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A two-furlong reduction in the distance of the National Hunt Chase is one of a series of changes to the Cheltenham Festival event announced by the British Horseracing Authority on Monday.
Following a controversial renewal of the amateurs’ race at this year’s Festival, when only four of 18 starters finished a race run on soft ground, the BHA and Cheltenham’s owner, Jockey Club Racecourses, have unveiled some alterations to the contest.
The Grade Two contest will now have minimum rating for horses of 120, which brings it in line with the Grade One novice chases at the meeting, while contenders must have run in two novice chases and been placed in the first four in one of those over an extended two miles, seven and a half furlongs or further.
Runners must also have had at least one outing in the current National Hunt season, while the amateur riders who take part in the race must have had a minimum of 20 rides and at least five winners, with all qualifying rides coming under Rules.
The National Hunt Chase was first run in 1860 and became, in 1911, the race around which the Festival was created and developed. Previous winners include dual Grand National hero Tiger Roll, while 2016 Gold Cup winner Native River finished second in the race.
Derek O’Connor, representative of the Irish Amateur Jockeys Association and two-time winner of the race, said: “The National Hunt Chase is one of the races you dream about winning when you become an amateur jockey, it’s one of the pinnacles of our season.
“The changes that have been made may mean some riders have to get more experience then they would have previously, but that’s no bad thing and overall the new requirements look pretty fair.”
Champion trainer Paul Nicholls said: “The National Hunt Chase is one of the most important amateur races of the season and its produced some top-class staying chasers down the years.
“Balancing that tradition and history with making the race safer was never going to be easy, but the changes that have been agreed seem sensible and most importantly the amateur status of the race has remained.
“If the new conditions mean that the race still retains its character whilst hopefully making it safer for everyone who takes part, then that can only be a good thing.”
Brant Dunshea, the BHA’s chief regulatory officer, added: “The changes to the National Hunt Chase announced today have the full support of the BHA, its board and the Jump Pattern Committee.
“This year’s Festival included many great highlights and we will continue to work closely with Cheltenham and stakeholders to ensure that as an industry we take evidence-based decisions.”