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Bookmakers have Aintree worries

Sun, 15 April 2012

Bookmakers will keep a close eye on public opinion over the John Smith's Grand National despite turnover on the Aintree race reaching record levels on Saturday.

Some members of the betting fraternity believe the popularity of the race could be under serious threat after the deaths of Gold Cup winner Synchronised and According To Pete cast a shadow over the world's most famous steeplechase.

"I think it is facing one of its most difficult periods in the aftermath of Saturday," said Ladbrokes' David Williams.

"Amidst all the soul-searching which quite rightly is going to take place, it is worth remembering there was record turnover on the race, so the sport must be doing something right. However, I think we now have to work harder than we have ever worked before to ensure we do everything humanly possible to do two things.

"Firstly, do everything possible for the welfare of horses in the race, and secondly to present it properly. Presentation of the sport took an absolute hammering on Saturday. We need to learn these lessons, and quickly, otherwise the public will turn against the sport we love.

"They haven't yet, but I do think it presents us with the biggest challenge we've had probably since the 1970s, when Aintree was going to be sold to a property developer. The Grand National has been under great pressure, but I've not known something as potentially damaging since that time.

"We shouldn't be too defeatist, but we have to look at every single thing we can do. There was a real wake-up call and we cannot take it for granted that the public will carry on accepting those bad things that are happening live on our screens. We get the feeling there is a real groundswell of opinion changing."

George Primarolo, of Betfred, added: "It's in everyone's interests to work with public opinion, but there doesn't need to be any knee-jerk reactions. Public perception is that the race needs to be made safer, and the RSPCA want to address certain issues. Racing would be foolish not to heed that advice.

"On betting on the race, public perception is very important. The fact there was pretty much record turnover on the race suggests it would be dangerous to assume public opinion is completely turning against it, but the more the Grand National is run and if there are more fatalities every year, then that could sway."

Coral's David Stevens said: "From our point of view, it is unlike any other day in the calendar. Millions of people have a bet that don't at any other time. That shows the appeal of the National is as strong as ever. There is a small minority that have a problem with racing and it's up to everyone involved in the sport to defend it."