Aintree Racecourse and the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) have today announced changes to three fences on the famous Grand National course to improve safety following a review of the 2011 meeting.

In this year’s Grand National race itself on April 9 – the highlight of the three-day Grand National meeting – two horses were fatally injured. This led to two fences being bypassed during the second circuit of the Aintree course, for the first time in the race’s history, as the fallen horses were quickly covered from public view by tarpaulin screens.

A third horse died on the opening day of this year’s Grand National meeting.

Since 2000, 33 horses have died in total during all three-day Grand National meetings.

The RSPCA and World Horse Welfare have both been consulted about the changes along with the National Trainers Federation and the Professional Jockeys Association.

Jamie Stier of the British Horseracing Authority said: “Aintree, our team of Course Inspectors and our Senior Veterinary Advisor have analysed DVD footage of races and fallers over the National Course since 2000. We have also received a lot of valuable feedback from our sport’s participants and welfare groups. I truly believe it all makes for a strong package of track changes that will enhance rider and equine welfare.”

Julian Thick, Managing Director of Aintree Racecourse, said: “The safety and welfare of horses and riders is always our number one priority at Aintree. This is the latest stage in our continuous drive to make the Grand National Course as safe as possible. The Grand National is an unparalleled challenge over four miles and four furlongs and this unique event is the most famous race in the world.

“It is not possible to completely eliminate risk in horse racing. However, I am confident the course changes we are announcing today will, over time, have a positive impact. We will continue to monitor this carefully and make further improvements and modifications to the course if required as part of our ongoing commitment to safety.”

Changes announced today are:

  • reducing the current drop on the landing side of Becher’s Brook;
  • levelling work on the landing side of the first fence;
  • reducing the height of the fourth fence;
  • increasing the height of toe boards at the base of all the fences.

The BHA has launched a wider review of all operational aspects of the 2011 John Smith’s Grand National which is still ongoing. The results of the full review will be published in October. But the BHA has already said that a new post-race horse wash down and cooling area will be introduced next year, along with new flexibility to allow for the shortening or removal of the pre-race parade. This would mean that on hot days – like on April 9, 2011 – the horses are not mounted for as long as they were this year.