The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) today announced a trial of a series of changes to the Novice Chase programme and race conditions intended to address the trend of declining field sizes in these races.
The changes include the programming of three new £60,000 races open to horses who have run in at least two weight-for-age Novices’ or Beginners’ Chases. The races, which will be joint funded by Racecourses and the Levy Board, will be held in April 2013 and will be run over a range of distances. The races will provide three competitive, end-of-season, Levy-generating contests while also stimulating Novices’ Chase field sizes throughout the course of the year.
Further aspects of the trial are the number of weight-for-age Novices’, Beginners’ and Maiden Steeple Chases being reduced by up to 20%,and from 1st October 2012 all horses going chasing will be required to have run in at least one weight-for-age Chase prior to running in a Handicap Chase. This is similar to the system in place in Ireland, where horses must run in two weight-for-age Chases prior to being qualified to run in handicaps.
The trial period will run from October until the end of the 2012/13 Jump season, at which point the success of the scheme will be assessed against several metrics, including its effect on field size and betting turnover.
The trial and its accompanying measures follow a review including data collated over the past four seasons, which confirmed a marked decline in the number of runners in Novices’ Chases. The proposals put forward to address the issue were considered and agreed by the BHA Board.
Ruth Quinn, Director of Racing for the BHA said:
“The issue of field sizes in Novices’ Chases is one we have been concerned about for some time. Figures show a decline of 18% in field sizes since the 2007-08 season for all Novices’ Chases, and an increase of 50% in the number of races attracting only four runners or fewer.
“We recognise and value the important role Novices’ Chases play in developing the sport’s stars of the future but it was becoming increasingly hard to support a growing number of uncompetitive races. The findings highlighted the need for more radical action than our previously implemented modifications. It is our view that to take no action potentially puts the long term future of the Novice Chase programme at risk and firm measures are required to arrest the decline.
“To reduce the number of races in the programme was an obvious step. However, in isolation this was not deemed sufficient. Too many horses are running in their first Chase in a Handicap, which is having a detrimental impact on the weight-for-age Novice Chase programme, so we have decided to trial it being mandatory that horses make their chasing debut in a weight-for-age race.
“We hope that the three new, valuable finals in April will serve as a worthwhile incentive for connections of horses to run in at least two weight-for-age Novices’ Chases, as well as providing further exciting and competitive end-of-season races for the punter.”
“Initially the scheme will be trialled from 1st October through to the conclusion of the 2012/13 Jump season. At the end of this period we will consider the success of the scheme across several criteria. Our objective is to increase the average field size, which in turn will drive betting and also preserve a significant element of the Novice Chase programme.”
Tasha Power, Operations Executive for the Levy Board, said:
“The Levy Board is contributing £90,000 towards this initiative. It will provide three competitive Levy-generating contests and underpin high quality Novice Chasing through the season. The Levy Board is also looking at additional funding in other areas to increase prize money and opportunities for horsemen”.
Richard Wayman, Chief Executive of the Racehorse Owners Association (ROA) and a member of the Racing Committee said:
“The ROA recognises that, to protect the future of these essential races, action is required to ensure that they don’t start to disappear from the programme in an unmanaged or un-coordinated way. The importance of these races in providing young chasers with the opportunity to learn their trade cannot be overstated and we believe that, particularly by pruning those races that are not well supported and by creating a small number of valuable opportunities in the spring, there are good reasons to believe that this trial will lead to a healthier and better balanced Novice Chase programme.”