NEW race conditions for the 2020 running of the Grade 2 National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham Racecourse have been announced, following a review and consultation process.
Last year's race came under strong criticism after three very tired horses fell over the last two fences and bans where given to three jockeys by the stewards after just four of the 18 runners completed over four miles on rain-softened ground.
Ballyward was also a fatal casualty in the race.
The changes relate to the qualification criteria for horses and jockeys, and a reduction in race distance of just under two furlongs. The National Hunt Chase will remain a Grade 2 novices’ chase restricted to amateur riders holding a Category B licence or equivalent permit from a recognised overseas racing authority.
The Jockey Club’s team and the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), analysed 10 years’ worth of race data as well as gathering participant input following the latest renewal of the race in March.
The revised conditions will be reviewed after a three-year period to ensure they are proving effective, taking in the 2020, 2021 and 2022 runnings.
Details of updated race conditions from 2020:
• The National Hunt Chase will be run over about 3m6f (3m 5f 201y)
• The number of fences jumped will reduce from 25 to 23.
• All horses must have a minimum BHA rating of 120 to participate. This change brings the National Hunt Chase in line with the Grade 1 novices’ chases staged at the Festival – the Racing Post Arkle Novices’ Chase, the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase and the JLT Novices’ Chase
• Horses must have run in at least two chases and must have finished in the first four in a chase staged over an extended two miles and seven and a half furlongs or further
• Horses must have run at least once in a chase during the current season.
• All jockeys riding in the National Hunt Chase must have ridden a minimum of 20 times and achieved at least five winners over fences
• All qualifying rides must have come in races staged under Rules (i.e. excluding point-to-point races).
Ian Renton, Regional Director, Cheltenham & The South West, The Jockey Club, said: “After the Festival this year, we felt it was important to review the National Hunt Chase as part of our commitment to ensuring the highest welfare standards for participants.
"Having done this fully, we have made some evidence-based changes to the conditions of the race and the distance over which it is run. This is designed to improve safety for novice chasers and amateur jockeys, while ensuring the National Hunt Chase remains a highly-competitive spectacle that has a place within the world’s best four days of jump racing.”
Brant Dunshea, Chief Regulatory Officer at the BHA, said: “The changes to the National Hunt Chase announced today have the full support of the BHA, its Board and the Jump Pattern Committee. This year’s Festival included many great highlights and we will continue to work closely with Cheltenham and stakeholders to ensure that as an industry we take evidence-based decisions.”
Derek O’Connor, representative of the Irish Amateur Jockeys Association and two-time winner of the race, said: “The National Hunt Chase is one of the races you dream about winning when you become an amateur jockey, it’s one of the pinnacles of our season. The changes that have been made may mean some riders have to get more experience then they would have previously, but that’s no bad thing and overall the new requirements look pretty fair.”
Champion Trainer Paul Nicholls said: “Balancing that tradition and history with making the race safer was never going to be easy, but the changes that have been agreed seem sensible and most importantly the amateur status of the race has remained.
"If the new conditions mean that the race still retains its character whilst hopefully making it safer for everyone who takes part, then that can only be a good thing.”
MORE ON THIS STORY IN THE IRISH FIELD NEXT WEEKEND