Cheltenham Festival: Fences & distance cut in National Hunt Chase after riding row

National Hunt Chase image
Only four horses of the 18 starters finished this year's four-mile National Hunt Chase

The distance and number of fences in a controversial race at the Cheltenham Festival are to be reduced.

A decision - later overturned - to ban a rider who came third in this year's four-mile National Hunt Chase was called the "worst in 25 years" by former jockey Sir AP McCoy.

Declan Lavery was one of three amateurs to be punished for what was deemed to be continuing on tired horses.

The race distance will be cut by about two furlongs, or a quarter of a mile,

Runners and riders will jump 23 fences - rather than 25 - from next year, says the British Horseracing Authority.

Cheltenham ban a disgrace - McCoy

It has also been announced that a new mares-only steeplechase will be introduced at the Festival in 2021.

The new race will be a Grade Two contest over two-and-a-half miles and will replace an existing race, though which one has yet to be decided.

What caused the Cheltenham controversy?

McCoy, the legendary 20-time champion jockey, said it did not tally for jockeys to face potential punishments both for not trying to obtain the best possible finishing position and for pulling up a horse in contention for a place.

Cheltenham stewards had ruled that Lavery carried on riding Jerrysback when "it appeared to be contrary to the horse's welfare".

It was claimed that he should have pulled up his mount after jumping the penultimate fence because he had "no more to give".

But McCoy called the decision "an absolute disgrace" and had a heated discussion at Cheltenham with BHA chief Nick Rust.

Lavery, from Downpatrick in Northern Ireland, finished 47 lengths back in third on Jerrysback. Stewards said his mount had made tired jumping errors at the final two fences.

Robert James was suspended for 12 days for his ride on Just Your Type, who fell at the final fence. Noel McParlan, the rider of Mulcahys Hill - a faller at the penultimate obstacle - was given an eight-day suspension.

Post-race examination of the horses did not reveal any abnormalities.

What are the changes?

  • All horses must have a minimum BHA rating of 120 to participate, which brings the race in line with Grade One novice chases at the meeting
  • Horses must have run at least once in a steeplechase during the current season and must have run in at least two chases in their career - and finished in the first four in a chase staged over two miles and seven and a half furlongs or further
  • Jockeys must have ridden a minimum of 20 times and achieved at least five winners over fences (excluding point-to-point races)

The National Hunt Chase is for amateur jockeys only but has seen some classy winners down the years, including subsequent dual Grand National victor Tiger Roll in 2017.

Known as 'the four-miler' by many racing fans, its future had been in some doubt as racing's rulers faced pressure to improve equine welfare, and the changes have beenbroadly welcomed.

"These changes will help to ensure the continuation of this race which along with the Cheltenham and Aintree Foxhunters are the three races all amateurs want to win," said Bob Davies, president of the Amateur Jockeys' Association.

Champion trainer Paul Nicholls said: "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."

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