Clear progression pathways and greater incentives to run form core recommendations of Novices’ Chases review

08 Aug 2017 BHA Features Grassroots Racecourse Racing/Fixtures
  • Working group consisting of BHA, trainers, media, owners and racecourse representatives makes series of recommendations
  • Recommendations include trial of alterations to handicapping practices, programming of confined races and an increase in number of weight-for-age Novices’ Chases
  • Objectives provide clearer pathways for Novice Chasers at all levels of ability and improve the competitiveness of Novices’ Chase races

The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) has today published a series of recommendations made by a dedicated working group who were tasked with reviewing the Novice Chase system. Their specific objective was to investigate the optimal pathway for Novice Chasers at all levels of ability and provide a programme which supports the development of these horses and improves the competitiveness of Novices’ Chase races.

While recent alterations to the Novices’ Chase programme have contributed to a small uplift in the number of horses being sent over fences, and as such the average field sizes and ‘success rate’ of these races, it was agreed that further steps need to be taken. It is essential for the future health of the sport that the race programme works in a manner that incentivises trainers and owners to send horses of all abilities Chasing.

The working group included representatives of the BHA, media, owners, racecourses and active Jump trainers. As part of the process a detailed data analysis was carried out, supported by the formulation of a questionnaire for Jump trainers and the exploration of a variety of proposals.

The recommendations, which were approved by the sport’s cross-industry Racing Group and the BHA Board and will be implemented from 1 October 2017, are as follows:

  • No handicap rating increase in weight-for-age Novices’ Chases of Class 2 and below other than for the winner. This will only apply to horses who have already made four appearances over obstacles (either hurdles or fences) and be introduced on a trial basis.This system mirrors a trial which is being implemented in Flat conditions races in 2017. While it is not borne out by handicapping data, it is understood that a preconception exists amongst trainers that running in close proximity to a higher rated opponent in Novices’ Chases race may result in a significant rise in a horse’s handicap rating.The working party felt that perception can be as important as reality and to encourage more horses to run in weight-for-age Novices’ Chases, trainers’ preconceptions of the handicappers’ reaction needs to be addressed.
  • An increase in the number of weight-for-age Novices’ Chases, to be balanced by a decrease in number of Novices’ handicap Chases. A maximum increase of 25% on the current programme of 200 weight-for-age Chases was proposed
  • Programming of six confined races during the autumn for horses which have not won more than one race over hurdles. This proposal is aimed at providing a pathway for the later-maturing type destined for Chasing.Analysis of the horse population revealed a pool of 948 horses went chasing who would have fulfilled this criteria in 2016/17
  • Rating band for the Listed Novices’ Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival to be increased to 0-145 (from 0-140).This race has become a key seasonal target for many Novice Chasers, resulting in the cut off for elimination this year being 137. Increasing the banding to 0-145 was considered a more sensible cut off for the handicap and key to the success of the new system, with horses rated 146 and above more than capable of holding their own in Graded company.
  • Valuable Novices’ Handicap Chase Series Final to be programmed in the spring. Racecourses to be given the opportunity to apply to stage the £100,000 Final, which will be supported by the BHA Development Fund. Horses must run in at least two weight-for-age Novices’ or Beginners’ Chase during the season in order to enter the Final.

As part of this process it was considered whether a criteria should be added whereby horses should have to run in one or more weight-for-age Chases in order to re-qualify for a Chase handicap mark, rather than the current system of being able to transfer a hurdle rating to run in handicap Chases. However, there was strong agreement that this would impact negatively, particularly for lower rated horses who had already had their three qualifying runs in order to gain a Hurdles rating, only to have to run in a further three qualifying weight-for-age Chases to run in Handicap Chases.

Paul Johnson, Head of Racing for the BHA, said:

“Novices’ Chases are popular races and can be thrilling spectacles where the potential future stars of the sport experience their first tastes of competition over new obstacles. However, it is not enough to rely on this alone. In order to safeguard the future of the category action must be taken to ensure that these races provide a competitive and compelling spectacle on a more consistent basis and that there is an incentive for horses to be sent over the larger obstacles.

“We have made several alterations to the Novices’ Chase programme in recent years. While these changes have contributed to marginal improvements in the number of horses going Novice Chasing, average field sizes, and the number of races attracting eight or more runners, it was agreed that more needs to be done. Continued focus and improvement of this part of the programme is viewed as necessary for the long-term health of the category and the sport.

“Amongst the feedback we received was the view that there needs to be more structure to the Novices’ Chase programme in order that a trainer and owners knows that, whatever the quality of the horse they are going to send over fences, there is a clear pathway for that horse to develop. It is also clear that more needs to be done to incentivise horses to take up more engagements in these races, particularly weight-for-age contests.

“We would like to thank those trainers and other industry stakeholders who contributed to this review. We look forward to monitoring the impact of these proposals over the coming season.”

Champion Jump trainer Nicky Henderson said:

“These are really excellent initiatives and will really help the good horses to come through the system. The very good horses have always been well catered for but it’s the “good without being really top class” horses that will now be so much better catered for.  I especially like the confined races, for horses which have not won more than one hurdle race, I think these will be particularly popular and I think those unusual conditions are something that we should look at doing more of.”

Emma Lavelle, trainer and member of the Novices’ Chases working group, added:

“I think these alterations to the programme for Novice Chasers should enhance the opportunities for all horses at all levels and hopefully the knock on effect of that will be an increase in field sizes.”

Nick Alexander, trainer and further member of the Novices’ Chases working group, said:

“It’s great that we will now be able to run our young chasers in weight-for-age Novices’ Chases without worrying about adversely affecting their handicap marks. Whatever the reality, the perception is that you risk your handicap mark going up without winning and this has stopped people running in them in the past. It’s also great news that there will be another valuable Handicap Final specifically for Novices and the two-run qualification should also help field sizes in weight-for-age Novice’s Chases.”

Notes to editors:

1. Membership of the Novices Chases working group was as follows:

Nick Alexander – Trainer
Philip Hobbs – Trainer
Emma Lavelle – Trainer
Dan Skelton – Trainer
Jon Pullin – Racing Director (ARC)
Richard Norris – Group Racing Director (Jockey Club)
Charlie Liverton – Chief Executive (ROA)
Lee Mottershead – Reporter (Racing Post)
Mark Olley – Handicapper (BHA)
Paul Johnson – Head of Racing (BHA)
Stuart Middleton – Racing Manager (BHA)
Nick Dartnall – Race Planning Executive (BHA)

2. Novices’ Chases data

Runners and average runs per year in Novices’ Chases







Average field size, success and failure rates for Novices’ Chases, by season



Average field size, success and failure rates for weight-for-age Novices’ Chases, by season


Average field size, success and failure rates for handicap Novices’ Chases, by season


Proportion of Hurdlers going Novice Chasing, by season and country