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.)