The Jockey Club announces changes to the Randox Grand National
The Jockey Club, supported by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), announces several changes to the 2024 Randox Grand National, which takes place at Aintree Racecourse.
Key changes can be categorised into five different areas:
- Reducing the risk of incidents by decreasing the current maximum number of runners from 40 to 34
- Reducing the opportunity for horses to build up too much initial speed by moving the first fence closer to the start and implementing a standing start
- Providing the best possible ground conditions for the horses by bringing the start time forward
- Investing in further developments to the course infrastructure, full details below
- Ensuring that the horses participating are in the best condition to do so, full details below
The Grand National is a British institution loved and watched by millions all over the world every year. These changes follow an evidence-based review process designed to preserve the thrill, characteristics, and challenges of the famous race, while prioritising the welfare of horses and riders.
Over the last 20 years, British racing has invested over £40 million as part of a relentless focus on equine welfare to lead the way in securing a thriving future for British horseracing. £2million of this has been spent at Aintree Racecourse ensuring its equine superstars receive the care needed to compete at the very top levels.
The Jockey Club today announces several changes to the Randox Grand National, which takes place at Aintree Racecourse each year, as part of the continued evolution of the famous race. These changes underline The Jockey Club’s continued focus to ensure the best possible welfare conditions for racehorses and jockeys across all its racecourses; at Aintree alone it has spent £2million on equine welfare investments.
Following the race each year a process is undertaken to review all aspects of the world’s most famous steeplechase. This year The Jockey Club, supported by industry body the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), has recognised the need for more substantial updates on several key areas in order to better protect the welfare of racehorses and jockeys. All updates to the race will take effect from 2024.
The evidence-based review process included gathering insights from independent research papers into racehorse welfare, statistical data analysis relating to the race over many years and canvasing the views of the racing industry, the BHA, World Horse Welfare and a range of other stakeholders including jockeys and trainers.
The Jockey Club, which operates 15 of Britain’s most iconic racecourses and is the largest employer in British horseracing, reinvests profits back into the sport to ensure the future and success of racing. This year, Aintree Racecourse, supported by the BHA, recognised its continued responsibility for the evolution of the Randox Grand National across a variety of areas to continue to improve equine welfare and safety while maintaining competitiveness.
Five major sets of changes will be in place from the next running of the historic race on Saturday 13th April 2024. These are listed below along with the evidence which supports them:
1. Reducing the risk of incidents during the race:
- Reducing the maximum number of runners from the current safety limit of 40 (which was introduced in 1984) to 34; Insights from independent research papers, combined with The Jockey Club’s own internal analysis of jump races evidences a direct correlation between the number of runners in a race and the risk of falling.
2 . Reducing the opportunity for horses to build up too much speed at the start of the race:
- Moving the first fence 60 yards closer to the start to slow the early stages of the race;
- Implementing a standing start that will apply to all races over the Grand National fences throughout the 2023-24 season and beyond; Again, insights from independent research papers, combined with The Jockey Club’s own analysis of the speed of the horses participating in the race shows an increase in speed on average as the horses approach the first fence over the past 10 years.
3. Creating the best possible environment for the horses:
- Bringing forward the start time of the race to help ensure that Aintree can provide the optimal ground conditions - the ground at the course can dry out quickly on a breezy, sunny April afternoon;
- The start time to be confirmed following continued discussions with ITV;
- Horses will no longer be led by a handler on-course during the pre-Grand National parade and will instead be released at the end of the horsewalk to then canter in front of the grandstands to allow them to prepare for their race in their own time.
4. Investing in a number of infrastructure changes to the course:
- Alterations will be made to the alignment of running rail on the inside of the Grand National course to assist with the early capture of loose horses.
- Reducing the height of Fence 11 by two inches (from 5ft to 4ft 10in) on take-off side, with some ‘levelling off’ on landing side to reduce the height of the drop.
- Introducing foam and rubber toe boards on every fence.
- Further investing in pop-up irrigation to allow for more effective watering of the course.
- Widening the walkways in the paddock.
5. Ensuring the horses participating are in the best condition to do so:
- Continuing to develop the pre-race veterinary protocols, working alongside the BHA.
- The minimum handicap rating for all horses running in the Grand National will be raised to 130. This is an increase from the current minimum rating of 125 and brings the Grand National minimum handicap rating in line with Grade 1 races, which are also 130.
- The Grand National Review Panel, a group of industry experts who assess the suitability of every horse entered to run over the Grand National fences, will further enhance its procedures to closely scrutinise horses entered in the race that have made jumping errors in 50% or more of their last eight races, before allowing them to run.
Other changes made in that period include areas being levelled off at a number of fences to reduce the drop on the landing side, including at the iconic Becher’s Brook fence, more than £400,000 spent on enhancing the watering system to ensure the safest possible racing ground and a state-of-the-art, fully equipped cooling and washdown area for horses post-race.
Nevin Truesdale, Chief Executive of The Jockey Club, said the changes to the Grand National are part of the organisation’s “relentless focus on welfare”.
He said: “The Randox Grand National is the most iconic race in the world and one which transcends our sport. It is part of the fabric of British sporting life alongside the likes of Wimbledon, the FA Cup and the Open golf and is loved and watched by millions of people all over the world every year. For many it is also their introduction to horseracing and I believe that a competitive, fair and safe Randox Grand National is one of the best ways of ensuring the sport continues to thrive for generations to come and remains an important part of Britain’s culture and economy.
“That means our sport, like many other sports have done, needs to recognise when action needs to be taken to evolve because the safety and care of horses and jockeys will always be our number one priority. In making these changes at Aintree we are underlining our relentless focus on welfare and our commitment to powering the future of British racing.”
Sulekha Varma, The Jockey Club’s North West Head of Racing and Clerk of the Course at Aintree, led the review process and oversees all aspects of the racing surface, fences and pre-race preparatory areas for participants.
Explaining the decision-making process, she said: "The welfare of our racehorses and jockeys is our number one priority at Aintree and we have invested significantly in equine welfare over many years. We continually review the Grand National and following an in-depth, evidence-based review process this year, we are announcing several changes as part of its continued evolution."
“One of our key areas of focus is reducing the risk of incidents during the race. We know from research papers and internal analysis of jump races that there is a direct correlation between the number of runners and the risk of falling, unseating or being brought down. However, we also must consider that reducing the field size by too great a number could create a faster race and have an adverse impact in terms of safety. Using the information available to us and considering the experiences of participants, our conclusion is that 34 should be the maximum number of runners in the race which we hope will result in the least number of incidents."
Explaining some of the other updates to the race conditions, Varma added: “Another key area of our focus was addressing the start of the race and implementing change to slow down its earliest stages. Relocating the first fence will reduce the opportunity to build up too much speed on the approach and re-introducing the standing start should also help to reduce speed."
“We also considered the start time of the race, which was traditionally much earlier in the afternoon but changed to 5.15pm in 2016. While this has helped build excitement among the crowd throughout the afternoon, it has proved challenging in managing the ground. Returning to an earlier race time was recommended by both the BHA Executive and Horse Welfare Board in their feedback."
“The benefits and relevance of the pre-race parade of horses in front of the grandstand was also brought into question. We hope that allowing jockeys to canter their horses in front of the stands at their own pace will help create a calmer environment during the build-up to the race.”
Julie Harrington, Chief Executive of the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), said:
“The Grand National is the world’s greatest horse race. It has maintained that status through the years, in part, because of the developments and changes that have been made to it. These changes have enabled it to move with the times and maintain public support while also ensuring that it remains a unique, thrilling spectacle and the ultimate test of a racehorse."
“The package of measures which will be introduced for next year’s race seeks to strike this crucial balance, and the BHA endorses them in full.”
Professor Chris Proudman, Professor of Veterinary Clinical Science at the University of Surrey, said: “As a veterinary professional, committed to the welfare of animals and specialising in horses, I commend the significant modifications to the Grand National. Making changes to such a famous race requires evidence and judgement. These changes will make considerable strides towards enhancing equine welfare for all participants – it’s the right and responsible action to take.”
Dual Randox Grand National-winning trainer Lucinda Russell, who saddled One For Arthur (2017) and Corach Rambler (2023) to success in the Aintree spectacular, gave her support to the changes announced today.
She said: “I think these changes announced today are a clear sign again that Aintree and The Jockey Club continue to be proactive in trying to support the Grand National and the wider sport of horseracing."
“I am fully supportive of reducing the field size and I don’t feel that six fewer runners will make a difference to the heritage of the race – it can only be a good step and hopefully will help improve the start procedures."
“As regards moving the first fence, the further you go then the more speed you are going to pick up so logically it should mean they approach it slower. I know that it’s tricky for the jockeys to manage their speed as it’s such an important race and everyone is vying for a good position."
“Aintree do a wonderful job in always producing perfect ground conditions; it is ground on the soft side of good which is the way it should be."
“The level of welfare in racing is phenomenal and something we should be proud of. Once again Aintree is trying to make things safer.”
Retired jockey Ruby Walsh, who rode two Grand National winners on Papillon (2000) and Hedgehunter (2005), is now a leading pundit on Racing TV and ITV Racing, remarked: “The Grand National is the showcase event for a sport I love dearly. It’s iconic and I don’t think you can overstate how important the Grand National is – it’s a Saturday in April when non-racing people watch our sport. People enjoy it and it’s up to us in racing to make sure that they continue to enjoy it."
“I think these changes represent the evolution of the Grand National. The world is ever-changing and the Grand National and indeed horseracing, like any other sport, has to be prepared to change. Risk can never be removed but you have to try and minimise it."
“Horse welfare is a huge part of horseracing – it’s a team sport between horse and rider and we are responsible for the welfare of the horse. I think the changes announced today by The Jockey Club will enhance the Grand National as a horse race and help to ensure its future."
“I would say the biggest effect of the earlier start time will be with the ground. We all know what a big conversation climate change is in the world and it’s very hard to keep the whole of the Grand National course on the soft side of good with the race being run later in the afternoon."
“With the rolling start, horses tended to bunch towards the inside but with the re-introduction of a standing start they will have to be spread out across the track which will give them more room going towards the first fence. The first fence is also going to be closer to when jockeys look up and see it they are more likely to be in a straight line and they should jump it before they track across the course. The effect of that should hopefully be to create less speed. The slower you go, the safer things are. Horses are competitive and will race each other but these changes should help to slow down both horse and rider."
“An effect of being able to bypass fences and the levelling off on the landing sides of fences means that more runners bunch towards the inside and therefore the reduction in field size will in my opinion make a considerable difference."
“You hope small things make for big progress. A lot of thought and effort has gone into this process – it was a proper and thorough review. For me, it’s evolution. It was 10 years since the last changes were made and you can look and see what has worked and what needs to be evolved."
“There are lots of people who don’t like change but all sports change. Soccer is not the same game it was 30 or even 15 years ago and looking at the Rugby World Cup, rugby has had to evolve. Racing is the same in that we have to evolve to ensure the future of the sport.”
Emma Slawinski, RSPCA Director of Policy, said: “This is a welcome step from The Jockey Club and we are very pleased to see the organisation taking horse welfare seriously and making changes to the Grand National as a result, including decreasing the current maximum number of runners."
“We have always urged horseracing authorities to act on the wealth of science and evidence and believe this is the only way to demonstrate a commitment to improving and protecting horse welfare and ensuring a good life for those involved in the sport. The BHA and The Jockey Club will know that the RSPCA will continue to urge them to go further for the good of horse welfare."
“We believe that racehorses should have a good life on and off the track and should never be exposed to unacceptable risk of injury or death. Any steps from The Jockey Club to meet that aim are a positive step forward, we look forward to seeing this announcement pave the way for further changes and remain keen to work with them.”
There was one fatality in the 2023 Grand National. Hill Sixteen, died after sustaining a fatal injury at the first fence.