Changes to the Grand National Announced to Improve Safety

Less entrants, no pre-race parade and a shorter distance to the first fence are just a few major changes being rolled out ahead of next year’s instalment. 

It has been announced that the number of Grand National runners will be reduced from 40 to 34. This update is a bid to enhance safety measures during the most iconic event on the UK racing calendar. 

This, along with various other measures, will be put in place in an attempt the reduce the risk of horse fatality at the Aintree event. 

The racing industry had come under huge scrutiny for in recent times, with various campaigns being led to improve the welfare of horses, especially those involved in key racing events like the Grand National.

During this year’s instalment of the Grand National at Aintree, one horse sadly died. This was one of three fatalities across the 3-day meeting. The race was also held up for 14 minutes due a protest by animal rights activists, signalling a need for change. According to Merseyside Police 118 people were arrested over the disruption. However, nobody has yet been charged for offences.

Emma Slawinski, director of policy at the RSPCA, welcomed the introduction of less entrants at Aintree. However, she stressed that more could be done to protect the welfare of horses at the event and hoped this would be the start of many more. 

"We look forward to seeing this announcement pave the way for further changes," she added.

 More Changes for the Grand National 

As well as reducing the number of horses entering the race, there will be several other changes rolled out at future Grand Nationals. Other changes include a standing start. Plus, racegoers can expect an earlier race time than usual, which will reportedly make for safer ground for runners. The Grand National will now take place at between 15:45 and 16:15.

In addition, horses will have a shorter distance than usual to the first fence, around 60 yards shorter. This will slow the horses down early in the race.

Horses participating will be put through additional veterinary checks to ensure they are fit to partake in the race. 

Other important changes include handlers not taking horses on a pre-event parade before the grandstands. 

"There are lots of people who don't like change but all sports change," two-time National-winning jockey Ruby Walsh commented.

"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."

While many feel these to be pretty drastic changes to race steeped in tradition, further calls are being made to reduce the line-up to 30 horses. Aintree clerk Sulekha Varma said that this could do more harm than good.

"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," she said.

"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."