BHA update on the novice programme for three-year-old and older horses

25 May 2018 BHA Features Racing/Fixtures

From Richard Wayman, BHA Chief Operating Officer – 23rd May 2018

We are aware that a number of trainers have expressed concerns about the change made at the beginning of the year to convert the vast majority of maiden races for three-year-olds and older horses into novice races. This followed on from the same change having been successfully introduced to the two-year-programme over the previous couple of years.

This new approach was based on feedback from connections saying that winning a race too soon in a horse’s career could be limiting to its future prospects and the main aim of the change is to provide an improved programme of races for horses that win on one of their early visits to the racecourse.

Previously three-year-olds and older horses that won on their debut or their second start had few options other than stepping straight into handicap company or, alternatively, aiming for a Listed or Pattern race. The latter often outfaced a young, inexperienced horse. As for the handicap option, the handicapper would have very limited information on which to allot a handicap rating. This could, of course, work both ways in that the horse’s rating could underestimate its ability and the horse then make a mockery of whatever handicap it turned up in; on the other hand, if the handicapper overestimated its ability, this could damage the horse’s development by over-facing them against more seasoned campaigners at a formative time in their career.

A few months into this new system, we would like to reassure trainers that we are closely monitoring these races and, working with the NTF, we’ll review the results from the first half of the year once we get to the end of June. In the meantime and for your information, the headline numbers since the beginning of the year to 14 May include:

  • The programme has included 228 novice races and 59 maiden races giving a total of 287 races. This compares with 291 maiden races during the same period in 2017.
  • The average field size in the 287 races in 2018 has been 8.36, which compares with 8.09 in the 291 races in 2017. The average starting price of the favourite is 2.27/1 this year, compared with 2.34/1 last year.
  • There have been 306 horses carrying a penalty in a novice race so far this year, of which 87 (28%) won. 38% of the novice races have been won by penalty carriers with 62% won by maidens.
  • There have been 259 individual winners of the novice and maiden races staged this year. Last year, there were 291 individual winners of the maiden races.

When we consider this, as well at looking at the data, we’ll focus on a number of specific areas:

  • Eligibility – Since the beginning of April, previous winners with more than six runs have been excluded from novice races on the basis that they are intended as developmental races for lightly raced horses rather than more experienced types that have only won once or twice. Is six runs the appropriate cut-off point for previous winners?
  • Balance of novice and maiden races – The race programme currently comprises 80% novices, 20% maidens. Is this balance right? Some trainers have said that the pace of novice races makes them a tougher place to start for inexperienced horses than maiden races. On the other hand, if there are more maiden races, this runs the risk of maidens avoiding novice races and therefore increasing the likelihood of small fields.
  • Penalty structure – Are penalties at the right level?

It is still early days and the new approach remains work-in-progress but pleased be assured we are listening to feedback from trainers. At the heart of the changes we have made is our desire to provide a programme that encourages horses to win early in their careers and also supports their future development. However, if changes are required to make the system work better, they will be made and we will be working closely with the NTF to ensure that any lessons are learnt from the first half of this year.