• Horse Racing

Aintree shortens 'safer' Grand National

ESPN staff
September 20, 2012 « Anderson: England will miss Pietersen | Chartbeat test »
The notorious Becker's Brook fence will remain part of the Grand National © PA Photos
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Aintree racecourse and the British Horseracing Authority have announced a number of changes set to improve the safety of the Grand National, but Becher's Brook and the 40-strong field remain set for the 2013 race.

One of the key changes is the decision to move the start of the world's most famous steeplechase forward by 90 yards, away from the grandstands, and a new starting procedure to avoid horses getting caught in the tape..

The new start point means the race distance will be reduced to around four miles and three and a half furlongs, having previously been run over four and a half miles.

"We recognise that there is pressure and tension before the race and we want to alleviate that where possible," BHA director of regulation Jamie Stier said.

"It is possible that a more controlled environment at the start, along with reducing the distance between the start and the first fence, could have the effect of reducing the early speed of the race. If this were to be the case, it would be an added benefit."

The Becher's Brook landing zone is to be levelled further after being raised in previous years, with the BHA resisting calls from the RSPCA to remove the notorious jump from the race.

The field size is set to stay at a maximum of 40 horses, to the disappointment of horse charity World Horse Welfare.

"The Grand National course and fences allow enough racing surface to accommodate this number of runners," the BHA and Aintree said. "After considering the 2012 Grand National race there is no additional evidence to suggest the course is unable to accommodate this number of runners. However, the BHA and Aintree will continue to monitor this."

But WHW chief executive Roly Owers said: "We believe that the number of fallers, unseated riders and horses being brought down by other horses in the National is too high.

"We believe the single most effective way of doing this is to trial a reduction in the field size. We do not believe that this would alter the spectacle or character of the race."

A further review into the fence designs has also been announced, as have plans for further investment in irrigation.

An official inquiry into the Grand National was launched after the deaths of two horses during the 2012 race, including the favourite and Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Synchronised, who fell at Becher's Brook before suffering a fatal injury after running free until the 11th fence. Only 15 of the 40 starters completed the course.

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