Grand National Review by BHA

Prompted by the tragic deaths of two horses at the 2011 Grand National, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) completed a thorough review of the annual event, publishing thirty recommendations to improve the conditions and safety of the race which is held at Aintree. Age and experience are crucial factors in an event that carries the heightened risk of the Grand National. In future, horses will need to be seven-years old to enter the race, and it has been suggested that all entrants must have finished at least in fourth place in a steeplechase covering the distance of three miles or more.

In an interview, British Horseracing Authority chairman Paul Roy noted that the recent sad events highlighted the risks of the race, and brought attention to one of the core objectives of the BHA, being to protect the safety and welfare of all participants, both human and equine. While many see it as closing the stable door after the horse has bolted, the height of the two fences at Aintree which resulted in the deaths of Ornais and Dooneys Gate, will be lowered for future races.

Other recommendations include reviewing pre- and post-race procedures, with the improvement of communication being paramount. The panel for reviewing potential Grand National runners will be increased, and the veterinary inspection before the race will be mandatory. Moreover, weather-related risks will be given greater attention. In addition to the main review, the Jump Racing sub-committee of the BHA has resolved that the minimum rating for runners in the Grand National should be increased to 120, from the current 110. This will come into effect in 2012.

While acknowledging the risks of the race, Roy noted that a key reason for its continued popularity is that it is Great Britain’s most challenging race, being a supreme test for both jockeys and horses. Tens of thousands of spectators gather at Aintree to watch the Grand National, with live television coverage being watched by millions of people around the world.

World Horse Welfare has welcomed the BHA recommendations, with the organization’s chief executive, Roly Owers, noting that Aintree would need to monitor the impact of the changes made, and work along with animal welfare groups to make additional changes where necessary.

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