AINTREE officials have made course walks mandatory next month for any jockeys who have yet to ride more than twice over the Grand National fences.
The move, extending a practice which has been in place for several years, follows the example set by measures introduced at last week’s Cheltenham Festival and has been supported by Professional Jockeys Association chief executive Paul Struthers.
Harry Cobden, stable jockey at Paul Nicholls’ powerful yard and winner of the last two editions of the Topham Chase over the Grand National fences on Ultragold, has also endorsed the benefit of joining the course walks.
They will be conducted alongside a British Horseracing Authority jockey coach before racing on each of the three days of the Randox Health Grand National Festival meeting from April 4-6th.
Aintree clerk of the course Andrew Tulloch said: “We have staged course walks at the Randox Health Grand National Festival for a number of years now, and seen positive results.
“This is the first time it will be mandatory for certain jockeys, and those who are required to walk the course can do so on any one of the three days.”
The compulsory course walks for less experienced jockeys come at a time of added scrutiny around horse welfare following a controversial edition of Cheltenham’s four-mile National Hunt Chase, in which three riders last week received suspensions of an aggregate 37 days.
Two suspensions were imposed for failing to pull up, ‘contrary to the horse’s welfare’ – but one of the banned jockeys, Declan Lavery, is to have his appeal heard by the BHA later this week.
Three races will take place over the National fences next month, of which the Foxhunters is – like the National Hunt Chase – confined to amateur riders.
Paul Struthers spelled out the PJA’s backing for Aintree’s decision.
“Voluntary course walks have been in place at Aintree for a number of years and have been a success – while the mandatory course walks introduced for this year’s Cheltenham Festival worked very well last week,” he said.
“We were therefore very happy to support this decision, with the course walks taking place at multiple times across the three days under the guidance of BHA jockey coaches Carl Llewellyn and Brian Harding.”
Aintree and the PJA will write to all jockeys next week, and those who must take part in the mandatory course walks will be notified by the BHA once their mounts are declared to run.
Cobden voiced his support too, suggesting that he perhaps might have derived an extra edge on his rivals after taking part previously.
He said: “I thought the course walk was a great idea, so I went around with (former two-time Grand National winner) Carl Llewellyn on the Friday before the 2017 Randox Health Topham Chase.
“I subsequently won the race on Ultragold, and Carl’s advice and insight proved invaluable – so much so I walked the course with him again the next day before the Randox Health Grand National!”