Modifications to the Grand National course have been made in recent years, which culminated in 2013 with plastic frames being introduced into most of the famous fences and the start being moved forward by about 90 yards, to bring the horses closer to the first fence.
Both measures have been very successful. Probably for the first time ever in the Grand National’s history, the 2013 renewal saw all 40 runners and riders navigate the first seven fences, including Becher’s Brook, successfully, with the first incidents coming at the eighth, the Canal Turn, where Big Fella Thanks, The Rainbow Hunter and Treacle unseated their respective riders. There were 17 finishers in 2013, 18 in 2014 and 19 last year.
Andrew Tulloch, Regional Head of Racing Jockey Club Racecourses NW & Aintree’s Clerk of the Course commented: “We have made quite a few changes over the last decade and we are very happy with the new frames and how the fences ride.
“We are delighted with what happened during the last three Grand Nationals and no further changes to the course are planned but, as always, welfare is uppermost in our minds and we do not stand still, reviewing everything on an annual basis.
“The 2013, 2014 and 2015 Grand Nationals went well and our thanks go to trainers, owners, jockeys, the welfare organisations with whom we consult, and many others within equestrian disciplines that we involve.”
The details of the changes made before the 2013 renewal of the Grand National are listed below.
GRAND NATIONAL START
The start was moved forward by around 90 yards, closer to the first fence and away from the crowds and grandstands. The 2013 Grand National was run the shorter distance of four miles, three furlongs and about 110 yards, rather than four and a half miles.
The ‘no-go’ zone defined by a line on the track was extended from 15 yards to 30 yards from the starting tape. The starter’s rostrum was moved to a position between the starting tape and the ‘no-go’ zone to reduce the potential for horses to get on top of the starting tape prematurely. More user-friendly start tapes were used, with increased visibility.
A concerted drive to redress the sometimes much faster approaches towards the tape which can occur in bigger races was instituted since the autumn of 2012. It involves a more consistent methodology across the starting teams in the application and enforcement of the Rules at the start of a race. A specific briefing between the starting team and jockeys takes place on the day of the Grand National.
Additional measures were put in place to minimise the possibility of a riderless horse travelling an extended distance before being caught prior to the start.
AHEAD OF 2015
The British Horseracing introduced a number amendments to starting procedures for Jump races, which were be written into the Rules of Racing and came into being on 13th October, 2014. The new procedures were ratified by both the BHA Board and Rules Committee after a constructive meeting between the BHA, Professional Jockeys Association (PJA), Aintree and Cheltenham Racecourses led to a series of proposals for the improvements.
The field must come forward at a walk and no faster than a jig-jog, and races will not be started if the field lines up and commences to move forward before the starter raises his flag or if the field approaches the start faster than a jig-jog before the tape is released and the flag lowered.
If a false start occurs, the field will regroup at the marker pole and a standing start to the satisfaction of the starter will be effected, with a walk-in start not tried again.
The Grand National of 2015 was the first to experience the new starting procedure and all went smoothly.
Aintree and the British Horseracing Authority embarked on a three-year research and development programme looking at alternative fence designs for the Grand National course in 2011 and this has focused on utilising materials other than the existing timber and protective rubber padding that made up the central frame of a fence.
A small number of Grand National fences with different frames were trialled successfully during the Becher Chase fixture in December, 2012 when two races were run over the Grand National course.
All the timber central frames in the plain fences (fences 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 13 and 14) on the Grand National course were replaced with the Easyfix plastic birch unit. The three timber frames in the open ditches (fences 3, 11 & 15) were replaced with natural birch.
Forming part of the racecourse’s on-going programme of works, Becher’s Brook underwent further levelling of the wider landing zone, correcting the settlement which occurred following works carried out in 2011.
This has not changed either the dimensions or the character of the fence (the current drop, i.e. the difference in height between the level of the ground on take- off and landing sides, will remain at 10 inches on the inside of the course and six inches on the outside of the course).
Following the 2011 Review, the landing area of the first fence was levelled to smooth out undulations existing in the natural terrain. This process has now been extended to fences 4, 5 and 13. All works were carried out during summer of 2012.
THE HORSE COMES FIRST
The Horse Comes First is an initiative designed to increase awareness of the first class care and attention racehorses receive throughout and after their careers in racing.
British racing is among the best regulated animal activities in the world. Together with the RSPCA and World Horse Welfare, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) is a co-signatory to the National Equine Welfare Protocol and through its commitment to horse welfare British racing has a track record to be proud of.
Among a horse population estimated to be around one million, racehorses in Britain are among the healthiest and best looked after two per cent in the country. British racing is committed to providing the best possible standards of veterinary care and since 2000 the sport has invested over £27 million in veterinary research and education projects, investment from which all breeds of horse benefit.
The Horse Comes First works closely with the charity Retraining of Racehorses (RoR) and the initiative is backed by leading organisations and veterinary surgeons in British racing, including the BHA, the Racecourse Association, the Racehorse Owners Association, the National Trainers Federation, the Professional Jockeys Association, the National Association of Stable Staff, The Jockey Club and the Arena Racing Company.