Changing Bechers Brook spoils the Grand National
First reaction: alterations to the Aintree racecourse provoke a mixed reaction from racing fans
Three fences at Aintree racecourse, home of the Grand National, are to be modified after two horses died in this year's race, prompting a public outcry over the safety of the race.
A review by the British Horseracing Authority was not due to announce its findings until October, but Aintree has decided to make the changes now so that they are in place when meetings are held there later this year.
The BHA discovered that more than half of the falls happened at the first six fences. The first, the fourth and Bechers (the sixth) were the most problematic for riders and their mounts, and they are the obstacles that will be changed.
The landing-side drops at Bechers and the first fence will be reduced, and the height of the fourth will be lowered by two inches.
But the experts are divided on whether the changes are a good idea.
The changes will make little difference. Alan Lee in the Times writes: "Those who instinctively rail against the race are unlikely to be converted by the sensitive but cosmetic course modifications." And even Julian Thick, the managing director of Aintree, admits the challenge is to "reduce manageable risk without reducing the unique nature of the race, which is part of the fabric of the nation".
It is TV and safety regulations that have led to the outcry. Lee of the Times says: "Two horses suffered fatal falls [this year] and the bypassing of areas where they were being attended, a system introduced for welfare reasons, was ironically responsible for chilling images of isolated carcasses, transmitted from the overhead TV camera."
He also says that the sight of jockeys throwing water over horses at the end of the race, not an uncommon practise, was also misconstrued by viewers as a panicky reaction to the animals' exhaustion.
"Almost 9 million people in Britain watched the National on TV in April, more than the total for the FA Cup Final. The audience is unlikely to shrink next year but the scrutiny will be far more severe," he says.
But taming Bechers will take away the mystique. Marcus Armytage in the Telegraph is concerned about the "emasculation" of the famous fence. "There has to be one fence that gives jockeys sleepless nights, that little boys may dream of conquering and a course that gives not just the winner, but those that complete it a massive sense of achievement. It is essential the National course remains racing's Everest."
It is not the fences that are the problem. At the start of the race there is a two furlong run to the first obstacle, which has the highest casualty rate, points out Peter Scudamore in the Mail. That approach is not something the horses are used to.
"Aintree have missed a trick by not making a significant change to the start of the Grand National," he argues. "I still believe more should be done to try to dampen down speed in the run-up to the first fence, an obstacle shown to be one of the deadliest on the unique circuit." ·
Comments are now closed on this article