Christian Williams’ anxious wait is over after his well-fancied Kitty’s Light snuck into the final line-up for the 2024 Randox Grand National.

Bidding to be the first Welsh-trained winner of the race since 1905, Kitty’s Light was one of a trio of National candidates left sweating after Monday’s confirmation stage.

Eklat De Rire, Chambard and Kitty’s Light were amongst a plethora of runners allotted a rating of 146 for the big race but with that trio seeing their official handicap mark dropped to a figure of 145 since the weights were unveiled in February, a random ballot would have been required to determine which two of the three would take their chance in the world’s most famous steeplechase.

However, as envisaged earlier in the week, the Melling Chase-bound Conflated came out of the race on Thursday meaning no ballot is required and all three of Eklat De Rire, Chambard and Kitty’s Light will face the starter on Saturday afternoon.

Conflated is the only absentee from the previous top 34, meaning 2022 winner Noble Yeats will carry the burden of top weight, with Gary Moore’s Welsh Grand National winner Nassalam next in, as he provides a first ride in the race for leading conditional Caoilin Quinn.

Defending champion Corach Rambler heads the betting as Lucinda Russell and jockey Derek Fox both seek a third win in the Aintree showpiece and the Cheltenham Gold Cup third bids to join the likes of Red Rum and Tiger Roll as a back-to-back Grand National winner.

Last year’s runner-up Vanillier is one of two in the race for Gavin Cromwell, who will also saddle Cheltenham Festival scorer Limerick Lace, the chosen mount of JP McManus’ retained rider Mark Walsh.

The Irish challenge is boosted by Willie Mullins’ eight contenders, with McManus-owned pair I Am Maximus and Meetingofthewaters both high up in the betting and bringing strong form claims.

Capodanno is another Closutton contender wearing green and gold, with Mr Incredible also among the market leaders for the perennial Irish champion trainer.

Panda Boy has the chance to give Martin Brassil a second victory in the race, while John McConnell will saddle his first-ever National contender in Coral Gold Cup second Mahler Mission.

Delta Work – third in 2022 – is the leading name amongst Gordon Elliott’s eight runners, with Henry de Bromhead’s Gold Cup winner Minella Indo set to be Rachael Blackmore’s mount and adds a touch of class to the contest.

As well as the previously mentioned Eklat De Rire, De Bromhead will also be represented by Ain’t That A Shame, the mount of amateur David Maxwell.

Former French champion jockey James Reveley will return to the Aintree fold aboard James Griffin’s Roi Mage, who was seventh in the race 12 months ago.

Dan Skelton’s game mare Galia Des Liteaux forms part of the small British challenge and is one of those towards the bottom of the weights with strong form on testing ground to her name.

Skelton also oversaw the preparations of Latenightpass on behalf of good friend Tom Ellis this season, with the 11-year-old set to be Ellis’ first ever runner as a licensed trainer after hastily joining the professional ranks for the chance to saddle his Aintree specialist on Saturday afternoon.

Eldorado Allen (Joe Tizzard) and Mac Tottie (Peter Bowen) are the other British-trained contenders.

Rachael Blackmore became the first woman to ride the winner of the Grand National when guiding Minella Times home on this day in 2021.

The Henry De Bromhead-trained Minella Times helped Blackmore back up her Cheltenham exploits weeks earlier with more history at Aintree.

Despite the race taking place behind closed doors due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it was a day to remember for Blackmore on the 11-1 shot after 32 previous female jockeys had tried and failed to win the Grand National.

While Blackmore had finished runner-up in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham the month before, she had claimed top jockey at the meeting to propel herself onto not only the back pages but the front.

Coupled with the well-fancied Minella Times, expectations were high for the 31-year-old and she did not disappoint with a well-timed run on good to soft ground.

Minella Times and Blackmore stormed past outsider Jett over the last fence and held off Balko Des Flos, also De Bromhead-trained, to earn a historic success.

“I don’t feel male or female. I don’t even feel human, I feel unbelievable,” Blackmore exclaimed after her run with Katie Walsh’s third-place finish on Seabass in 2012 the previous best by a female jockey at the Grand National.

“You need so much luck to get around with no-one else interfering first of all. You need so much to go right and things went right for me today.

“I feel so incredibly lucky. It is unbelievable, I’m just so thrilled.”

It is 60 years since a serious injury to Paddy Farrell in the 1964 Grand National helped spawn what is now the Injured Jockeys Fund.

At the time there was no system in place, financial or otherwise, to compensate jockeys whenever they were injured and Jack Berry, at the time a jump jockey himself who would go on to be a successful Flat trainer, was one of the riders to literally go round with collection buckets.

Farrell’s fall from Border Flight, while awful for all concerned, did at least provide a catalyst for change. Tim Brookshaw was another jockey to suffer serious injury at around the same time and the Farrell/Brookshaw Fund was set up originally to facilitate their recuperation before the pair asked that all jockeys should benefit.

John (Lord) Oaksey took on a prominent role, as did Berry.

“I do appreciate how good the facilities are now but it all started way back in 1964,” said Berry.

“Poor Paddy Farrell fell and broke his back in the Grand National. I was one of the jump jockeys who went round with buckets to collect money for him and if you like that was the start of the Injured Jockeys Fund.

“In those days there was nowhere for people to look to and he had a wife and four young kids at the time – they were seven, five, three and five months old. It was a bad situation.

“I had a bad fall at Wetherby when I broke my knee in five places and despite me conning my local doctor after three months to say I was fit, the Jockey Club doctor said there was no way I could ride, it only bent about 60 per cent.

“He asked me to go to Camden Town centre in London to rehabilitate. When I went there, along with me there were five dockers and a policeman but obviously they were just trying to drag it out as long as possible, I was the only one there who wanted to get better.

“I thought when I packed up riding and became a trustee of the Injured Jockeys Fund that we could do with a facility like Camden Town. It took me three years to get it past the trustees that we needed Oaksey House (in Lambourn) but when we got it past the trustees, I always thought we needed one in the north.”

The one in the north is known as Jack Berry House and while the man famous for wearing red shirts is a little embarrassed the facility carries his name given it was down to the work of so many, he admits to feeling a sense of pride at the outcome.

“Once I suggested it, I was told it was only six years since we opened Oaksey House but I said ‘don’t worry, we’ll raise the funds’ and with the help of the IJF, we held things like bungee jumps, sponsored swims and walks, all sorts to get the money,” he said.

“I did say to the trustees that we shouldn’t call it Jack Berry House we should call it Our House, but it is something I am very proud of and I’m absolutely delighted with it.

“It’s not just for injured jockeys, it’s a community hub if you like. Someone like Brian Hughes might ride out in Malton, go and use the gym there and then head off for six rides at Wetherby or somewhere.

“The wives of ex-jockeys still go and do Pilates there and have a cup of tea and a bit of a chat.”

Hopefully in the future Graham Lee may be a regular visitor to Jack Berry House.

It was 20 years ago that Lee won the Grand National on Amberleigh House before he switched his attentions to the Flat, going on to register a unique double by steering Trip To Paris to triumph in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot.

Sadly, Lee suffered a fall at Newcastle in November which left him with life-changing injuries.

“You wouldn’t believe how many jockeys get injured. When you go down there, there are jockeys with broken collarbones and all sorts, it is a very dangerous profession,” said Berry.

“Look at Graham Lee, the poor lad is seriously injured. With Graham hopefully there might be scope for some more movement returning. He can move his shoulders and his neck.

“Graham is going to visit a rugby player who broke his neck, he has a rehabilitation place near Leicester and he’ll go there for a couple of weeks and then he’ll go home after the alterations have been made to make it wheelchair friendly. No doubt he will go to Jack Berry House to have physio eventually.”

It is hard to mention the Grand National without the name McCain following close behind and 20 years ago the race’s most famous family wrote their name into the Aintree record books for a fourth time thanks to Amberleigh House.

Ginger McCain was arguably the man who helped shape the destiny of the world’s most great steeplechase, with his charismatic personality and masterful handling of the great Red Rum breathing life into the marathon event at a time when many questioned its existence.

McCain had already tasted National glory on three occasions with the legendary Red Rum by the time Amberleigh House set about trying to conquer Aintree, but it had been over 30 years since the horse that had defined the Southport handler’s training career had first etched his name onto the Grand National’s roll of honour.

The McCain family of course had heard every tale possible about Red Rum, but Amberleigh House – who was very much a part of the family and had a love of Aintree befitting of a firm McCain favourite – would cement his decorated trainer’s legacy and give Ginger’s son Donald just a glimpse of how the halcyon days of Red Rum may have been.

“I remember everything about that day and we were all very involved with Amberleigh,” said Donald McCain.

“I rode him out every day and my wife looked after him every day.

“It was great for dad because everyone called him a one-horse trainer. He was never bothered by it because he would say ‘what a great job I made of that one’.

“We had one good horse in the yard at the time and a lot of time and investment went into him and it meant an awful lot to all of us. We made the best job of him we could.”

Amberleigh House would be one of Ginger McCain’s final runners in the Grand National before he passed the baton over to son Donald in 2006 and although the younger McCain would go on to win the Grand National himself with Ballabriggs in 2011, it is still that 2004 triumph that sticks in the forefront of his memory.

He added: “It was quite surreal and it was literally from the elbow where it all happened so it wasn’t a very long period of time, but it was just very, very special.

“For us as a family, we grew up around a retired Red Rum but weren’t around when he was winning and to get to feel a bit of that was very special and to this day it would be the best day I’ve had in racing, even better than the day I won it with Ballabriggs.

“There was a McCain way but that is probably gone now to be honest. We knew what an Aintree horse was and how to get one ready for Aintree and train them for that one day. But things have changed so far now that I don’t think that even comes into it the same now.”

Amberleigh House competed round the famous fences on 11 occasions failing to complete only twice – when brought down in his first crack at the big race in 2001 and when pulled-up on his final start before retirement in 2006.

He was ridden for the majority of those assignments by Graham Lee, the crack jump jockey turned Flat pilot who formed a dynamic partnership with the foot-perfect stayer.

The 20-year anniversary of the duo’s finest hour comes poignantly at a time when Lee is recovering from the life-changing injuries suffered in a fall at Newcastle last November and there is little doubt about Lee’s importance to the Amberleigh House story.

“Graham was a very high-class jump jockey and what has happened to him is very sad,” continued McCain.

“We all think about him all the time and he managed to carve a second career on the Flat, but he was a very good jump jockey, one of the best around.

“He was a big part of Amberleigh House and they were made for each other, they were a pleasure to watch together the pair of them.”

With Amberleigh House and Lee’s biggest day still to come, it was the pair’s defeat at the hands of Clan Royal in that season’s Becher Chase that proved instrumental to Grand National glory, helping shape riding plans for the big race itself a few months later.

“I think losing that Becher Chase won us the National and I think Graham would say the same,” said McCain.

“He got beat a short head in the Becher Chase that season by Clan Royal and it was the shortest of short heads.

“If you looked at Clan Royal he was twice as big as old Amberleigh and we were distraught to be honest. They were ding dong from the top of the straight and the two of them came clear and it was a fantastic finish.

“To be honest losing that I think helped us win a Grand National as I had a good talk with Graham and we decided Amberleigh only had one little burst of acceleration in him and there was a general consensus that sounds cocky now, but don’t hit the front until the elbow.

“If you watched Graham a few years later he tried to do the same on a horse of Ferdy Murphy’s who just didn’t stay. He arrived at the last with a chance on Big Fella Thanks in Ballabriggs’ year and tried to do a very similar thing with him.”

It was Becher adversary Clan Royal that was sent off the 10-1 co-favourite for the 2004 Grand National with Amberleigh House 16-1 in the market.

Jonjo O’Neill’s charge looked to be in the process of obliging favourite-backers when jumping to the lead two out, with Amberleigh House still having plenty to do among those still attempting to complete the course.

A repeat of the previous year’s third seemed the best Amberleigh House could hope for, but the complexion of the contest was about to change, with Clan Royal and Martin Pipe’s Lord Atterbury running out of steam and Lee executing the McCain plan to perfection as Amberleigh House and his trademark white noseband closed the gap on the lung-busting run to the line.

“I think he was fourth from the back of the Canal Turn and you’re looking behind to see if something was going to come and do him for fourth and then I just thought at the second-last he was staying on but just took two more strides to jump it,” explained McCain.

“If he had jumped it two strides sooner I would have thought we had a real chance and then Hedgehunter fell at the last and I thought ‘we’re going to be third again in the Grand National’.

“Then halfway up the run-in everything changed, it was the most amazing day.

“There was only one man who would ever know how confident he was and that was Graham himself. But it was a case of we didn’t want to get there too soon and the one thing I can imagine is he would have been getting the most wonderful ride off him, as you will never see another horse jump Aintree better than Amberleigh House – and I mean the old Aintree, not the one we’re on about now.”

It was a case of third-time lucky for Amberleigh House and a National win that McCain thought had maybe passed the horse by after his gallant third to Monty’s Pass 12 months prior to his glorious afternoon on Merseyside.

However, the pint-sized National hero would keep coming back for more of the famous spruce, never letting his side down when faced with the challenge of the National fences.

“The year before he was third in the race he was very tired afterwards, he was absolutely drunk and we had to take him away out of the winner’s enclosure,” said McCain.

“You kind of wondered if that was his chance of winning the Grand National gone. He didn’t know where he was for about 20 minutes so it is to his credit he came back and he just loved the place.

“He was just the most amazing little horse and Amberleigh was so good to jump round there, he was as good as you ever see. You never really didn’t expect him to get round which was a fairly big thing at the old Aintree. He was only 15’2 and half an inch but as good a jumper as you would ever see – he was just so good round there.”

On the 20th anniversary of Graham Lee winning the Grand National on Amberleigh House, a new racing club was launched to help raise money for the jockey after he suffered life-changing injuries in a fall at Newcastle in November.

The 48-year-old had a long and distinguished career in the saddle – under both codes. As well as winning the Grand National, he completed the unique double of riding the Gold Cup winner at Royal Ascot, via Trip To Paris.

The Graham Lee Racing Club has been set up by the Good Racing Company, founded by Phil Hawthorne, who established a similar venture for former rugby league player Rob Burrow.

They have purchased a two-year-old filly called We’ve Got This, in reference to a message Lee’s wife Becky posted on social media after the accident.

Lee’s daughter Amy and son Robbie have been at the forefront of the fundraising, with the latter designing the club’s logo, featured around Lee’s favourite number 17, also the number Amberleigh House wore at Aintree and the cost, £17, to join the venture, while Amy set up the initial Just Giving page.

She said: “It’s so nice that something so positive comes out of something so awful. I love meeting people who know dad, everyone has their really cool stories and everyone has been wanting to help so much. It’s nice to create something positive.

“When we set up a Just Giving page for dad, the target was £100, last week it hit £200,000 – which is crazy. I never expected that.

“I’ve always said to dad every time he has a negative thought, there’s a donation to show him he needs to keep going, there are so many people behind him.

“When he’s had his down days, we’ve sat there and we’ve read all the lovely messages and it always puts a smile on our faces.

“We’ve had so much support and the McCoys have been like a second family to us – the night it happened AP picked me up, as I live near him, and he brought me up home.”

She went on: “Dad is just dad to me. I never really clicked how incredible he was. I’ve always thought the world of him but another jockey said to me ‘he’s like God, he’s who everyone wants to be like’. It’s so nice to hear something like that.

“I wish that I could be half the person. I’m a performer, I’m studying musical theatre, and to have that competitive mindset to be a winner, to be a champion, is admirable.

“While he was a jockey, it was onto the next thing. When he won the National, he was just thinking ‘I need to go to Hexham tomorrow’, he never got to celebrate it really, but since his accident, he’s really reflected and we’ve pulled out the old photos and old videos.

“When his friends and fellow jockeys come and see him, they reflect on races from years ago and his memory is insanely sharp. I think it’s starting to click that ‘actually, I think I was all right. I don’t think I did too bad a job’.

“So many people have come to see him or got in touch with a message, it’s been so nice and really kept dad going.

“The world goes on but for us four, we’re still at November 11, time’s just stopped since then. Everyone has been carrying on, as they should. But it’s nice that people are still caring at this point, five months down the line. They are still showing up, ringing, messaging.”

Lee’s former weighing room colleague and dual champion jockey Paul Hanagan is now assistant trainer to Craig Lidster, who has been entrusted with looking after We’ve Got This.

“It’s an honour to be involved in this, Graham’s family are closely involved, Steve and Wendy Burdett, who own Eboracum Stables, have given us the horse, so a lot of thanks go to them,” said Hanagan.

“The filly is by Invincible Army, she’s been doing everything right and I’ve sat on her myself. She’s flourished these last few months and we’re really looking forward to the season.

“Obviously, I’ve had a few sleepless nights hoping I’ve picked a good one! Hopefully she’ll be running in the next five to six weeks.

“Graham has made a huge contribution to racing all through his career and I’d love to give something back.”

Lee himself said: “I’m really humbled that a fundraising racing club has been set up in my honour, and that Paul Hanagan has chosen the horse for me. I’ve been shown videos of the horse and she looks very promising. No pressure Paul, but I hope you’ve picked a winner!

“I’ve seen what the Good Racing Company has achieved for Rob Burrow and how it’s united the racing community. I have high hopes that this new racing club achieves the same success with We’ve Got This, and my family and I look forward to following the excitement and being part of this new community.”

Lidster, whose yard is flourishing, said: “As you can see, she’s a nice, big filly, so hopefully we might get to York at some point.

“I don’t want to put her on a pedestal but she’s going the right way, she’s got a great attitude, she loves her work and we’re pleased with her.

“She has size and scope about her, so we’ll be choosing the right track for her; galloping tracks like York and Doncaster.

“This is a special cause. Family is family, whether that is your own or the racing industry – and that is how we look at Graham and anyone else in this sport, we all look to help each other when these things happen.”

More information can be found at:

Forward Plan will bid for a third big pot of the season at the Grand National meeting in April.

Anthony Honeyball admits to have been taken aback by just how effective the eight-year-old has been this term, winning a good prize at Doncaster and then being beaten a nose in the Great Yorkshire Chase before winning the £150,000 Coral Trophy at Kempton.

He now has his sights set on the £100,000 William Hill Handicap Chase on Grand National day at Aintree, April 13, a race the yard has fond memories of.

“Forward Plan goes to Aintree for the race Sam Brown won two years ago,” said Honeyball.

“When Sam won it it was the race before the National so we had an hour in the winning connections room, but the only thing was we probably didn’t get much exposure as they went straight into the build-up for the National!

“Forward Plan has been a cracking little horse, he’s picked up about £120,000. We’ve dared to dream chucking him in big handicaps and he has kept on delivering.

“Last season we thought he had won his Gold Cup in a £20,000 race at Southwell but he has just improved and improved this season.

“The Badger Ales was a good place to start but the ground was softer than he liked, then he won a nice race at Doncaster and in between Doncaster and his Kempton wins he was beaten a nose in the Great Yorkshire Chase.

“Arguably the best ride Ben (Godfrey) has given him was that one too as everyone was sure the winner, Annual Invictus, had gone off too fast so he ignored him for much of the race, he beat the rest easily but to be fair to the winner he just found that little bit extra.

“The race at Kempton was worth more than the Ultima and there wasn’t one Irish entry. They probably think it comes too close to Cheltenham.

“He looked beaten two out, he’d lost his position down the back straight but he flew home. If he can win a third big pot it would be great, we’ll try and go to Aintree and if not it will be Punchestown.”

John McConnell will work backwards with Mahler Mission from his ultimate aim of the Grand National at Aintree in the spring.

The eight-year-old was last seen finishing a gallant second in the Coral Gold Cup, missing out by three and three-quarter lengths after losing both shoes during the three-mile two-furlong trip around Newbury.

The Grand National was mentioned in the aftermath of that race, with the gelding usually a fluent jumper who looked poised to triumph in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham last year until falling at the penultimate fence, having pulled four lengths clear.

Connections have now decided to pursue the Aintree aim and Mahler Mission may even have a start over hurdles to protect his mark of 155 ahead of the marathon contest.

“He’s in good form, he had a good break after the Coral and he’s back riding out now,” said McConnell.

“It was a good race, horses have won out of it since and we were very, very happy on the day. Hopefully, there’s a bit more to come.

“Hopefully, we’ll get a clear run with him; he’ll miss Cheltenham and the target will be the National.

“He should be on a nice racing weight, it’s the Grand National and we could get him there and then anything could happen on the day, but he’s entitled to take his chance.

“He ticks a lot of the boxes for the race, he’s still a relatively young horse and he’d certainly be worth his place in the field.

“We’ve not got a plan yet, I’d have to sit down and try and find a race for him before and see what there is about.

“It wouldn’t bother us if we went back over hurdles, that’s definitely an option.”

Nicky Richards is confident Haydock scorer Famous Bridge can keep progressing through the staying ranks, but a lack of chasing experience may put any Grand National ambitions on hold for this season.

The seven-year-old delighted his trainer when enhancing his fencing record to three wins from six appearances at the weekend and the handicapper was equally impressed, raising the gelding 6lb to a new rating of 135.

Richards will now seek out further opportunities for the talented stayer to continue his progression having always been hopeful he would develop into a handy operator.

“He did what we hoped he would do and I thought he did it nicely,” said Richards.

“He jumped economically and he jumped well down the home straight when he had to and stayed on well. He did everything nicely.

“He’s always looked fairly progressive. Hopefully he is still looking like that.

“I’m not quite sure where he goes next and he’s young for a staying chaser. He will be running in a nice race or two, but I’m not sure where that will be. We won’t be rushing into things, we will have a look at the programme book and take it from there.

“He’s a progressive horse and when you get one like that you want him to run in the little bit better races and we will be stepping up as he goes through the ratings hopefully.”

Famous Bridge runs in the colours of the late Trevor Hemmings who was synonymous with Grand National success thanks to the exploits of Hedgehunter, Ballabriggs and Many Clouds at Aintree. And given connections, Richards admits that the Liverpool showpiece has entered conversations.

However, the Greystoke handler is unsure whether the stern examination of the National is what Famous Bridge requires at this early stage of his chasing career.

“I’m sure Aintree will be on the agenda at some stage if things are going right, that goes without question,” continued Richards.

“Mick (Meagher) and the whole team think very similar to how the boss used to think, but we will try to do what is best by the horse this year and make the right moves.”

He went on: “He’s only had six runs over fences and if he was going to go in the National this year he might only have one more run, maybe two at the most, and would that be just enough experience for him? I’m not quite sure.

“It’s very interesting and we don’t know where the journey is going to end, but hopefully we are on an interesting one.”

Oliver Greenall and Josh Guerriero will keep the Grand National in mind for Gesskille following his win in the Grand Sefton over the famous Aintree fences, with the training duo also contemplating a run over the cross-country course at Cheltenham next month.

The seven-year-old has proven a brilliant operator over the famous spruce since joining the Cheshire-based training team, and after a couple of near-misses at the track last term, finally got his moment in the Merseyside spotlight as jockey Henry Brooke bounced out his mount who made every yard in testing conditions.

That victory has seen Gesskille rise to a career-high mark of 144, but with the world’s most famous steeplechase set to have reduced numbers for 2024, Greenall feels he may have to improve further in the ratings to guarantee his spot and is considering a run at Cheltenham on December 15 before firming up plans for the spring.

He said: “He would need to go up a bit to get in (the Grand National), so we will just see and he might go to the cross-country race at Cheltenham in December and see how we go after that really.

“We will keep him fresh anyway for a spring campaign, whether that is Auteuil or the National, we will have to wait and see.”

Gesskille was beaten a nose in the Grand Sefton 12 months ago, before filling the same runner-up berth in the Becher Chase a month later.

However, Greenall credits the application of blinkers as making the real difference for the gelding, who was a game winner at Auteuil in his new headgear prior to his Aintree triumph.

“He seems a little bit more professional with the headgear, it has definitely helped him,” he added.

“People said the loose horse helped him (at Aintree) and I’m sure it did a little bit. But with the headgear, he seemed to be staying on gamely anyway.”

Next year’s Randox Grand National will have a maximum of 34 runners after the field size was reduced as part of new safety measures.

The Jockey Club, who host the famous Liverpool race at Aintree, have made several alterations to the contest in a bid to make it safer for both horse and rider.

The organisation undertakes a review of the event every year, drawing from statistics and academic study as well as consulting industry figures, the sport’s governing body and the equine charity World Horse Welfare.

The key findings after the 2023 renewal have led to a reduction in the maximum field, with the safety limit cut by six to 34 runners from 2024 onwards.

Other significant revisions to the race begin before the meeting itself, with horses now required to carry a rating of at least 130 to be eligible – an update on the previous lower limit of 125 and a switch that puts the race in line with Grade One contests.

A closer eye will also be kept on the jumping abilities of entrants, with those that have made jumping errors in 50 per cent or more of their last eight races subject to enhanced scrutiny from the existing Grand National Review Panel before being allowed to run.

The race will be brought forward on account of the ground conditions, which can dry significantly throughout the day, though the new start time has yet to be settled with the race’s terrestrial broadcaster, ITV.

Walkways in the paddock will be widened and the horses will no longer be led past the grandstand in a parade but will instead be left to canter past the crowd and on to the start.

When the horses arrive at the tapes, there will be a change in the way the race begins, with participants required to set off from a standing start before reaching the first fence, which has been moved forward 60 yards to slow the field down in the early stages of the race.

From then on, there are a number of alterations to the course itself, with the running rail adjusted to assist with catching loose horses and the height of fence 11 reduced by two inches and the drop on the landing side decreased.

Foam and rubber toe boards will also be added to every fence and there will be further investment in ‘pop-up’ irrigation to make watering the track more efficient.

Nevin Truesdale, chief executive of The Jockey Club, said: “The Randox Grand National is the most iconic race in the world and one which transcends our sport. It is part of the fabric of British sporting life alongside the likes of Wimbledon, the FA Cup and the Open golf and is loved and watched by millions of people all over the world every year.

“For many, it is also their introduction to horse racing and I believe that a competitive, fair and safe Randox Grand National is one of the best ways of ensuring the sport continues to thrive for generations to come and remains an important part of Britain’s culture and economy.

“That means our sport, like many other sports have done, needs to recognise when action needs to be taken to evolve, because the safety and care of horses and jockeys will always be our number one priority.

“In making these changes at Aintree, we are underlining our relentless focus on welfare and our commitment to powering the future of British racing.”

Sulekha Varma, north west head of racing for Jockey Club Racecourses and clerk of the course at Aintree, added: “The welfare of our racehorses and jockeys is our number one priority at Aintree and we have invested significantly in equine welfare over many years.

“We continually review the Grand National and following an in-depth, evidence-based review process this year, we are announcing several changes as part of its continued evolution.

“One of our key areas of focus is reducing the risk of incidents during the race. We know from research papers and internal analysis of jump races that there is a direct correlation between the number of runners and the risk of falling, unseating or being brought down.

“However, we also must consider that reducing the field size by too great a number could create a faster race and have an adverse impact in terms of safety.

“Using the information available to us and considering the experiences of participants, our conclusion is that 34 should be the maximum number of runners in the race, which we hope will result in the least number of incidents.”

Explaining some of the other updates to the race conditions, Varma said: “Another key area of our focus was addressing the start of the race and implementing change to slow down its earliest stages.

“Relocating the first fence will reduce the opportunity to build up too much speed on the approach and re-introducing the standing start should also help to reduce speed.

“We also considered the start time of the race, which was traditionally much earlier in the afternoon but changed to 5.15pm in 2016.

“While this has helped build excitement among the crowd throughout the afternoon, it has proved challenging in managing the ground. Returning to an earlier race time was recommended by both the BHA (British Horseracing Authority) Executive and Horse Welfare Board in their feedback.

“The benefits and relevance of the pre-race parade of horses in front of the grandstand was also brought into question. We hope that allowing jockeys to canter their horses in front of the stands at their own pace will help create a calmer environment during the build-up to the race.”

Julie Harrington, chief executive of the BHA, commented: “The Grand National is the world’s greatest horse race. It has maintained that status through the years, in part, because of the developments and changes that have been made to it.

“These changes have enabled it to move with the times and maintain public support while also ensuring that it remains a unique, thrilling spectacle and the ultimate test of a racehorse.

“The package of measures which will be introduced for next year’s race seeks to strike this crucial balance, and the BHA endorses them in full.”

The Jockey Club has stressed that the changes are not a consequence of the protests held at Aintree ahead of the race last year, when demonstrators from Animal Rising gained access to the track before the race began.

A spokesperson for The Jockey Club said: “We undertake a review after every Grand National and constantly make changes as a result of this evidence-based process, which is all part of our relentless focus on putting the care and safety of our horses and jockeys above all else. The reckless actions of those who breached security to illegally gain access to the track on Grand National day have had absolutely no bearing whatsoever on the changes we are making to the race.”

The Jockey Club has announced significant changes to the format of the Randox Grand National as it looks to improve the safety of the race for both horses and riders.

Here, we look what has been altered and why:

How many runners will there be in 2024?

The field has been reduced from a maximum size, known as a safety limit, of 40 to 34. This is based on insights from independent research papers, along with the Jockey Club’s internal analysis of jump races.

How has the start changed?

The field will be required to partake in a standing start, meaning they will line up ahead of the tapes at a standstill before the flag falls. This is to prevent horses from gathering too much speed on the approach to the first fence.

What is the alteration to the first fence?

The first fence itself has not changed but it has been moved 60 yards closer to the start, again to prevent horses from approaching too fast. The start itself could not be changed due to its proximity to the Melling Road crossing.

Will the course be revised?

There are a handful of changes to the course itself, including a reduction of the height of fence 11 – which will be two inches smaller with a lessened drop on landing. The corrals used to round up loose horses will be improved, foam and rubber toe boards will also be added to every fence and there will be further investment in ‘pop-up’ irrigation to make watering the track more efficient.

Will there be changes to the raceday procedure?

Runners will no longer be led by handlers in a parade in front of the grandstand ahead of the race, instead they will be released at the end of the horse walk between the parade ring and the track and canter past the stands before heading to post.

What time will the race be run?

The race has been moved forward to prevent the ground drying out throughout the day, as was possible with the previous 5.15pm start time. The new start time has not been confirmed as discussions are ongoing with ITV, the terrestrial broadcaster, but the proposed window is between 3.45pm and 4.15pm.

Will certain horses be stopped from running?

Horses previously had to be rated at 125 or above to be eligible and that figure has now risen to 130, the same as Grade One races. There will also be increased scrutiny of the horses’ jumping records and consideration will be given to the participation of those that have made jumping errors in 50 per cent or more of their last eight races.

What evidence are the changes based on?

The changes are based on the annual review of the race, which utilises statistics and academic study as well as consulting industry figures, the sport’s governing body and the equine charity World Horse Welfare.

What consequences will these adjustments have?

It is hoped a smaller field size will prevent falls and horses being brought down, but it will exclude lower-rated runners and would have seen Minella Times, the winner in 2021, fail to make the cut for the race. The increased handicap rating would not have troubled him, however, and nor would it have had much, if any, impact on recent renewals of the race, as almost all horses engaged were comfortably rated in excess of 130.

Are the changes because of Animal Rising protests at the race last year?

A spokesperson for The Jockey Club said: “We undertake a review after every Grand National and constantly make changes as a result of this evidence-based process, which is all part of our relentless focus on putting the care and safety of our horses and jockeys above all else. The reckless actions of those who breached security to illegally gain access to the track on Grand National day have had absolutely no bearing whatsoever on the changes we are making to the race.”

Dual Grand National-winning trainer Lucinda Russell has thrown her support behind the decision to reduce the Aintree field to 34 runners from next year.

The Jockey Club, which runs the Liverpool track, announced a series of revisions to the April highlight on Thursday, with a cut in the maximum number of contenders down from 40 the headline change.

The position of the first fence will also be moved closer to the start while the race will be brought forward from its recent slot of 5.15pm, with the aim of providing the best possible ground for what is the betting event of the season.

Russell saddled One For Arthur to victory in 2017 and sent out Corach Rambler to triumph last season in a National that was slightly delayed after protesters from Animal Rising tried to stop the race from going ahead.

The Kinross handler said: “I think these changes announced today are a clear sign again that Aintree and The Jockey Club continue to be proactive in trying to support the Grand National and the wider sport of horseracing.

“I am fully supportive of reducing the field size and I don’t feel that six fewer runners will make a difference to the heritage of the race – it can only be a good step and hopefully will help improve the start procedures.

“As regards moving the first fence, the further you go then the more speed you are going to pick up, so logically it should mean they approach it slower. I know that it’s tricky for the jockeys to manage their speed, as it’s such an important race and everyone is vying for a good position.

“Aintree do a wonderful job in always producing perfect ground conditions; it is ground on the soft side of good, which is the way it should be.

“The level of welfare in racing is phenomenal and something we should be proud of. Once again, Aintree is trying to make things safer.”

Retired jockey Ruby Walsh rode two National winners on Papillon (2000) and Hedgehunter (2005) and he believes evolution is essential for the future of the race.

He said: “The Grand National is the showcase event for a sport I love dearly. It’s iconic and I don’t think you can overstate how important the Grand National is – it’s a Saturday in April when non-racing people watch our sport. People enjoy it and it’s up to us in racing to make sure that they continue to enjoy it.

“I think these changes represent the evolution of the Grand National. The world is ever-changing and the Grand National, and indeed horseracing, like any other sport, has to be prepared to change. Risk can never be removed but you have to try and minimise it.

“Horse welfare is a huge part of horseracing – it’s a team sport between horse and rider and we are responsible for the welfare of the horse. I think the changes announced today by The Jockey Club will enhance the Grand National as a horse race and help to ensure its future.

“I would say the biggest effect of the earlier start time will be with the ground. We all know what a big conversation climate change is in the world and it’s very hard to keep the whole of the Grand National course on the soft side of good with the race being run later in the afternoon.”

The race was contested over four and a half miles until 2013, when it was reduced by half a furlong after the start was moved forward to be further away from the crowds and grandstands following a safety review, with the trip cut further to four miles, two and a half furlongs in 2016 after the method of measuring race distances was changed.

A standing start will now be implemented for the race, which meets with Walsh’s approval, as does the call to lower the 11th fence and alter the track layout to help catch loose horses earlier.

He added: “An effect of being able to bypass fences and the levelling off on the landing sides of fences means that more runners bunch towards the inside and therefore the reduction in field size will, in my opinion, make a considerable difference.

“You hope small things make for big progress. A lot of thought and effort has gone into this process – it was a proper and thorough review. For me, it’s evolution. It was 10 years since the last changes were made and you can look and see what has worked and what needs to be evolved.

“There are lots of people who don’t like change but all sports change. Soccer is not the same game it was 30 or even 15 years ago and looking at the Rugby World Cup, rugby has had to evolve. Racing is the same in that we have to evolve to ensure the future of the sport.”

Emma Slawinski, RSPCA director of policy, described the announcement as a “welcome step” but underlined the charity still thinks there is more work to be done.

She said: “This is a welcome step from The Jockey Club and we are very pleased to see the organisation taking horse welfare seriously and making changes to the Grand National as a result, including decreasing the current maximum number of runners.

“We have always urged horseracing authorities to act on the wealth of science and evidence and believe this is the only way to demonstrate a commitment to improving and protecting horse welfare and ensuring a good life for those involved in the sport. The BHA and The Jockey Club will know that the RSPCA will continue to urge them to go further for the good of horse welfare.

“We believe that racehorses should have a good life on and off the track and should never be exposed to unacceptable risk of injury or death. Any steps from The Jockey Club to meet that aim are a positive step forward, we look forward to seeing this announcement pave the way for further changes and remain keen to work with them.”

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