Clare Balding calls for change to start of the Grand National 2013

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Clare Balding, who will anchor coverage of the Grand National at Aintree when it is televised by Channel 4 Racing for the first time next April, has entered the debate on the world’s most famous race by suggesting that any horses that cross the starting line too early should be forced to start at the back of the field.

Balding also believes that the distance of the National should be reduced by almost a furlong to allow the runners to start at the Melling Road, cutting the length of the headlong charge to the first fence.

“My feeling is that the start has been a massive problem for the last three years,” Balding said this week. “I’d move the start to the Melling Road, and anyone who goes over the start line early will have to go to the back of the grid, so there is a penalty straight away.

“That means they won’t all charge it and it will slow down the pace to the first fence, which has a knock-on effect.”

The British Horseracing Authority recently completed its official review of the 2012 Grand National, in which two horses – Synchronised, the Gold Cup winner, and According To Pete – suffered fatal injuries. The Authority’s board considered the final report earlier this week, and its findings and recommendations are due to be published within the next few days.

The review is expected to recommend new procedures at the start of the race, which has caused persistent problems in recent years. This year’s renewal was badly delayed, first when Synchronised unshipped Tony McCoy and ran loose for several minutes, and then by two false starts. The BHA subsequently suggested that all 40 jockeys in the National had been in breach of the rules over the start, but did not lay any charges.

However, the review is not expected to recommend any significant changes be made to the Grand National course or the famous fences.

Neither of the two fatalities in this year’s race occurred as the direct result of a fall, as Synchronised was injured while running loose and According To Pete was brought down by another horse at Becher’s Brook on the second circuit.

Balding believes that the fences should be left as they are. “I wouldn’t reduce the size of the fences any more,” she said. “If anything, I’d consider putting them back to where they were, without bringing back the drops [between take-off and landing where these have already been removed].”

Meanwhile, the BHA said that 42 of its raceday staff have been warned that they are at risk of redundancy following an operational review which has “identified two areas … where efficiencies could be achieved”.

Three separate teams of staff – stable yard integrity officers, veterinary technicians and weighing room integrity officers – will be replaced by the single role of the raceday integrity officers. As a result, the 42 employees currently carrying out these tasks are expected to be replaced by a new team representing a total of 26 full-time jobs.

“Having thoroughly considered and discussed these services and issues,” Paul Bittar, the BHA’s chief executive, said, “we have informed the respective teams that we propose to bring their roles together.

“This means that we have had to put three groups of staff at risk of redundancy with immediate effect. Over the coming weeks, we will consult with the union [Unite] and the staff about the new roles and consider any alternative suggestions that they have.

“A recruitment process will then take place to select the right people for the new roles for what will amount to the equivalent of 26 full-time positions.”

The primary responsibility of the new integrity officers will be to safeguard integrity and horse welfare in the racecourse stables, including identification checks and obtaining samples for dope testing.

Bittar said that the intention of the change is to “create a more flexible and efficient raceday service”. He added: “our objective was not simply to save costs, although providing cost-efficient regulatory service to British racing is one of our over-arching goals.” © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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