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Grand National safety under scrutiny


12:01am 13th April 2012

This weekend (Saturday 14th April 2012) will see the first Grand National take place since big changes at Aintree.

For safety reasons, some of the fences have been reduced.

Last year (2011) two horses died during the steeplechase, increasing protests from animal welfare groups.

It prompted a review to take place by Aintree Racecourse and the British Horseracing Authority (BHA).

The findings of the Grand National Review Group related specifically to the Grand National Course and its fences. They found that a balanced package of modifications was the right way to proceed with the aim of enhancing safety for competitors. They analysed all races run on the Grand National Course since 1990 (when the course was significantly remodelled).
In addition, consultation was conducted with the RSPCA, the World Horse Welfare, the National Trainers Federation (NTF) and Professional Jockeys Association (PJA).

The modifications to the Grand National Course announced today are:
1. The landing side of Becher’s Brook (fence six on the first circuit and fence twenty-two on the second circuit) will be re-profiled to reduce the current drop (i.e. the difference in height between the level of the ground on takeoff and landing) by between 10cm (4 inches) and 12.5cm (5 inches) across the width of the fence. This will provide a more level landing area for horses. After the work is complete the drop will be approximately 25cm (10 inches) on the inside of the course and 15cm (6 inches) on the outside of the course. This difference in drop from the inside to the outside of the fence is being retained to encourage riders to spread out across the width of the fence and also to retain the unique characteristics of Becher’s Brook. The height of the fence will remain unaltered at 4 feet 10 inches (1.47 metres).
2. Levelling work will also be undertaken on the landing side of the First fence (fence 17 on the second circuit) to reduce the current drop and provide a more level landing.  By doing so, this amendment aims to avoid catching out horses that may ‘over-jump’ the (first) fence in the early stage of the race. The height of the fence will remain unaltered at 4 feet 6 inches (1.37 metres).
3. The Fourth fence will be reduced in height by 2 inches to 4 foot 10 inches (1.47 metres). It was identified during the review that fence Four and fence Six (Becher’s) were statistically more difficult to jump than other fences in all races over the National fences and this is the reason for this change.
4. The height of toe boards on all National fences will be increased to 14 inches (36cm). Toe boards are the orange board, positioned at the base of the fence and provide a clear ground line to assist horses in determining the base of the fence.

Julian Thick, Managing Director of Aintree Racecourse, said:

“The safety and welfare of horses and riders is always our number one priority at Aintree. This is the latest stage in our continuous drive to make the Grand National Course as safe as possible. The Grand National is an unparalleled challenge over four miles and four furlongs and this unique event is the most famous race in the world.
“It is not possible to completely eliminate risk in horse racing. However, I am confident the course changes will, over time, have a positive impact. We will continue to monitor this carefully and make further improvements and modifications to the course if required as part of our ongoing commitment to safety.”

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