Aintree changes a qualified success

Saturday saw the first races at Aintree since the latest round of modifications to the course. There were no serious falls in either the Becher Chase or the Grand Sefton, which will have been a relief to both the Bloody Hopeless Amateurs (BHA) and to the animal welfare organisations that have pressed for the Grand National fences to be made easier.

Despite this, the first test of the changed fences could not be declared completely successful. In the review of the National course two fences were identified as causing particular problems: Becher's Brook and the plain fence two jumps before it. Despite alterations to both these fences in September they were the only two obstacles to produce fallers in the Becher Chase.

Jamie Stier, director of regulation at the BHA, reminded the jockeys before the race of the changes and the need to ride responsibly. He and fellow director Tim Morris also met with course officials to discuss progress in communication approaches so that the public is kept fully informed of all safety measures in place at the National next year.

Stier said, "We are pleased with the way the fences jumped and the way the jockeys rode the course. They rode a sensible tempo, given the (very soft) ground conditions."

Jockeys and trainers, too, seemed comfortable with the changes that have been made, with both Timmy Murphy and Paddy Brennan saying that they had not led to them having to present their mounts any differently. Aidan Coleman, who fell from Abbeybraney at Becher's Brook, was also OK with the alterations. "They've done a good job. Due to the public outcry, they had to do something and I think they've just done enough without taking the character away from the place, so fair play to them. I think that's enough and it should be left like that for good now."

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The day's racing at Aintree was not without incident. The BHA's other major hobbyhorse of recent months, the whip rules, claimed Coleman as their latest victim. He pushed and cajoled Tim Vaughan's Stewarts House to a half-length victory in the Grand Sefton, but also used his whip 11 times; three more than the limit for jump racing, to hold off Paul Carberry riding Linnell.

Stier welcomed Coleman back to the weighing room with the challenge, "What are you going to do to me?" Provocative or what?

In the day's last race, the Grand Sefton, claiming rider Shane Byrne picked up a spare ride on board Pilgrims Lane when Paddy Brennan cried off suffering from dehydration. However, Milton Harris, who was representing the horse’s trainer, Martin Keighley, claimed that Brennan thought the ground was too soft for the horse, and had refused to ride. "That's not his decision. It's the owner’s or the trainer’s and we wanted to run," said an angry Harris, before adding that the horse’s owner, Sue Brown, was considering whether to make a claim against the jockey. Despite producing evidence from the on course doctor, the stewards referred the matter to the BHA.

Pilgrims Lane went no further than the third fence. After a sticky jump at the first, he blundered again at The Chair, unseating Byrne. Whether it was the change of jockey or the state of the going that led to his undoing we’ll never know, though no doubt Brennan will point to the early departure of Pilgrims Lane if he is called before the BHA's disciplinary panel.

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1 reply
  1. Ian - SP2A Owner says:

    I’m probably in a minority of one here but the BHA seem to have totally missed the most salient point of the Grand National Casualties of recent years.

    It is NOT the fences or the drops it is quite simply down to the ground. When it is Good to Firm or Firm horses “whipped up in to a frenzy” by 30 minutes of TV required parades and ceremonial clap-trap race off FAR TOO FAST and thats when the unnecessary falls and incidents occur.

    To exacerbate matters the BBC who dont give a flying fig any more about horse racing highlight the safety and casualties which in my opinion they are partly responsible for by insisting on the ridiculous pre-race hype and unnecessary parades etc.

    The Baldings and McGraths of this world deserve to be horse-whipped for joining in this frenzy against an industry without whom they would be NOTHING! – whilst quite what value John Parrott and that fat bookie add – beggars logical belief!

    I believe there is a simple solution – bearing in mind that these are 4 mile experienced Chasers who have had to acquire a decent handicap mark to qualify for the race – which have been gained in mud and rain throughout the winter – the solution is simple – if the weather wont provide genuine Good to Soft Ground – artificially water it to do the trick……

    The historic analysis shows fatalities and injuries are far lower on softish ground as the horses run a more sensible pace – a pace they are used to….

    Give the Grand National back to the NH fraternity….give them the soft ground they want and enjoy it as a great race NOT A FREAK SHOW!

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