Horse racing has always come in for its fair share of criticism and even the biggest Festivals are not exempt. And, honestly, that’s not a bad thing. The sport and industry must constantly evolve to ensure only the highest standards are maintained. That is why, following a review, changes have been made to the National Hunt Chase.
Those changes will be implemented for the Cheltenham Festival 2020 following events that transpired in the 2019 renewal. 18 runners started the race in quite testing conditions. However, unfortunately, Ballyward had to be put down after a fall and only four completed the race with Le Breuil the winner.
There was also controversy when three jockeys were banned for a total of 37 days for continuing on tired horses. That included third-place finisher, Declan Lavery who was defended by legendary jockey Sir AP McCoy. He called the ban “the worst decision in 25 years”.
Of course, nobody wants to see a race end like that and riders don’t adhere to the guidelines must be held to account. So with that in mind, the team analysed the last ten years of the race and decided to make a number of changes.
National Hunt Chase Changes
Fences – the number of fences to be jumped over the course of the race has been reduced. Instead of the usual 25 obstacles, as of 2020, only 23 will be jumped.
Distance – originally run over a distance of 3m7½f, that has now been cut down to 3m6f.
Rating – for the Cheltenham Festival 2020, a minimum BHA rating of 120 will be required for participation. While that makes sense, it should be noted that no horse had a rating less than that in 2019.
Form – horses must have run in at least two chases and must have finished in the first four in a chase staged over an extended two miles and seven and a half furlongs or further. They must also have run at least once in a chase during the current season.
Jockeys – the National Hunt Chase is a race for amateur jockeys. But from 2020 they must have ridden a minimum of 20 times and achieved at least five winners over fences.
This may disqualify some jockeys who otherwise would have had a shot at riding in such a prestigious race. However, it also reduces the risk to the horses who will now be in more experienced hands. On the bright side for amateur jockeys, they may now get more rides from trainers on the run-up to the Festival in order to qualify.
The new changes have been supported by the Amateur Jockeys Association. Ian Renton of The Jockey Club said: “After The Festival this year, we felt it was important to review the National Hunt Chase as part of our commitment to ensuring the highest welfare standards for participants at the Home of Jump Racing.
“Having done this fully, we have made some evidence-based changes to the conditions of the race and the distance over which it is run.
“This is designed to improve safety for novice chasers and amateur jockeys while ensuring the National Hunt Chase remains a highly-competitive spectacle that has a place within the world’s best four days of jump racing.”