The current limit on horses running in the Grand National is 40. This has been in place since 1984. However, it is being cut to 34 in line with new measures to protect the welfare of racehorses and jockeys.
Changes will be implemented from the 2024 Grand National, which takes place on 13 April at Aintree Racecourse. One horse died during the 2023 race while the start was delayed due to protests from animal rights activists.
“The Grand National is the most iconic race in the world and one which transcends our sport,” Jockey Club chief executive Nevin Truesdale said. “For many it is also their introduction to horseracing. I believe that a competitive, fair and safe 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.”
Grand National start time to change
Alongside a reduced line-up, the Jockey Club set out a series of other changes that become effective from 2024. All of these, it says, are designed to offer betting protection to horses and jockeys.
These include moving the first fence 60 yards closer to the start line and implementing a standing start. This, the organiser says, will reduce the opportunity for horses to build up too much speed at the start of the race.
Meanwhile, measures will be put in place to create a better environment for the horses. The start time of the race will be brought forward to provide optimal ground conditions. This will be confirmed following talks with lead broadcaster ITV.
Horses will also be released at the end of the horsewalk to canter in front of grandstands, rather than being led out by their handler.
Alterations to Aintree course
The Jockey Club is also committing to a series of infrastructure changes to the course. These include altering the running rail on the inside to help with the early capture of loose horses. Fence 11 will be reduced in height while foam and rubber toe boards will be installed on all fences.
Changes will also be made to ensure horses participating are in the best condition. As such, the minimum handicap rating will be raised from 125 to 130, in line with all Grade 1 races.
In addition, the Grand National Review Panel, a group of industry experts that assess horses entered to run the race, will increase its scrutiny of runners. This includes analysing horses with jumping errors in 50% or more of their last eight races before allowing them to run.
British Horseracing Authority chief executive Julie Harrington has declared her backing for the new measures. She says the steps will help protect runners while keeping the Grand National exciting for spectators.
“The Grand National is the world’s greatest horse race,” Harrington said. “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.”