Changes At The Cheltenham Festival This Season

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Changes At The Cheltenham Festival

Cheltenham Racecourse have implemented certain changes ahead of this season's Festival in March, with switches to the track layout and race schedule on the agenda in a bid to upgrade safety.

The biggest move comes from the Old Course, with the penultimate fence - which has troubled many in recent seasons, being moved for the third time in just nine years.

The repositioning of the obstacle comes as a result of discussions between Cheltenham, jockeys and the BHA, after several horses were deemed to have fallen without having made a mistake.

It is no coincidence that the very fence has been too much for the likes of Charbel, God's Own and last year Al Boum Photo in the RSA - which saw Ruby Walsh ruled out for the remainder of the week, all of whom have fallen when attempting to cross it in the last couple of years.

It will be negotiated for the first time in its new location in the Racing Post Arkle - the second race of the upcoming Festival, a further ten yards past the bend to give more chance for the horses in their approach.

(Credit: Racing Post) Simon Claisse, Clerk of the Course said : "We felt if we moved that first fence in the home straight jockeys would have a better chance to get their horses balanced.

"We therefore decided we should give it a go, so that fence will now be another ten yards beyond the bend, equivalent to two strides.

"We have listened to the advice of the riders, including Richard Johnson, who told us this should help. That opinion is backed up by the senior inspector of courses, who says we should give it a try.

"I don't think anyone would take the view that by giving the horses a little bit further off the turn before they jump the fence it could make things worse. It can only make things better. There are also racecourses where the final two fences are closer together than ours are now."

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The Festival will this year finish for the first time with the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle after swapping with the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup - which has been moved to conclude Day Three.

The size of the field for the Grand Annual has been confirmed to be reduced to a maximum of twenty, following an inquest conducted by the BHA which looked deeper into the causes of last year's festival fatalities; three of which occurring in the two mile handicap chase.

Also shifting are the sixth and seventh races on Champions Day, which will now end with the Amateur Rides National Hunt Chase over four miles, foreshadowed by the Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase.

(Credit: Racing Post) Cheltenham boss Ian Renton said: "We already have an amateurs’ race as the last on the card on Thursday, which works well, allowing the professional jockeys to conclude their day after the sixth race.

"We will now have a similar order of running, with the National Hunt Chase on the Tuesday and the Martin Pipe on Friday as the concluding races."

The racecourse finally revealed that trainers and connections of horses would only be allowed to enter individual runners in one sole contest for the week.

Some trainers in recent years have entered their horses, say for instance in both the Champion Hurdle and the Stayers Hurdle - so that if they did not get a run for their money in the first, they have a chance in the second.

(Credit: Racing Post) Renton added: "We believe this change to declaration arrangements will provide greater certainty as to the horses running in all the festival races for racegoers, the media, the off-course betting market and the international audience.

"The move is also appropriate given our commitment to the highest standards of equine welfare."

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