Aintree Racecourse announced new safety measures this week. Any rider who has not ridden over the Grand National fences more than twice at a Grand National Festival will be required to take part in an official course walk with a recognised BHA Jockey Coach.
The Professional Jockeys Association also confirmed its support for the decision. The course walks will happen before racing on each day of the Grand National Festival.
Andrew Tulloch, Aintree’s Clerk of the Course, explained: “We have staged course walks at the Grand National Festival for a number of years now and seen positive results.
“This is the first time it will be mandatory for certain jockeys and those who are required to walk the course can do so on any one of the three days.”
Paul Struthers, Chief Executive of the Professional Jockeys Association, said: “Voluntary course walks have been in place at Aintree for a number of years and have been a success, whilst the mandatory course walks introduced for this year’s Cheltenham Festival worked very well last week.
“We were therefore very happy to support this decision, with the course walks taking place at multiple times across the three days under the guidance of BHA Jockey Coaches Carl Llewellyn and Brian Harding.”
Aintree Racecourse and the PJA will be writing to all jockeys this week concerning arrangements at the meeting and those riders who need to undertake a course walk will be notified by the BHA at the declaration stage.
Harry Cobden, who has won the latest two renewals of the Topham Chase over the Grand National fences on Ultragold, was highly supportive: “I thought the course walk was a great idea so I went around with Carl Llewellyn on the Friday ahead of the 2017 Topham Chase.
“I subsequently won the race on Ultragold and Carl’s advice and insight proved invaluable, so much so I walked the course with him again the next day before the Grand National!”
The mandatory course walks for the less experienced jockeys among the ranks, come on the back of heightened scrutiny around horse welfare following the running of the Cheltenham Festival’s four-mile National Hunt Chase, in which three riders last week received cumulative suspensions totalling 37 days.
Two suspensions were imposed for failing to pull up, ‘contrary to the horse’s welfare’ claimed the BHA.
Sir Anthony McCoy spoke of his disgust at the suspensions live on ITV Racing last week: “I’m embarrassed for the BHA. Talk about bringing racing into disrepute. The horse that finished third, Jerrysback, he (Declan Lavery) got 10 days for that. I never thought at any stage that he did the wrong thing.
“Are you going to explain to the punters that backed Jerrysback? Or the owner, some poor owner would like to come to Cheltenham and get a horse that can walk into the winner’s enclosure and finish third or fourth and you’re going to take that away from them? It’s actually a disgrace. You get any person with experience of jump racing, whether it be a trainer, an owner or a jockey that will defend that decision. I guarantee you won’t find one senior person that will.”
A total of three races take place over the National fences next month, of which the Foxhunters is confined to amateur riders, just like the National Hunt Chase.
Public perception is everything and any new measures that heighten welfare awareness and safety at Aintree should be welcomed.