As part of a BHA review of the annual John Smith's Grand National, the minimum age of entries is to increase to seven from six years. Following the death of two horses in the 2011 Grand National, Ornais and Dooneys Gate, a study, designed to continue enhancing the safety and welfare, was undertaken and it is from this study that 30 recommendations have been made, including the increase of the minimum age.
Back in August, parts of the review were published when it was announced there would be changes to some of the fences and to the course topography. However, the completed analysis was only released on Wednesday with another significant change being announced which is that horses must have previously finished fourth or better in a chase of 3m or further to be allowed entry.
According to the BHA, there will be “more targeted suitability criteria for all the race's participants and increased membership for the existing authority panel which reviews the suitability of those horses entered in all races over the Grand National fences”.
BHA chairman Paul Roy said: “The review group has submitted recommendations that will enhance the safety and welfare of jockeys and horses participating in the race, whilst removing none of the magic that makes the Grand National one of the most exciting, best-loved and enduring sporting events in the world.”
The review, which involved discussion with Aintree, the Professional Jockeys Association, the National Trainers Federation and the RSPCA, found there was a “lack of evidence” to reduce the maximum number of runners from 40 and change the position of the start and run to the first fence.
Unbeknown to the public or the media in 2011, riders were instructed to dismount from their horses with ground staff on hand with water and oxygen. However, this edict was not communicated properly and as a result, scenes scenes of jockeys dismounting and water and oxygen being made available to horses post the Grand National were mistakenly interpreted as evidence of extreme fatigue on the part of the horses.
“We have learned some valuable lessons from the events of 2011, one of which is that we need to work harder and be more effective at communicating our positive, proactive welfare work,” said Morris, the BHA's director of equine science and welfare, who described events at the National as upsetting.
Changes to the National fences included modifying the two at which the horses died in this year's race.