When the new season kicks off on 29 November all races will be open to four-year-olds unless a specific age restriction is applied, for example a maiden race for horses aged eight and over.
Robert Waley-Cohen, chairman of the Point-to-Point Board, said: “Given the increase in the number of four-year-olds taking part in point-to-points, and veterinary evidence that suggests it is better to race horses at a younger age, it makes sense to increase the opportunities open to them.”
When allowed back into the sport in the 2006 season, after nearly 50 years, youngsters were confined to a handful of 2½-mile maiden races.
That restriction was relaxed to allow them to contest longer events in higher grades after winning a 2½-mile maiden, but now they can enter at any level or distance.
Mr Waley-Cohen owns Long Run, France’s top four-year-old, who last week was transferred to Nicky Henderson’s yard.
He added: “In 2006-07 only 10 horses of that age ran in races, but last year 74 were registered and 52 ran. I expect the number to go on increasing.
“Breeders have asked for more opportunities for young horses, and owners and trainers seem to want it too.”
Asked whether three-mile races were suitable for debutant four-year-olds, he said: “Trainers are not stupid — they know what they are doing and which trip suits their horses best.”
Trainer Alan Hill also believes four-year-olds are suitable for pointing, depending on their size and maturity.
Hill said: “Running big, raw four-year-olds is not wise, but it is fine if you have an early-maturing type. We have to try to hold our end up against the Irish, who run a lot of four-year-olds then sell them to run under Rules here.
“I feel the weights carried by four-year-olds are too low [10st for fillies, 10st 7lb for geldings] because many of our best amateurs can’t ride that light.”
See the current issue, 19 November, for our point-to-point special.
This article was first published in Horse & Hound (19 November, ’09)