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Grand National 2024: What changes have been made to make Aintree race safer?

The field size and height of one of the fences have been reduced to help make this year’s Grand National safer  (REUTERS)
The field size and height of one of the fences have been reduced to help make this year’s Grand National safer (REUTERS)

The Grand National has implemented a number of new safety measures for the 2024 race, including a reduction in runners from 40 to a maximum of 34.

Last year’s race, won by Derek Fox on Corach Rambler, was delayed by 14 minutes after a protest from animal rights activists and one horse died.

Organisers have moved the start time forward from 5.15pm to 4pm, which will help improve the Aintree ground, while the distance to the first fence has also been cutto ensure a slower speed for the first jump. More changes include a standing start and additional veterinary checks.

Aintree clerk of the course Sulekha Varma rebuffed calls for the total runners to be cut to just 30, insisting it would be counter-productive.

"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."

The three-day meet in April 2023 saw three equine fatalities – including Hill Sixteen, who was put down shortly after the conclusion of the Grand National having been injured in the race itself – while Emma Slawinski, director of policy at the RSPCA, hopes these alterations will lead to future moves to improve safety even more.

She said: "We look forward to seeing this announcement pave the way for further changes.”

What changes will be made for Grand National 2024?

  • Maximum number of runners down from 40 to 34

  • The first fence will be moved 60 yards closer to the start and a standing start – as opposed to allowing the horses to run – for all races over the National fences

  • The start will be brought forward from 5.15pm local time to 4pm, therefore ensuring the ground doesn’t dry up too much and become too quick for the horses

  • Horses will no longer be led by a handler on course in the pre-race parade to afford the horses more time to prepare

  • Loose horses will be caught more easily by changes to the alignment of the running rail on the inside of the course

  • The 11th fence will be reduced in height by two inches, from 5ft to 4ft 10in

  • Softer foam and rubber 'toe boards' will be put at the base of the jumping side of each fence

  • More pop-up irrigation to water the course

  • The minimum handicap rating for horses will go up from up to 130 from 125, aligning it with all top-level Grade One races

  • The introduction of a review panel of industry experts to assess every runner making jumping errors in 50 per cent or more of their most recent eight races