PETER SCUDAMORE: The Grand National has constantly evolved – and these changes will make the iconic race SAFER
- The Jockey Club has announced a number of changes to next year’s storied race
- The field size is set to reduce to maximum 34 runners and start time will move
- Eight-time champion jump jockey welcomes changes – which have precedent
The Grand National is the race that means more to me than any other. But it must adapt – and I welcome the moves that have been announced, headlined by the reduction in the maximum number of runners from 40 to 34.
Animal welfare considerations have to be the No 1 consideration and on the balance of probabilities the alterations will make the most watched jumps race of the year safer.
Some may baulk at the changes, feeling they are a win for the action by animal rights activists which disrupted the start of the race in April. But the Grand National has constantly evolved with plenty of changes within my lifetime.
Gone are solid upright fences that looked like brick walls that my father Michael had to jump when he won the race on Oxo in 1959. The fences have been significantly modified and the nature of the race has changed even more, particularly because there is now £1million in prizemoney up for grabs.
Better horses run in the race, some of them capable of contesting the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the race which traditionally crowns the best staying steeplechaser in the business.
Eight-time champion jockey Peter Scudamore (pictured at the Grand National in 1985) is in favour of changes made by the Jockey Club
Scudamore (right) saw his partner Lucinda Russell win last year’s run-out with Corach Rambler
Gone are brick-wall fences conquered by his father Michael Scudamore, who won in 1959
And that is what the modern Grand National should be – the best chasers around racing over an iconic racecourse.
In fact, I would probably have gone further and reduced the maximum number of runners from 40 down to 30. That would ensure a high-quality race and spectacle we want to see.
Tightening up the numbers reduces the likelihood of horses running whose presence in the line-up is questionable but are there simply because their owners fancy a Grand National runner. That might have been acceptable in the past but can no longer be justified.
There have been Grand Nationals in the past with less than the maximum of 40 runners, the limit introduced in 1984.
In Royal Athlete’s 1995 win there were 35 runners; when Rough Quest won in 1996, 27 went to post. Bobbyo emerged on top after 32 faced the starter in 1999. Do we look back on their successes and de-value them in any way there weren’t 40 runners? No. Not at all.
The one thing we have to be wary of is the law of unintended consequences.
By making the famous Becher’s Brook less daunting, more runners tend to line-up on the inside of the track where they used to be wary of the steeper drop on the landing side of the fence. It has become overcrowded at times.
In the old days the field spread out across the wide track so some could tackle the less dramatic drop at Becher’s Brook on the outside. It was a tactical decision. Run a little further but make the fence less difficult.
By introducing a standing start and by moving the first fence 60 yards closer to the start line, you may reduce the speed the runners approach the first fence but what about the extra 60 yards between the fence one and two?
What effect will that have? The truth is we will only find out by running the race.
There is an argument that by reducing the number of runners you strip the race of some of its colour. Of the last 10 winners, 66-1 Sue Smith-trained winner Auroras Encore in 2013 and Minella Times, who delivered one of the greatest Grand National stories ever in 2021 with Rachael Blackmore on board, would not have made the race under the new plans.
There have been significant changes to the fearsome Becher’s Brook over time, most recently in 2011 (pictured 1999)
But a change in the field size could strip the race of some of its colour – Racheal Blackmore and Minella times (pictured) would not have made the race under the new plans
Both were No 35 on the racecard.
But that is sport in the modern age – across the likes football, golf, rugby and tennis the more money on offer means it is competed for by an elite cohort. The fact that the best horses are housed in fewer top stables is racing’s problem not the Grand National’s.
I am currently debating whether we will run last year’s winner Corach Rambler, who is trained by my partner Lucinda Russell, in the Grand National again this season.
The changes announced certainly will feed into the debate but the safer I think it is, the more likely I am to run him.
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