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Grand National course altered after safety concerns

By Chris McGrath

The most famous obstacle in horse racing is to be altered in response to the tragic and controversial scenes that tarnished this year's Aintree Grand National.



By raising the landing side at Becher's Brook, Aintree racecourse and the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) hope to reduce the risk to horse and rider without diluting the distinctive character of the historic fence.

Several other changes were also announced yesterday after a review into the public relations calamity caused by the death of two horses, whose demise was shockingly apparent to television viewers.

Aintree has won strong approval for its efforts to improve safety in recent years, not just within the racing industry but also from the RSPCA.

In four previous runnings, the fences had claimed just one horse, but renewed protests became inevitable when two were fatally injured on the first circuit this year.

Typically, a horse is more likely to fall as it becomes tired, but the disaster that befell Ornais at the fourth fence and Dooneys Gate at the sixth, Becher's, meant that the field was diverted around the obstacles on the second circuit. Aerial shots showed the body of Ornais covered by a tarpaulin and vets still tending to Dooneys Gate behind screens.

A review group concluded that the notorious 'drop' fences — with a lower landing side — present an unconscionable trap to horses. As a result, the steep drop at Becher's will be reduced by four to five inches, to 10 inches on the inside and six on the outside.

A landing side on the first fence will also be levelled off, while the fourth, identified as particularly hazardous by a statistical analysis of all races since the course was tamed in 1990, will be reduced in height by two inches to 4ft 10ins.

Orange 'toe boards' will also be raised on all fences to improve horses' view of the ground line.

The BHA's formal review, which will not be released until October, will recommend the creation of a new post-race wash-down and cooling area off the course, and the shortening or removal of the pre-race parade in warm weather conditions.

Meanwhile, the Henry Cecil-trained Midday and Twice Over feature in a field of six for the Juddmonte International at York tomorrow.

Both runners will carry the colours of Juddmonte supremo Khalid Abdullah, who is bidding to win the 10-furlong Group One for the first time.

Cecil's stable jockey Tom Queally will partner six-time Group One-winning mare Midday, who is fresh from securing a third successive victory in the Nassau Stakes at Glorious Goodwood as she attempts to secure her first victory at the highest level against the boys.

Twice Over, who has won the last two renewals of the Champion Stakes, was narrowly beaten in this contest last year, and was a course and distance winner in the York Stakes on his latest start. The six-year-old will be ridden for the first time by Ian Mongan.

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