Changes were made to four fences on the Grand National course in preparation for today’s meeting where 25 horses competed over the course on heavy going. Five fell and two unseated.
As a spectacle I could see no difference from the Grand National other than the very sensible pace they were forced to go in the ground. Fences 13 and 14 had their wooden core replaced by plastic that would give on impact. The cores in the 3rd and 11th were replaced by a ‘standard birch frame'(as you’d see in an everyday steeplechase).
There seems to have been no downside to the removal of these wooden cores which were made up of a tight forest of thick stakes. In the past, once the heavy spruce dressing had been thinned out by a big field on the first circuit, it was more likely that horses would hit these stakes when making errors. Many believe Synchronised’s fatal fracture was caused by the stakes when he was jumping loose.
Aintree should now remove all wooden cores. It should also do so as quietly as possible. Not many GN viewers are/were aware of the stakes. Publicity about their removal will only prompt questions about why they were allowed to pose a hidden danger for so long.
Despite all the changes over the years, Mother Nature proved today that nothing hi-tec is needed to ensure the long-term health of the great race, plenty of water seems the answer.
Cheltenham has a declared policy of producing ground no faster than good to soft for day one of the festival. Maybe it’s time Aintree followed them with an announcement that all races over the Grand National fences will take place on soft ground – genuinely soft, erring on the side of heavy rather than risking good to soft.
That would be the only sure way to slow the field to a safe speed. There’s a strong chance it would result in a significant increase in Pulled Ups, but that’s far preferable to watching horses somersault at breakneck pace.
It would also mean some slow finishes – the end of the Grand Sefton today was just about on the right side of watchable – and I think it would be prudent to ban the use of the whip from the Elbow.
The National is on a PR tightrope. The sport cannot afford to be walking that wire for years to come. Annual post-race tinkering just makes us look silly and indecisive. Discriminating against good-ground horses would, in my opinion, be a small price to pay to secure the future.
Make these three changes for 2013 and we might never need to make another . . . and getting a new sponsor should be easy.
- Replace all wooden cores
- Guarantee proper soft ground
- No whip use from the Elbow
The 2014 Volvic Grand National . . . sounds okay.