The BHB has today announced that Newbury’s Grade Two Aon Steeple Chase, to be run this year on Saturday 11th February, will now be open to five-year-old horses. Full revised conditions will be printed in the Racing Calendar of 12th January.
The matter has been looked at by BHB’s Jump Race Committee, who noted that five-year-olds were eligible for the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup, and four-year-olds could run in the Stan James King George VI Chase.
There had been no historical reason for excluding five-year-olds from the Aon Chase, but a situation had never arisen in which there was a demand for such a horse to run in the race.
However, Paul Nicholls, trainer of five-year-old Neptune Collonges, recently requested that the matter was looked into. Having won five Steeple Chases in France before joining Nicholls, the horse is ineligible to run in Novices’ Chases, but is considered a potential totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup contender, and it was logical that he was able to compete in one of the major trials for the race.
The new conditions ensure that older horses are in no way penalised by including five-year-olds in the race.
It will be considered at a later date whether to make a similar change to the Letheby and Christopher Chase (Registered as the Cotswold Chase) at Cheltenham for 2007, the full conditions of which this year have already been advertised in the Racing Calendar.
BHB Racing Manager Stuart Middleton said: “There is no historical reason in principle for the exclusion of five-year-olds, it has merely been a matter of practicality, in that we have always felt it undesirable to over burden the older horses carrying penalties, to allow for the possibility of a younger horse with a considerable weight-for-age allowance taking part, when there have not previously been any five-year-olds looking to take up the challenge. It had always been in our minds that we would review this situation if a five-year-old challenger were ever to emerge. In an open year it is great news for racing that the connections of Neptune Collonges are giving it serious consideration and we wish them the very best of luck.”