL players are human beings, though, while these are horses. Yet look at the outrage across American media (and, certainly, a good section of the American public) after Eight Belles' collapse at the 2008 Kentucky Derby. (On the other hand, the rash of breakdowns at Aqueduct went largely unnoticed until New York's governor stepped in; for casual fans, it's still not a prominent locus of attention.)
Regardless, nobody watches a standard thoroughbred race expecting to see a horse be put down; at the Grand National, meanwhile, it has become the norm. But like all professional sports, it is largely organized by and competed with the very rich but promoted as entertainment for the masses; it's only different from other capitalistic enterprises in that the labor harms are visible and present. An NFL player's brain trauma, meanwhile, can take decades to show symptoms.
NFL players can, too, hire lawyers and file lawsuits. Horses cannot, and their owners enter competitors to the Grand National with full knowledge they may be casting their investments by the wayside. Yet these investments don't hold much value after the race, anyway. Grand National rules essentially guarantee only gelded horses at the end of their careers will compete, which might explain why owners whose horses fall at the event aren't especially broken-up about it. Neptune Collonges was retired immediately after the victory and, as a gelding, holds no value breeding-wise.
So, then, there's only one outcome that matters at the Grand National: who wins the race. If there's collateral damage, owners don't mind—and the bookmakers never will:
The result could scarcely have been any better. Neptune Collonges slipped off most radars and most of the cheers at Aintree came from the bookies.