New safety rules for national
The British Horseracing Authority announced a raft of measures to make the Grand National a safer race yesterday, including the raising of the minimum age and the rating of runners, WRITES Marcus Armytage.
The six-month review, the most comprehensive since 1989, was initiated after two horses were killed in this year's race. The most significant changes, to the drops on the first fence and Becher's Brook, were announced in August to give the track time to do the work in time for its December meeting.
Yesterday's report included a further 30 recommendations -- none of them particularly drastic in isolation, but they should have a positive effect when combined -- to "enhance safety and welfare while, crucially, retaining the race's unique and challenging character."
The minimum age of a runner will go up from six to seven and the minimum rating to 120, although no horse rated less than 130 has actually made the final field for the past five years.
If the last point is window dressing, the requirement for a runner to have finished in the first four over at least three miles is significant because it ensures stamina. After Gay Trip and Specify won the race in close succession, a myth developed that a two-and-a-half miler was the type needed. That may have been the case when they hunted round for a circuit and a half, but the quality of runner is such now that the race is run at an end-to-end gallop and a horse needs to stay.
There will also be a bigger panel reviewing the suitability of all those horses entered to run over the National fences. Previously the handicapper has had a quiet word with connections of unsuitable horses and, in eight years, five have complied and had their entry fee reimbursed. The veterinary inspection prior to the National will now be rolled out to all races over the big fences.
The report also recognises the scope for improvement in communication of welfare issues.
This year the scene after the race of jockeys dismounting and water and oxygen being made available for the horses was mistakenly interpreted as evidence of extreme exhaustion. In fact the measures were designed to be preventive -- but nobody had bothered to tell the media. (© Daily Telegraph, London)