Grand National shortened as safety changes bid to reduce horse deaths
13:20 GMT, 20 September 2012
The 2013 Grand National will be run over about half a furlong shorter after a safety review concluded that the start should be moved closer to the first of the 30 fences.
The review, conducted by both the BHA and Aintree, will result in a change in position of the starting line by around 90 yards. The hope is that this will reduce the speed built up by the field as they run to the first fence.
Procedural changes to the starting process will also include the establishment of an larger ‘no-go’ zone, defined by a line on the track away from the starting tape. This will be extended from 15 yards to around 30 yards from a starting tape, which will be made more visible.
Changes: The 2012 Grand National brought more chaotic scenes
There will also be a general drive throughout the jumps season to improve the starting process, particularly in big races. It is hoped this will help prevent the farcical scenes which saw two false starts in April and all 40 jockeys later told that they were in breach of starting regulations even though no charges were pressed.
The safety review, the second in two years, has been carried out after both Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Synchronised and According To Pete died in this year’s race.
It was the second year running two horses have been killed in the most watched jumps race of the year, prompting calls for significant changes to the four and a half mile contest from animal welfare groups.
These included reducing the size of the 40-runner field and abolishing the drops on the landing sides of fences, particularly Becher’s Brook where According To Pete was fatally brought down by another faller.
Another significant proposal relates to the testing of a newly designed prototype fencer.
This specifically focuses on utilising materials other than the existing timber and protective rubber padding that make up the central frame of a fence, also known as the 'core'.
This work is now in development stage with prototype fences currently being assessed and it is planned that at a small number of fences be trialled with a different core at the Becher Chase meeting in December.
Fence heights will remain unchanged
John Baker, who runs Aintree Racecourse as part of his role as North West Regional Director for Jockey Club Racecourses, said: “Balancing the Grand National’s enduring appeal whilst working to reduce risk in the race is a delicate but important balance to strike.
'In recent years, we have made significant investments in safety and believe today’s announcement demonstrates we will continue to do so whilst preserving the unique character and appeal of the nation’s favourite race.'
Jamie Stier, Director of Raceday Operations and Regulation for the BHA, added: ‘Aintree and the BHA’s approach has been to reference the findings of the comprehensive 2011 Review, while taking account of any additional data and evidence collated from this year’s race.
'This includes the BHA’s thorough report into specific incidents in the 2012 running published in May. Following this year’s race, our priorities were to establish the facts surrounding the incidents that occurred during the running of the race and, secondly, to review the events which led to what was an unsatisfactory start to the race.
'We have worked closely with Aintree and consulted widely with jockeys, trainers and legitimate welfare organisations – the RSPCA and World Horse Welfare – on a range of elements related to the race.'
Horse charity World Horse Welfare has welcomed the changes but said it was disappointed that race organisers do not plan to trial a reduction in the number of horses running in next year’s race.
WHW chief executive Roly Owers said: 'We welcome Aintree’s demonstrated commitment to making the course safer and the changes proposed today which make good sense.
'We are especially encouraged by their programme of work on the fences, replacing the hard cores with softer materials to make them more forgiving to the horses. This has the potential to make a big difference to safety.
'However, we are disappointed that they have not proposed reducing the size of the field, although we note that they are keeping this under review.
'We believe that the number of fallers, unseated riders and horses being brought down by other horses in the National is too high (50 per cent in 2012).
'While there is clearly no magic formula here, changes need to be made to significantly reduce the faller rate which will reduce the number of injuries, fatalities and loose horses which pose risks to themselves and others on the course.
'We believe the single most effective way of doing this is to trial a reduction in the field size – say for three years.’