After losing the end of the 2019/20 season owning to restrictions put in place to counter the coronavirus pandemic, the sport’s chief executive is considering changes to certain race conditions and suggestions of new races, as well as fixtures starting in October...
The Point-to-Point Authority (PPA) is floating the idea of starting next season early after coronavirus brought the 2019/20 season to a halt on 17 March.
“This was a very difficult decision to make, recognising that many people’s livelihoods are involved,” said the official PPA statement, adding this was a result of government advice on minimising social contact and avoiding non-essential travel.
“Furthermore, our sport creates some medical burden, both on the course and potentially at the hospitals, where it would be unwelcome under the current circumstances.”
The season has also been hit by the wet winter forcing the abandonment of many fixtures, but those that did run had big fields and high-quality racing, with an average of 50 runners at each meeting and many more at certain fixtures.
New ideas for next season
PPA chief executive Peter Wright has shared his first discussion paper of the year with ideas for next season, including changes to certain race conditions and suggestions of new races, and has mooted October fixtures.
“The Irish moved to October racing in response to foot-and-mouth [outbreak in 2001], and from that their current model was born,” said Mr Wright, adding whether it is practical is uncertain, but the PPA would like feedback.
“Many of you have mentioned it in passing but there are several levels of complexity, not least the general administration and regulation of a sport running nine months a year. However, the sad foreshortening of the season has brought the issue back into focus.”
Jockey Jack Andrews, who was leading the men’s championship when the season was brought to a halt, told H&H he thinks it is a “great idea”.
“I’m in favour of the season running as long as possible,” he said. “If it started in October, it would start spreading the meetings out more over the calendar year. If you were to take some of the fixtures from around Easter for example [where the calendar is congested] and move them to October, I think you would have more competitive racing.”
Alex Edwards, the 2017/18 men’s champion, agreed.
“I think it is a very good idea,” he told H&H, adding yards with young sales horses would likely have numbers to run early in the season and support these meetings. “It would be great to help spread fixtures out over the season.”
Leading rider and point-to-point trainer Claire Hart added it would be “amazing” if pointing could start in October.
She told H&H the thought is a “dangling carrot” at what is a difficult time for everyone in many ways. She added it would also help with planning what to do with certain horses over the summer, particularly some of the more experienced, proven open horses on her yard.
“This year certainly I think it would be so well supported – we’ve all got good ground horses, who haven’t even run yet this year,” she said. “I’d be desperate to get going with them.”
Clare added she feels for those involved in the new series that had been launched for the 2019/20 season, such as the Retraining of Racehorses’ veterans series, which were cut short and hopes they will return for next year.
Looking for the positives, she added if there is any plus to come out of this, perhaps it gives the sport a chance to“move with the times”.
Other suggestions in the discussion paper include adopting the findings of the Exeter University’s 2017 equine vision research, commissioned by the British Horseracing Authority and the Racing Foundation.
The research found white and yellow on take-off boards and guard rails should be more visible than the current orange under a wide range of conditions for both humans and horses.
Mr Wright said France and New Zealand already use white paint, as does the Cheltenham cross-country course, and this seems a “positive way forward” in terms of equine welfare.
“Furthermore, there is a good possibility that we may be able to get a grant to cover at least some of the costs for the courses,” he added. “This would allow the necessary work to be done in the off-season so everyone, including keepers, can start afresh next year using the same colour.”
Alex said anything that helps horses see and jump fences better is “100%” a positive.
Claire agreed, adding the shape and profile of fences could also be an interesting area to consider.
The detail over criteria covering most types of races is also up for discussion and Mr Wright has asked whether pointing should have any “hands and heels” races, adding this has been suggested by several sources. These are races where the whip is only allowed to be used for correction and safety reasons, not for encouragement.
Jack said he is not in favour, questioning how it would be enforced and whether pointing realistically has enough stewards and cameras to do so.
“In National Hunt racing these races are used for the younger generations and they have [multiple] cameras on every course meaning they are able to police it,” he said.
Claire added: “It’s tricky and I’m a bit on the fence – I don’t think it is a bad idea, but it could be stretching the pool [of riders and horses] a bit too much [to start adding new conditions].”
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