It is an interesting time for jump racing. There are some who believe that the British Horseracing Authority needs to make sweeping changes in order to ensure its future. As a result, the BHA has confirmed that there will be a package of alterations that are being brought in with the aim of strengthening the top-tier of British horse racing.
The changes are part of an in-depth review of jump racing in line with the recommendations and the aims of the Quality Jump Racing Review Group. The 2023/2024 season will be the first to be affected, reshaped and refined accordingly.
Races are being repositioned within the horse racing calendar or removed entirely, should there be similar opportunities to run in place of the races. The hope is that the changing around of the races will ensure that the Graded and Pattern events are spaced appropriately during the racing calendar in order to see increased competition from the biggest and best horses.
Some of the big moves include the Grade 1 Tolworth being moved from Sandown Park to the Boxing Day fixture that is run at Aintree, plus the International moving from early December to Festival Trials Day. The move follows other changes that were brought in last year, such as changing Grade 3 races and some Listed handicaps to Premier Handicaps.
There are also some changes to Cheltenham races at the Festival and other meetings. That is what we are interested in primarily on this site and we we talk about those changes further down.
Why The Changes Are Happening
In previous seasons, there has been a sense from many that the horse racing calendar is struggling to get the biggest horses to attend the right meetings. A lot of this is down to the fact that some of the races are too close together, with the hope being that moving them to different times in the calendar will ensure that the best horses are able to enter more of the races.
There is a desire from all in racing to improve jump racing at both the top and the bottom of the pyramid, not only in the short-term but also over the long-term, for the betterment of the sport as a whole.
The 2023-2024 programme has been slimmed down as a starting point, positioning the top races in a more appropriate manner. That includes a consistent spacing out of the biggest jump events, in order to stop them from being too bunched together.
Richard Norris, the Group Racing Director for the Jockey Club, believes that the changes will play a part in ‘making the upper tiers of British Jump racing stronger and more competitive throughout the season.’ The hope is that a ‘less is more’ approach will end up being beneficial to everyone associated with jump racing in the UK.
The Big Changes For Cheltenham
The thing we are most interested in on this page is what the changes are likely to mean for Cheltenham Racecourse. Paul Nicholls, who has been crowned the 14-time Champion Jump Trainer, believes that the changes will enable trainers to campaign their good horses in a more appropriate manner. He said, “Increased competition and more prize money at the top end can only be a good thing for the sport.”
The question is, what are the changes that will have an impact on Cheltenham? Is there much that will make a difference to people who love the Festival?
There are some races that aren’t part of the Festival but that are run at Prestbury Park and are being moved or removed. The Grade 2 Prestbury that is run at Cheltenham, better known as the Triumph Trial Juvenile Novices’ Hurdle, will benefit from the Summit Hurdle being moved a week earlier for its Aintree running, for example, given that it will allow more space between it and the Finale at Chepstow.
The Grade 2 Sharp Chase, better known as the Supreme Trial Novices’ Hurdle, will no longer be run in October, instead being shifted to the November Meeting. The Listed race that was in the New Year’s Day programme has been removed altogether, whilst the International is shifting to Festival Trials Day.
Similarly, the Grade 2 Dipper has been removed from the race programme, which is also happening to the Grade 2 Future Champion at Ayr and the Grade 2 Altcar being removed from Haydock Park.
The November Meeting will see a Listed Chase introduced to it that will be run over three miles. Whilst all of these changes are obviously like to have an impact on Cheltenham overall, there is nothing on the plan from the BHA that will make a big difference to the Cheltenham Festival as a whole. Instead, that will remain pretty much as-is for the time being.
The biggest change for the Festival is likely to come in the future. The BHA’s long-term ambition is to introduce a new Grade 1 hurdling event run over two miles towards the end of the season, which will see Festival runners given another Grade 1 chance after the Festival.
That will bring it in line with other divisions, but will also mean that some trainers might be forced to make a choice about whether to go big for the Festival. Owners always want to win at Prestbury Park, but with another Grade 1 around the corner, there won’t be any need to force the issue.
Other Big Moves
Away from Prestbury Park, there are some interesting moves being made by the British Horseracing Authority. Newbury will see a new Listed fillies’ juvenile hurdle brought in, which will replace the race that was previously run at Aintree, for example.
The Scottish Triumph Hurdle that is run at Musselburgh is retaining its Listed status, but there will be new race conditions introduced. This is because any Pattern-class horses have the choice of running in the Grade 2 Finesse at Cheltenham two weeks prior. Meanwhile, the Tingle Creek meeting at Sandown Park will get a new Listed race.
Lingfield Park will be taking on the Grade 2 Lightning, which will mean that it can be run a week earlier and therefore give more room between it and the Grade 2 Kingmaker that is run at Warwick. The weight-for-age programme will receive a bit more space thanks to the decision to make the Kempton Park Desert Orchid a Grade 2 Limited Handicap race instead.
At Aintree, meanwhile, the Grade 2 Many Clouds race will be removed altogether, as will the Future Starts Intermediate, a Listed race, be removed from the running at Sandown Park.