Changes to Aintree’s Grand National steeplechase course have been made ahead of this weekend’s race, including fences with plastic cores.
Aintree and the British Horseracing Authority have been involved in a three-year research and development programme looking at alternative fence construction for the course. This specifically focused on utilising materials other than the timber and protective rubber padding that used to make up the central frame of a fence.
Following the successful trial of prototype fences with a different frame at the Betfred Becher Chase meeting in December, Aintree now has 12 fences with plastic cores around the Grand National Course. The remaining three fences, which are open ditches, have had the wooden frames replaced by traditional birch.
Fence heights remain unchanged.
The fence frames have all changed from the wooden frames to EasyFix plastic birch dressed, as before with spruce. Open ditches are birch, dressed with spruce. “This means that the fences are kinder if a horse makes a mistake,” Aintree Racecourse said.
The height and width of all fences is exactly as before “so to all intents and purposes they are the same except, as we say, more horse friendly”.
The EasyFix fences were trialed at the Aintree November meeting when two fences on the course were constructed with the Easyfix plastic centre and two ditches were constructed with a core of EasyFix birch under the layers of spruce. The feedback from riders and the racecourse authorities was very positive and horses appeared to jump it well, leading to the decision to use the EasyFix system for the Grand National.
Michael Earls, EasyFix’s Managing Director said: “This is a major breakthrough, We are delighted that Aintree has decided to use the EasyFix birch and plastic core. We believe that this is a major step forward in racecourse safety and we are delighted to be part of it.”
Forming part of the racecourse’s on-going programme of works, Becher’s Brook has undergone further levelling of the wider landing zone, correcting the settlement which occurred following works carried out in 2011.
This has not changed either the dimensions or the character of the fences (the current drop, the difference in height between the level of the ground on take-off and landing, will remain at 10 inches on the inside of the course and six inches on the outside of the course).
Smoothing out of landing areas at several jumps has also been carried out, and in addition to the £150,000 invested in 2011, a further £100,000 was invested after last year’s race in further improving the watering system.
In a briefing sent to jockeys, Aintree Racecourse pointed out that an average of 53 per cent of all National falls and 28 per cent of unseats occur before Foinavon first time. That is one and a half minutes into the nine-minute plus race.
Ruby Walsh has been confirmed as the rider of the 7/1 favourite with Betfred. The maximum number of runners is 40 on Saturday in the £975,000 race over 30 fences and four miles, three furlongs and about 110 yards.
There will be 40 declared runners and up to four reserves known before 11am tomorrow. The reserves will be utilised if there any non-runners by 9am on Friday, April 5.
The course is now sold out in all enclosures, which means over 70,000 will watch the race.