Changes to the Grand National course are to be trialled this weekend, after the deaths of two horses — including Gold Cup winner Synchronised — in this year’s race triggered criticism from many in the horseworld.

The Becher Chase (8 December) over the National course will feature two newly designed fences.

In addition, outriders will be used to corral loose horses and the course has benefited from a new irrigation system.

In September the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) announced modifications, although there are no plans to reduce the size of the field, as was called for by many.

Clerk of the course Andrew Tulloch told H&H some of these changes would be in place for the Becher Chase.

“We never stand still on safety, and we’ll be trialling two fences with an alternate design,” he said.

“On the outside they will look exactly the same, but instead of having a timber frame they will have a plastic one.

The frame will be covered with a rubber pad and 16in of spruce, as before, but if a horse makes a mistake they should be more forgiving.”

He added that the landings at fences four, five and 13 have also been levelled.

“We’ve been learning from other sports — we’ve had advice from Mike Etherington-Smith of British Eventing — and if there are improvements we can make, we will.

We’ll see how the fences jump and get feedback from jockeys.”

Mr Tulloch added that a further £100,000 has been spent on irrigation, and that a second corral pen would be in place by the fourth fence.

“We’ll also have mounted support for the first time to attempt to catch and attract loose horses,” he added.

H&H racing editor Catherine Austen is in favour of outriders: “It should encourage loose horses to break away from the pack and reduce the chance of them injuring themselves if running on riderless.”

Roly Owers, of World Horse Welfare, added: “We are pleased that Aintree is trialling more forgiving fence cores, which should reduce the number of fallers in the race.”

But he repeated his plea for the number of runners — now 40 — to be reduced.

This news story was first published in the current issue of H&H (6 December 2012)