An Essential Change for Safety
Since 1984, the Grand National celebrated as the UK's pinnacle horseracing event, has maintained a maximum limit of 40 horse runners. However, in the wake of growing concerns for the safety of jockeys and racehorses, this number will be reduced to 34 for the 2024 race. This decision was reinforced by the unfortunate demise of a horse during the 2023 event, combined with heightened concerns from animal rights activists, which led to a delay in the race's start.
Jockey Club's chief executive, Nevin Truesdale, emphasized, "The Grand National transcends our sport. Our top priority stays the safety and care of horses and jockeys. In adapting Aintree's protocols, we underline our unwavering focus on welfare and the future of British racing."
New Initiatives: Start Time and Line-Up Adjustments
To further boost safety, the Jockey Club has laid out multiple adjustments for 2024, all aiming to safeguard horses and jockeys. Significant among them is the relocation of the first fence, bringing it 60 yards closer to the start line. In conjunction with a standing start, this is projected to curtail the chance for horses to accumulate excessive speed as the race commences.
Furthermore, the starting time of the iconic race will be advanced to guarantee optimal ground conditions. The exact timing remains under discussion with ITV, the principal broadcaster. Additionally, horses will be set free to canter in front of grandstands post the horse walk, a departure from the traditional practice of being escorted out by their handler.
Refinements to Aintree's Course
Beyond modifying race protocols, the Jockey Club is devoted to substantial infrastructure alterations at the Aintree course. Key changes involve the adaptation of the inside running rail to aid in the swift retrieval of runaway horses and modifications to Fence 11, which will be lowered. All fences will now have foam and rubber toe boards for enhanced safety.
The conditions for horse participation are also being revamped. In sync with all Grade 1 races, the minimum handicap rating for entry will be elevated from 125 to 130. The Grand National Review Panel, an assembly of horseracing experts, will heighten its examination of participating horses. Specific attention will be paid to horses displaying jumping mishaps in over half of their last eight pre-race events.
Julie Harrington, chief executive of the British Horseracing Authority, voiced her support for these revamped measures. She lauded the race, stating, "The Grand National has continuously evolved, enabling it to align with contemporary norms while ensuring it remains a one-of-a-kind, electrifying spectacle and the pinnacle test for a racehorse."
With these transformations, the Jockey Club seeks to foster a harmonious balance between safeguarding participants while ensuring the Grand National retains its excitement for spectators. The objective is clear: to maintain the stature of the Grand National as the world's premier horse race while upholding the highest standards of safety and care for all involved.