Aintree Racecourse and the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) today announced a package of considered changes to the John Smith’s Grand National. The measures include moving the position of the Grand National start and a selection of other modifications including fence design, landing areas and further investment in irrigation to be implemented ahead of the 2013 running of the race.
John Baker who runs Aintree Racecourse as part of his role as North West Regional Director for Jockey Club Racecourses, said:
“Balancing the Grand National’s enduring appeal whilst working to reduce risk in the race is a delicate but important balance to strike. In recent years we have made significant investments in safety and believe today’s announcement demonstrates we will continue to do so whilst preserving the unique character and appeal of the nation’s favourite race.”
Jamie Stier, Director of Raceday Operations and Regulation for the BHA, said:
“Aintree and the BHA’s approach has been to reference the findings of the comprehensive 2011 Review, while taking account of any additional data and evidence collated from this year’s race. This includes the BHA’s thorough report into specific incidents in the 2012 running published in May.
“Following this year’s race our priorities were to establish the facts surrounding the incidents that occurred during the running of the race and, secondly, to review the events which led to what was an unsatisfactory start to the race. We have worked closely with Aintree and consulted widely with jockeys, trainers and legitimate welfare organisations such as the RSPCA and World Horse Welfare on a range of elements related to the race.”
Grand National start
Changes to be implemented to the Grand National start can be summarised as follows:
• Start to be moved forward by around 90 yards, away from the crowds and grandstands
• The Grand National will be run over a distance of about 4miles 3½ furlongs
• The “no-go” zone defined by a line on the track will be extended from fifteen yards to around 30 yards from the starting tape
• Starter’s rostrum moved to a position between starting tape and “no-go” zone to reduce potential for horses get on top of the starting tape prematurely
• More user-friendly start tapes to be used, with increased visibility
• With effect from this Autumn a concerted drive to redress the sometimes much faster approaches towards the tape which can occur in bigger races as the Jump season progresses. This will involve a more consistent methodology across the Starters team in the application and enforcement of the Rules at the start of a Race.
• A specific briefing between the Starters team and Jockeys on the day of the Grand National
• Additional measures put in place to minimise the possibility of a rider-less horse travelling an extended distance before being caught prior to the start
Jamie Stier added:
“Our objective in recommending changes to the start is to identify ways in which we can create a calmer and more controlled environment for both horse and rider. We recognise that there is pressure and tension before the race and we want to alleviate that where possible.”
Other actions and findings from Aintree and the BHA’s annual review of the Grand National include:
One recommendation was that Aintree and the BHA embark on a three-year research and development programme looking at alternative fence designs for the Grand National course. This specifically focuses on utilising materials other than the existing timber and protective rubber padding that make up the central frame of a fence, also known as the “core”. This work is now in development stage with prototype fences currently being assessed and it is planned that at a small number of fences be trialled with a different core at the Becher Chase meeting in December. Fence heights will remain unchanged.
Forming part of the racecourse’s on-going programme of works, Becher’s Brook has undergone further levelling of the wider landing zone, correcting the settlement which occurred following works carried out in 2011. This will not change either the dimensions or the character of the fence (the current drop i.e. the difference in height between the level of the ground on take-off and landing, will remain at ten inches on the inside of the course and six inches on the outside of the course).
Following the 2011 Review, the landing area of the first fence was levelled to smooth out undulations existing in the natural terrain. This process has now been extended to fences 4, 5 and 13. All works were carried out in the summer to ensure time for the course to settle prior to racing over this course in December.
Following the extensive 2011 Review into the Grand National, the BHA agreed to maintain the safety factor at 40 runners. The Grand National course and fences allow enough racing surface to accommodate this number of runners. After considering the 2012 Grand National race there is no additional evidence to suggest the course is unable to accommodate this number of runners. However, the BHA and Aintree will continue to monitor this.
Further investment in irrigation
To enable the Aintree team to deliver its commitment to producing the safest jumping ground possible, in addition to the £150,000 invested in 2011, an additional £100,000 has been invested in further improving the course’s watering capabilities.
Following investments in 2009 to create bypassing areas and a catching pen at Canal Turn, an additional catching pen will be trialled in the region of fence 4 to assist in the catching of riderless horses and mitigate risk of injury if running loose.
John Baker who runs Aintree Racecourse as part of his role as North West Regional Director for Jockey Club Racecourses, added:
“With regard to the modifications and improvements made to the course, all the measures have been carefully considered and are evidence based, in line with Aintree’s on-going commitment to safety and welfare. We will continue to repeat this process on an annual basis and monitor the many variables involved.
“Further to the extensive 2011 Review, our policy remains one of making changes based on evidence and practical experience. It is vital we don’t create other unintended consequences as a result of change, which is why the steps being taken this year continue to be measured.
“These latest changes enforce the fact that we have never stood still when it comes to safety and welfare. However, we are fully aware in racing that you cannot remove risk altogether. What we can do is continue to act and learn from modifications we’ve made to ensure the Grand National remains the world’s greatest Steeplechase.”