The four fences on the Grand National course that have had their construction changed came through their first test onSaturday with flying colours. Although there were fallers in the two races run over the National fences, none of them were at the modified jumps, and none of the horses that did fall suffered significant injury.
John Baker, the regional director of Jockey Club Racecourses responsible for Aintree, said: "We were delighted with how the Grand National fences jumped today, including the trial fences, and we had some fantastic feedback from the professionals."
Jockey Robert Thornton also praised the fences, saying on Twitter, "Great job done by Aintree racecourse and the BHA [British Horseracing Authority] with the fences. They rode great and are well presented."
Two open ditches, fences three and eleven, have been rebuilt with a core of natural birch, whilst fences 13 and 14, which are also the last two jumps in the National itself, now feature a plastic birch core.
Andrew Tulloch, clerk of the course at Aintree, explained the impact of the changes to BBC Sport. He said, “We’ve traditionally had a rigid timber frame, which has foam padding along the leading edge, but is solid. We have replaced four of those with an alternative, which will be a bit more forgiving. If the horse hits something solid at racing speed it can unbalance it and cause a fall, but now if horses knock the spruce off, there will be a softer frame underneath. Other horses should be able to brush through it without injuring themselves. If it is successful we will roll it out to the other fences. The fences are outwardly the same. We are not lowering them - that could potentially make the horses go quicker."
The authorities will be relieved that the day’s racing passed off without incident. If the modified fences represent the future, then the day’s feature race, the Becher Chase, was almost a look back to the past. Veteran Hello Bud, who at the age of 14 could well have been retired a year or two back, won it.
Hello Bud is no stranger to the Aintree fences, and has already had three goes at the National, with a best-placed fifth in 2010. He had many of the right credentials for Saturday’s race, and matched the profile for a winner in almost every respect. Just his age stood against him.
Clearly, nobody had told Hello Bud that age mattered, and he was up in the lead for most of the race, just holding on to give Nigel Twiston-Davies a fifth Becher success. You might think this would be a suitable high note on which to go out, but Twiston-Davies, who owns the horse as well as training it, was having none of that.
He said, “Hello Bud is 100%. He’s quite extraordinary. He’s tough as teak. I haven’t a clue where he’ll go next but we’ll make up our minds over Christmas. If he’s really well, though, there’s no reason at all why he shouldn’t run in the National. He’ll be 15 but it’s only four months away so why shouldn’t he be in just as good form. A performance like Saturday’s would have put him in with a place, probably, wouldn’t it?”
It isn’t unknown for a 15 year old to win the National, though none of us were around to see it done. That was in 1853, when a horse called Peter Simple won the race for a second time.