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BHA releases Cheltenham report

Cheltenjam picThe BHA has released the findings of its review into the fatalities at this year's Cheltenham Festival, with changes aimed at improving welfare including a reduction to the maximum field sizes in two-mile chases and the removal of weight-claiming allowances in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle.

The report contains a total of 17 recommendations for all Cheltenham fixtures and across jump racing as a whole following an investigation into the death of six horses at the festival in March.

Among those is the lowering of the safety factor to 20 (from 24) in two-mile chases, with the Grand Annual– in which three horses suffered fatal injuries last season– the race most likely to be affected by the change.

The race conditions of the Martin Pipe will be altered to remove all rider weight-claiming allowances in an attempt to encourage connections to secure the services of the most experienced jockeys.

In another development, pre-race veterinary checks will be increased to include all runners at the festival.

The six fatalities at this year's festival represented a rate of 1.3 per cent of 2018 festival runners, compared to the nationwide jump racing average of 0.4 per cent.

Following the analysis of the Cheltenham Festivals staged between 2007 and 2018, the report claims the evidence found that "no single factor was definitively responsible for the equine fatalities at the 2018 festival" and "non-track factors – such as veterinary, participant, and race condition factors – could potentially be of equal, or potentially greater, significance than track-related factors".

The publishing of the report comes two months after a debate was held inparliament as a consequence of animal rights organisation Animal Aid gathering enough signatures on a petition calling for the BHA to be stripped of its role as the body with responsibility for equine welfare.

BHA chief executive Nick Rust said: "British racing must work together to reduce the risk of injuries occurring at the festival and indeed jump racing as a whole. The recommendations of this review are designed to achieve this.

"I commend this review for the rigour and thoroughness of its approach. I also support the fact that its recommendations are intended to further raise the bar when it comes to welfare, not only at Cheltenham but across all of jump racing.

"British racing has consistently and continuously improved its record on welfare outcomes over the last decade. However, parliament has recently sent a clear message to our sport that we must raise our ambitions for welfare further. At the BHA, we share this view, and I am today calling on everyone in the sport to help us achieve even higher goals for welfare."

He added:"The Cheltenham review helps demonstrate our sport’s commitment towards higher goals, but it is far from the end of our ambitions on this front.

"A cross-industry welfare board is currently being formed, with the intention of delivering a new strategy for the sport. I hope that everyone involved in British racing will join us in working to further enhance our good track record, and ensuring the sport remains relevant, understood, accepted and embraced by the British public."

According to the report, an action plan for the implementation of the recommendations will be developed by February 2019.

Headline recommendations from the review

· Pre-race veterinary examinations will be increased to include all runners in all races at the festival, with a view to identifying any risk factors that might make it necessary to prevent a horse from running in a race

· Reduction in safety factor (maximum field size) in all two-mile chases run at the course from 24 to 20, with the race most likely to be affected by this being the Grand Annual Chase

· Race conditions of the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle to be altered to remove all rider weight-claiming allowances, thereby incentivising connections to secure the services of the most experienced jockeys

· BHA to engage with participants to further identify factors that contribute to risk. This will include undertaking analysis of faller rates by trainer and jockey for Cheltenham and all jump racing and engaging with those who have an incidence of fallers significantly higher than the average, alongside a wide range of other relevant participants

· The industry must support a major research project to develop a predictive model for identifying risk factors for all jump racing, including horse history and performance, rider and training factors. Any risks arising from this significant work will be addressed and mitigated appropriately.

12 December 2018

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