The British Horseracing Board launched a new incentive for National Hunt trainers and owners yesterday.

The £200,000 Order of Merit will be awarded to the horse who accrues the most points in 63 races staged between October 24 and April 2005, with a further £50,000 awarded to the leading chaser and hurdler.

The scheme follows in the wake of the Jump Racing Review, and is intended to inject more competition into a calendar which saw several major races seriously undersubscribed during the 2003-04 season.

There were just 40 runners for the eight Grade 2 and 3 races staged, with the Elite Hurdle (Wincanton) attracting a mere four runners and the Edward Hanmer Chase (Haydock) only three.

More top horses will be encouraged to run more often in the better races, as connections pursue the performance-related prize.

The Order of Merit series is spread over 17 different racecourses, with prestigious races such as the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Grand National included in the scheme. Points are awarded for finishing positions down to eighth place.

The prize will be split between owner, trainer and staff, with one fifth of the owner’s 75% being awarded in the form of a sales voucher for purchasing bloodstock at British sales houses, thereby ensuring instant reinvestment.

The trainer of the winning horse will receive 12.5% of the total, with the stable staff being awarded the remaining 12.5%.

Rooster Booster would have carried off the Order of Merit last season, for his quality and consistency in top level races, in spite of only one win to his name. Best Mate on the other hand, whose name is engraved on many punters’ hearts as the star of National Hunt Racing, would barely have featured, as his trainer Henrietta Knight campaigned the horse purely with Cheltenham Gold Cup victory in mind.

“Our aim is to get owners and trainers thinking actively about campaigning their horses regularly in these top events,” explained Edward Gillespie, Managing Director of Cheltenham Racecourse, who has been the driving force behind the launch of the series.

“This will be good for the sport, which needs to be highly competitive and attractive for spectators, the media and the betting industry.”