One of the lines from Natalie Imbruglia’s song in the 1990’s goes “I’m torn”, and that is exactly how I felt about the bombshell announcement that the Jockey Club made on Thursday 12th October with regard to changes that will be come into effect in the Grand National 2024 and beyond.
The Jockey Club, supported by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), announced several changes to the Grand National, which takes place at Aintree Racecourse.
Grand National Race Changes
The key changes can be categorised into five different areas:
- Reducing the risk of incidents by decreasing the current maximum number of runners from 40 to 34.
- Reducing the opportunity for horses to build up too much initial speed by moving the first fence closer to the start and implementing a standing start.
- Providing the best possible ground conditions for the horses by bringing the start time forward.
- Investing in further developments to the course infrastructure.
- Ensuring that the horses participating are in the best condition to do so.
As a lifelong supporter of the Grand National I was immediately aghast at the headline news that the numbers competing would be reduced.
The traditionalist in me went straight into protectionist mode and I put up a self-imposed barrier to this announcement – “they can’t do this, it’s doing away with the history of the race”, I thought to myself as I raged inside.
But after the initial shock and a few hours of contemplation and deliberation, I did have to question elements of my own moral compass and ask myself “Am I opposing these moves, simply for opposing them sake?”
Why The Changes Are Needed
I must admit that last year – my 30th Grand National in attendance, I did find elements of the race (and the raceday itself) an unedifying spectacle.
Stood with long time racing friends/fans, we did question how the race must have been perceived outside of our own racing bubble and with a neutral audience live on TV.
Some might say the changes to the race are simply pandering to a few, but it’s much more than that.
It really is a watershed moment to bring horse racing’s “relentless focus on welfare” to the fore and into a modern era.
Things have to evolve and do evolve, and as custodians of the sport we have to move with the times too.
Lucinda Russell Trainer Reaction
Dual Grand National-winning trainer Lucinda Russell, who I have maximum respect for as she knows horses and horse welfare inside out, has given her full support to the changes that have been announced:
She said: “I think these changes announced today are a clear sign again that Aintree and The Jockey Club continue to be proactive in trying to support the Grand National and the wider sport of horseracing.
“I am fully supportive of reducing the field size and I don’t feel that six fewer runners will make a difference to the heritage of the race – it can only be a good step and hopefully will help improve the start procedures.
“Aintree do a wonderful job in always producing perfect ground conditions; it is ground on the soft side of good which is the way it should be.
“The level of welfare in racing is phenomenal and something we should be proud of. Once again Aintree is trying to make things safer.”
So if these race changes are good enough for a true horse professional like Lucinda, then it’s good enough for a mere horse racing writer, pundit and tipster like me.
Let’s embrace these changes and move forward with our great sport.
Words by Steve Mullington