While we focus on the delights of Goodwood and Galway, the British Horseracing Authority has announced a whole raft of changes to the 2013/14 Jump Racing programme. They fall into three areas: pattern, structure and cosmetic. It’s the last of these that will strike a positive note with the greatest number of racing fans.
Let’s start by looking at the changes to the Pattern Race calendar. Explaining the changes, Ruth Quinn, Director of Racing at the BHA, said, “The quality within the Jump Pattern remains very high, and the success of races at the top end of the jumping scale is evident. The Jump Racing Committee recently considered a number of applications for upgrade and we’re really pleased to be able to support four races being promoted to Grade 1.”
Those races are the Mildmay Novices’ Chase and the Mersey Novices’ Hurdle at the Grand National meeting, the bet365.com Celebration Chase at Sandown’s April meeting, and the Jewson Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. That represents very rapid promotion for the Jewson, as Simon Claisse, Clerk of the Course at Cheltenham noted. “After three very successful years since the race was introduced in 2011, the Jewson Novices’ Chase, registered as the Golden Miller, continues to attract the best novices over two and a half miles. We are delighted this contest, won in 2012 by Sir Des Champs, has been upgraded to Grade 1 status reflecting the depth of strength in the race.”
The upgrade takes the total of Grade 1 races at the Festival to 13.
The announcement also provided a boost for racing in the north, with black type jumps racing appearing for the first time at Carlisle in October and Musselburgh in the shape of February’s John Smith’s Scottish Triumph Hurdle Trial.
A second strand of the Pattern upgrade focuses on races for fillies and mares. Last season the BHA launched an initiative to help increase the value of mares and fillies at sale, by providing more races specifically for them. Ruth Quinn again: “Whilst 50% of the thoroughbreds born are fillies, the number of those that, having been bred to go jumping, actually do so, leaves considerable scope for growth. Against the backdrop of a horse population that has been contracting in the last five years, there is an ever greater incentive for us to create a programme that encourages quality mares and fillies to have the opportunity to demonstrate their ability on the racecourse before going to the paddocks.”
The BHA is extremely pleased at how well the seven Listed hurdle races introduced last year performed, both in the number of horses running and in the quality they produced. L’Unique, winner of one of these, went on to Grade 1 success at the Aintree Festival, and in all but one of the races; the first four home achieved an average end of season handicap mark of 125 or more, fully 12 pounds higher than the target rating set out.
For next season, the programme is to be increased, with two Listed bumper races at Cheltenham and Huntingdon, and a Mares’ Listed Hurdle race at Warwick.
Novice Chase races also came under scrutiny last season, which takes us on to structural changes in the racing programme. Here the objective was to address the problem of smaller fields in this type of race.
The BHA carried out a trial from October 2012 to the end of the season, which primarily involved a 20% reduction in the number of novice, beginner and maiden chases in which four and five year olds received a weight allowance from older horses. Additionally, three valuable races at £60,000 each of which came into the programme proved their worth and will be retained. The impact on the number of runners was positive, with the average filed size for novice chases up from 5.6 to 6.8, and a reduction of a third in the number of novice races attracting fewer than six runners.
There is some minor tinkering with the conditions of some Novice Chases for next season, which have met with approval from the National Trainers’ Federation. Their chief executive, Rupert Arnold, explained the worries trainers had expressed. He said, “Before the trial of the new Novice Chases’ system began last October, trainers forecast several problems caused by many horses being uncompetitive when forced to have their first run in weight for age races. The NTF co-ordinated extensive consultation between trainers and the BHA Racing Department throughout the trial and we are pleased that the changes announced reflect trainer’s comments.”
It’s in the novice chase arena that the BHA made one further announcement that ensures the name of the great Kauto Star will live on in perpetuity. As an aside, it also gives us probably the longest race name in the calendar.
Kauto Star was a standing dish at Kempton on Boxing Day, and his five wins in the King George VI Chase are an achievement that certainly won’t be repeated in my lifetime. The Feltham Novices’ Chase is run on the same card, and although Kauto Star didn’t even run in it, last December it carried his name. Now, the BHA has decided to permanently rename the race after Kauto Star, but without letting go of its long-standing name.
The Feltham also commemorated Nigel Clark, racehorse owner, steward, former chairman of the British Horseracing Board, advocate of Sunday racing and president of Kempton racecourse. As a result, what was once a straightforwardly named Grade 1 Novice event will now glory under the name of “The Kauto Star Novices’ Steeple Chase (Class 1) (Grade 1) (In memory of Nigel Clark) (Formerly the Feltham Novices’ Steeple Chase). It’ll take half the Channel 4 programme just to tell us that.