BHA to trial new approach to Flat Novice and Maiden race programme for two-year-olds

19 Oct 2015 Racing/Fixtures
  • Around 90% of Maiden races in the first half of the season to be converted to Novice contests on a trial basis
  • Move designed to provide improved programme and incentive for winners to run more often, and to reduce the number of small-field races
  • Change is a result of extensive consultation with trainers and agreement of clear need to address the issue

The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) has today announced the trial of a new approach to the two-year-old Flat Novice and Maiden race programme in the first half of 2016.

Its aim is to address a long-held concern that two-year-olds who win in the early part of the season, prior to the introduction of nursery handicaps, have very few opportunities to assist them along the path of development after an initial early season success. Those opportunities that do currently exist tend to attract very small, uncompetitive fields, with an average of 4.83 runners per race over the last two seasons and an average SP for the favourite of 10/11.

The trial will see the significant majority of Maiden races (c. 90% or around 175 races) converted to Novice contests between the start of the Flat Turf season and the beginning of July when Nursery Handicaps commence. It is designed to provide a more attractive programme for winning two-year-olds to compete again, and to reduce the number of small-field races.

Ruth Quinn, Director of International Racing and Racing Development, said:

“The BHA has been in consultation with trainers on this matter over the course of a few years and several different proposals have been raised during this time, but one thing that was generally consistent was an acknowledgment of the need to act to address this issue.

“We should have a system in place that encourages progression, and as things stand that development programme for two-year-olds in the first half of the season is not working.

“The idea of taking this significant step to convert a proportion of Maiden races to Novices effectively replicates the approach to the Novice Hurdle programme, where winners, maidens and unraced horses compete against each other on a regular basis.

“We accept that this is a major change and therefore potentially a brave move. However, only by making such a significant change does the BHA feel that it can offer a meaningful improvement to the programme for winning horses, whilst also reducing the number of small-field races at a time when this is such an important issue for the sport. The changes we make will be on a trial basis at first and we will monitor the success of the trial before committing to anything in the longer term.

“It is anticipated that early season Novice races will largely be contested by debutants (akin to existing Maiden races), but it is hoped that the amended programme would act as an encouragement for the majority of two-year-old winners to run again.

“A penalty structure will be put in place which avoids deterring debutantes or as-yet-unsuccessful horses from running against winners, which they previously would have avoided if they had been able to compete in Maiden races.

“The BHA will monitor this penalty structure closely in the early part of the trial and will be ready to adjust race conditions where necessary if evidence indicates that any specific advantage is being given to either winners or to maiden horses in these new events.”

The opportunity to compete for more bonus prizes as races are switched from Maidens to Novices now significantly enhances the value of Plus 10 qualification as horses qualified for Plus 10 are currently eligible to win an unlimited number of £10,000 bonuses.

Notes to Editors

1. In recent years the BHA has explored various ideas for change in order to safeguard the continued existence of a programme of opportunities for winning two-year-olds.

These included improving the balance of the programme of Novice races, modifying the race conditions and penalty structures of existing Novice contests and simultaneously increasing their value to a minimum of £10,000, via support received from the BHA’s Development Fund. In addition, Novice races were highlighted as qualifying for an increased bonus amount under the previous British Owners and Breeders Incentive Scheme (BOBIS).

Whilst the increase in prize money appeared to have a small impact on field sizes (+0.58 of a runner), it certainly did not solve the field size problem or, therefore, the growing uncertainty about this race type and the question surrounding the likelihood of Novice races being retained within the race programme in the future.

2. Details about the growth of the two-year-old population and other field-size related data can be found here: http://www.britishhorseracing.com/mid-year-review-shows-early-signs-of-improvement/

3. More details about the Plus 10 bonus scheme can be found here: http://www.plus10bonus.com/

4. Horses bought at auction would not necessarily have to compete against winners of Open Maidens, but will still be able to run in Novice Auction and Median Auction events.