Adjustments to three-year-old novices programme confirmed

12 Jun 2018 BHA Features Racing/Fixtures
  • Horses that have run three times and have won a race now ineligible for three-year-old and three-year-old+ novice races
  • Balance of maiden races versus novice races slightly increased, and minor adjustments made to penalties scale
  • Changes made with the full support of the industry’s Racing Group, and five months of data analysis

The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) has today announced three measured amendments to the three-year-old novice race programme, following extensive data analysis and with the full support of the industry’s Racing Group.

In September 2017 it was announced that, from the start of 2018, around 80% of three-year-old maiden races will be converted to novice events to provide greater scope for horses to develop by increasing the opportunities in weight-for-age races for those that win races in the early stages of their careers.

The move was designed to open up more opportunities for horses to progress within the novice programme, and to complement changes to handicapping rules designed to remove the difficulty and uncertainty of handicapping very lightly raced winners, whereby three-year-olds and older horses are now required to run three times in order to receive a handicap mark unless they have run twice and won both races.

When these changes were implemented, the BHA undertook that the impact of the changes would be closely monitored by the Racing Group and adjusted if necessary.

In the first few weeks of this initiative there were examples of experienced, highly rated horses that had only won once or twice running in novice races, often sent off at very short odds. These developmental races were not intended for such horses and so since the beginning of the turf season, a restriction has been in place that means that winners that had run more than six times are not eligible for novice races.

Subsequently, having listened to trainer feedback and analysed five months of racing data, the following further adjustments have now been approved.

  • The definition of a “novice” is modified such that horses that have run three times and have won a race would be ineligible for three-year-old and three-year-old+ novice races. This would mean that the only winners that could run in novice races would be horses that had one or two previous runs.
  • There is a small increase in the number of maiden races restricted to unraced and once-raced horses, particularly in the first three months of the turf season. This proposed change would see the balance in novice and maiden races move to c.75% novice: 25% maiden.
  • Penalties carried by winners of Class 4 and 5 Open Novice and Class 4 Novice Auction races to be increased (details in Notes to Editors)

In comparing these races with the equivalent races staged in 2017, average field sizes have increased and their competitiveness, measured by the average starting price of the favourite is almost unchanged. The main purpose of these changes, however, is to address concerns that the participation of a highly rated, more experienced horse looking for a soft option is making some novice races uncompetitive.

Richard Wayman, Chief Operating Officer for the British Horseracing Authority, said:

“Extending the novice programme to three year olds is delivering a number of benefits that are supporting the development of inexperienced but potentially talented horses. With a fundamental change to the race programme such as this, however, it is always possible that adjustments may be required to help the changes bed in. This is why we closely monitor the data from these initiatives for some time after they are introduced in order that we can make measured, evidence-based changes where appropriate.

“We are grateful for the feedback we have received from the NTF and its members throughout this process, which has helped shape the adjustments announced today. We will continue to monitor the data and gather views from our participants before completing a full review at the end of the season.”

The changes implemented to the three-year-old programme are an extension of the successful conversion of the two-year-old maiden programme to novice races which began in 2016, and which had been implemented off the back of trainer and owner feedback that horses have very few opportunities to assist them along the path of development after an early season maiden success.

Richard Wayman added:

“The feedback from trainers remains that the changes to the two-year-old programme continue to work well, and it is specifically the programme for three-year-old and older horses which needed adjustment.”

Ralph Beckett, the NTF’s representative on the Racing Group  said:

“These changes should address the issues that have emerged with extending the novice system from the two year old programme, where it is working well, to three year olds and older horses. We all know that in the past winning on your first or second start was often limiting to a horse’s future prospects, and this new approach is changing that.

“I know that a number of trainers have been concerned about the consequences for a horse’s handicap rating of finishing too close behind a previous winner, and it is important that we as trainers remember the BHA’s handicapping policy is to focus on what a horse has beaten, rather than what has beaten it.”

The changes will become effective from novice races staged on Monday July 9th.

  1. Changes to penalty structure
Race Current penalty structure


Proposed changes to penalty structure
Class 3 Open Novice A winner 6lb

Of 2 races 10lb

No change
Class 3 Novice Auction A winner 6lb

Of 2 races 10lb

No change
Class 4 Open Novice Winner of auction race 3lb

For each other race 6lb

Winner of auction race up from 3lb to 4lb

For each other race up from 6lb to 7lb

Class 4 Novice Auction


For each race won 6lb For each race won up from 6lb to 7lb
Class 5 Open Novice Winner of auction race 4lb

For each other race 7lb

Winner of auction race up from 4lb to 5lb

For each other race, no change at 7lb

Class 5 & 6 Novice Auction For each race won 7lb No change


  1. Data analysis covering period 1 January – 31 May

Races staged

Year Maiden Novice TOTAL
2017 343 0 343
2018 73 (22%) 266 (78%) 339

Race competitiveness

Year Average Field Size Average SP of Favourite
2017 8.22 2.36
2018 8.64 2.29

Record of previous winners

From 1 Jan – 31 May, 353 horses carried a penalty in a novice event; 99, or 28%, of these penalty carriers won.

The profile of those 99 winners is summarised below, with those with seven or more previous runs obviously arising before the beginning of the turf season.

Previous runs Horses Winners Strike rate %
1 run 54 17 31
2 runs 138 32 23
3 runs 50 12 24
4 runs 32 14 44
5 runs 20 4 20
6 runs 23 6 26
7+ runs 36 14 29
TOTAL 353 99 28

Success rate of previous winners by penalty carried

Previous runs Horses Winners Strike rate %
3lb 6 2 33
4lb 43 14 33
6lb 47 13 28
7lb 236 63 27
More than one race 21 7 33


  1. The Racing Group advises and makes recommendations to the Executive Committee on matters relating to the race programmes for Flat and Jump racing.

The Racing Group reports to the Executive Committee.


Peter Jensen (C) – Independent Chairman
Charlie Liverton – ROA
Ed Arkell – RCA
Jon Pullin – RCA
Lee Mottershead – BHA
Lydia Hislop – BHA
Philip Newton – TBA
Ralph Beckett/Seamus Mullins– NTF, Flat/Jump, one shared vote
Richard Norris – RCA
Richard Wayman – BHA