Newton Abbot to trial foam hurdles

Birch hurdles - on the way out?

Birch hurdles - on the way out?

I don’t usually think of Newton abbot as a course at the centre of innovation. That’s not to suggest it’s a stick in the mud, old-fashioned sort of place, but more that as an outpost of racing, it is not an obvious place to test out new ideas. How wrong I am.

This summer the track is to test out a new design of hurdles through its 19 meetings between 30 March and 11 October, the latest test in a long-standing partnership with the British Horseracing Authority. Over the past 18 months the BHA has developed a new style of hurdle that will look very different from what we are used to. Although the new design retains the familiar timber frame, it replaces the birch front with foam pads.

Managing director at the Devon racecourse, Paul Masterson, said, “We have trialled a few things for the BHA and we are delighted to support this trial for the forthcoming season. We hope it is well received and supported.”

The new design is an attempt to improve safety and if it proves effective the BHA will look to introduce it at other courses. And why not? The trial has the support of the National Trainers’ Federation, the Racecourse Association and the Professional Jockeys’ Association.

Welcoming the development, Andrew Thornton, safety officer for the PJA said, “The PJA is supportive of anything that has the potential to benefit the welfare of the sport’s participants. If the new design leads to fewer falls and fewer injuries to horses, it can only be a positive thing for the welfare of jockeys.”

Newton Abbot and the British Horseracing Grant Scheme are sharing the £20,000 cost of the five new hurdles between them. The Grant Scheme has £1m from the sale of the Tote to use in projects to benefit racing. This seems just the right sort of thing to be doing with the money.

Richard Linley, the BHA’s senior inspector of courses will be heading to Devon several times during the summer, as he will be reporting back on the trial. He said, “We’ve been co-ordinating this project for some time and riders and trainers gave us plenty of feedback during the schooling phase. The trial is key to whether the design is adopted at other courses in the years ahead.”

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