The idea behind the move is that the horse race watching public sometimes fail to understand the level of Grade 3 races, feeling that the use of ‘3’ in their title put them far beneath Grade 1 and Grade 2 events.
The reality, of course, is that Grade 3 races were always prestigious, as those that know that the Grand National was a Grade 3 event will attest to. Regardless, this move should make things clearer.
At the same time as renaming Grade 3 races to Premier Handicaps, Listed handicap races have been removed from the roster altogether. Handicap races that have previously come under the Listed title have been moved, either getting upgraded to become Premier Handicap or Grade 2 races, or else dropped down to Class 2 offerings. Other Listed races, such as standard open flat races, remain as listed.
Notably the only Listed handicap to get upgraded to Grade 2 was the EBF Mares’ Novices’ Handicap Chase on day two of the April Meeting at Cheltenham. Two Cheltenham listed hurdles were, however, downgraded to Class 2; the Mares’ Handicap Hurdle also at the April Meeting and the Regulatory Finance Solutions Hurdle at the November Meeting.
There is also the sense that the move is an attempt to level the playing field with Irish racing, which has been out-performing their British counterparts. In 2021, for example, Irish runners won 23 of the 28 races that were run during the Cheltenham Festival.
Which Races Are Getting Re-Branded
Before we look at what is going on with the re-branding and why it is happening, it is worth taking a closer look at the actually races that are being changed.
As you might imagine, we have a specific focus on Cheltenham’s races here, but there are events at meetings across the National Hunt calendar that are shifting around and becoming Premier Handicaps as a result of the BHA’s decision.
Here is a look at the Cheltenham races that have become Premier Handicaps first, as well as the date that each race should be taking place in the 2022-2023 season. These were all Grade 3 races to begin with:
|Paddy Power Gold Cup||12th November 2022|
|Jewson Handicap Chase||13th November 2022|
|Greatwood Handicap Hurdle||13th November 2022|
|Betfair Handicap Chase||9th December 2022|
|Racing Post Gold Cup Handicap Chase||10th December 2022|
|Paddy Power Handicap Chase||1st January 2023|
|Handicap Chase||28th January 2023|
|Ultima Handicap Chase||14th March 2023|
|Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle||14th March 2023|
|Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle||15th March 2023|
|Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase||15th March 2023|
|Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle||16th March 2023|
|Plate Handicap Hurdle||16th March 2023|
|County Handicap Hurdle||17th March 2023|
|Fillies’ Juvenile Handicap Hurdle||20th April 2023|
Here are the rest of the races shifting to become Premier Handicaps, alongside the date that they should be taking place as well as the racecourse that they will be running on and the previous classification that is now changing:
|Race||Course||Planned Date||Previous Classification|
|bet365Handicap Chase||Wetherby||28th October 2022||Listed|
|Byrne Group Handicap Chase||Ascot||29th October 2022||Listed|
|Bateaux London Gold Cup||Ascot||29th October 2022||Grade 3|
|Badger Beer Handicap Chase||Wincanton||5th November 2022||Listed|
|Betfair Stayers’ Handicap Hurdle||Haydock||19th November 2022||Grade 3|
|Coral Gold Cup Handicap Chase||Newbury||26th November 2022||Grade 3|
|Rehearsal Handicap Chase||Newcastle||26th November 2022||Listed|
|Becher Handicap Chase||Aintree||3rd December 2022||Grade 3|
|Silver Cup Handicap Chase||Ascot||17th December 2022||Listed|
|Betfair Exchange Trophy Handicap Hurdle||Ascot||17th December 2022||Grade 3|
|Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase||Wetherby||26th December 2022||Grade 3|
|Welsh Grand National||Chepstow||27th December 2022||Grade 3|
|Classic Handicap Chase||Warwick||14th January 2023||Grade 3|
|Holloway’s Handicap Hurdle||Ascot||21st January 2023||Class 2|
|Sky Bet Handicap Chase||Doncaster||28th January 2023||Listed|
|Heroes Handicap Hurdle||Sandown||4th February 2023||Grade 3|
|Betfair Hurdle||Newbury||11th February 2023||Grade 3|
|Swinley Handicap Chase||Ascot||18th February 2023||Listed|
|Grand National Trial Handicap Chase||Haydock||18th February 2023||Grade 3|
|Coral Trophy Handicap Chase||Kempton||25th February 2023||Grade 3|
|Greatwood Gold Cup Handicap Chase||Newbury||4th March 2023||Grade 3|
|EBF Novices’ Handicap Hurdle||Sandown||11th March 2023||Grade 3|
|Imperial Cup Handicap Hurdle||Sandown||11th March 2023||Grade 3|
|Centenary Novices’ Handicap Chase||Sandown||11th March 2023||Listed|
|Midlands Grand National||Uttoxeter||18th March 2023||Listed|
|Red Rum Handicap Chase||Aintree||13th April 2023||Grade 3|
|Aintree Handicap Hurdle||Aintree||14th April 2023||Grade 3|
|Topham Handicap Chase||Aintree||14th April 2023||Grade 3|
|Aintree Handicap Hurdle||Aintree||15th April 2023||Grade 3|
|Betway Handicap Chase||Aintree||15th April 2023||Grade 3|
|Grand National||Aintree||15th April 2023||Grade 3|
|Scotty Brand Handicap Chase||Ayr||22nd April 2023||Listed|
|Scottish Grand National||Ayr||22nd April 2023||Grade 3|
|Bet365 Gold Cup Handicap Chase||Sandown||29th April 2023||Grade 3|
|Swinton Handicap Hurdle||Haydock||13th May 2023||Grade 3|
|Summer Plate Handicap Chase||Market Rasen||22nd July 2023||Grade 3|
What Is Happening?
Now that we know which races it is that are changing, it is worth discussing what, exactly, is happening. The answer is that the British Horseracing Authority has decided to shake things up a wee bit when it comes to the different classifications of races.
Previously, there have been Grade 1, Grade 2 and Grade 3 races on the National Hunt calendar. The levels of races were all slightly different from each other, but all had a degree of prestige attached to them. The problem, in the eyes of the BHA at least, was that many casual viewers of horse racing didn’t appreciate that Grade 3 events were worthy.
As a result, the decision was taken to re-brand them as Premier Handicaps, believing that the addition of the word ‘Premier’ will give people the correct idea of the level of the races concerned. Alongside this re-brand, there is also a general shifting of the races further down the National Hunt Pattern.
Listed handicap races are being removed completely, with the events that have previously come under this category either being promoted or else demoted. Those that are good enough will become a Premier Handicap or Grade 2 events, whilst those that aren’t will drop down to become Class 2 races.
Why Are They Making The Change?
The obvious question that you might want to ask is why it is that the changes are being made. Whilst we’ve already mentioned the BHA’s desire to make the level of the races clearer to more casual racing fans, there is also a sense that it will allow British racing to be more competitive against their Irish counterparts.
In 2021, the Cheltenham Festival featured 28 races and 23 of them were won by Irish runners. That was a humiliation for British trainers, leading to a need to improve the performances moving forward, which this could help with.
Given the fact that Irish trainers have won the Prestbury Cup on six out of the last seven occasions, it is a factor that needs to be dealt with. The Jump Pattern Committee, featuring the likes of Emma Lavelle and Paul Nicholls, believes that the future of British racing would be improved focussing on the ‘size and shape’ of the upper tier of the British jump racing Pattern.
Part of that will include higher financial reward for owners, should they choose to compete in the highest-level contests in the sport. The first race that will kick-off the new-look Premier Handicaps is the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham in November.