In an attempt to improve safety at the Grand National, one of the solutions offered by the authorities is to move the start farther away from the stands – 90 yards closer to the first fence. The key argument here seems to be to get the horses and jockeys away from the tension that builds around the current start area.
But jockeys already feel they don’t have enough time to get organised at the first fence – how can the solution be to give them an even shorter distance in which to accomplish that?
The first fence is a huge factor in the National’s problems in my opinion. Jockeys feel they don’t have enough time to ‘get a position’ which, effectively, means to be at the front in case the speed of the ones in front causes them to fall and bring down those behind (a vicious circle if ever there was one). Having built that rush to the first, they then have a long straight run down that line of fences in which it is difficult to dilute the momentum built up just because of worries about the first fence.
If they wanted to get the field away from the hubbub of the stands, why not start the race just after the last fence? By my very rough reckoning that would add about 3 furlongs to the National, perhaps a few yards more.
Okay, they’d have a tightish turn down toward the current start, but it’s not as sharp as it looks from TV footage as they’d have the whole of the Mildmay course to use on the first circuit. The issue for jockeys in a hurry would be the elbow first time round; some re-configuring could be done to it, but how many jockeys are going to be in a mad rush that early in a race of almost 5 miles? They’d have a run of about 5 furlongs to the first to get the fizz out of the horses and get themselves organised.
Even at that first bend, although those on the outside would be running farther than horses on the inner, there is plenty of room and I think most wouldn’t be concerned at having to travel wide that early.
Increasing the distance would, I believe, lead to more completions as jockeys would be much more inclined to hunt round the first circuit at a sensible pace like they used to do. For my money it would have been eminently more sensible, and more acceptable from a ‘heritage’ viewpoint, to have made the race longer rather than shorter – not to mention safer.