Cheltenham amateur riders' National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup shortened over welfare concerns

Telegraph Sport
The Telegraph
Tiger Roll, ridden here by Davy Russell, is among the winners of this race - but it has attracted concern - REX
Tiger Roll, ridden here by Davy Russell, is among the winners of this race - but it has attracted concern - REX

The Cheltenham Festival’s longest race, the four-mile National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup, is to be shortened following equine welfare concerns.

The cut in distance by a quarter of a mile was one of a series of changes announced by the British Horseracing Authority yesterday.

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Following a controversial renewal of the amateur riders’ race at this year’s Festival, when only four of 18 starters finished a race run on soft ground, the BHA and Cheltenham’s owner, Jockey Club Racecourses, have acted.

The Grade Two contest will now have a minimum rating for horses of 120, which brings it in line with the Grade One novice chases at the meeting, while contenders must have run in two novice chases and been placed in the first four in one of those over an extended two miles 7½ furlongs or further.

Runners must also have had at least one outing that season, while the jockeys must have had a minimum of 20 rides and at least five winners, with all qualifying rides coming under Rules. The number of fences jumped has been reduced to 23 from 25.

The National Hunt Chase was first run in 1860 and became, in 1911, the race around which the Festival was created and developed. Past victors include Tiger Roll, who went on to twice win the Grand ­National at Aintree.

Champion trainer Paul Nicholls said: “This one of the most important amateur races of the season and has produced some top-class staying chasers down the years.

“Balancing that tradition and history with making the race safer was never going to be easy, but the changes that have been agreed seem sensible and most importantly the amateur status of the race has remained.

“If the new conditions mean that the race still retains its character whilst hopefully making it safer for everyone who takes part, then that can only be a good thing.”

In this year’s National Hunt Chase, won by the Jamie Codd-ridden Le Breuil, nine runners fell or unseated their rider and five pulled up. The previous year, there had been six finishers from 16 runners.

After Le Breuil’s win in March, four jockeys were banned for a total of 37 days after being deemed to have continued to race “contrary to the horse’s welfare” and to have used the whip when their mount was showing no response.

Sir Anthony McCoy described the stewards’ decision as “embarrassing” and amateur Declan Lavery had his 10-day ban overturned on appeal.

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