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Grand National safety changes announced

updated 11:47 AM EDT, Thu September 20, 2012
Changes to the start position and fences at the famous steeplechase run annually at Aintree Racecourse have been announced
Changes to the start position and fences at the famous steeplechase run annually at Aintree Racecourse have been announced
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Organizers of UK's Grand National announce changes to start position and fences following two fatalities in 2012
  • Steeplechase run over 30 fences by 40 horses claimed lives of Synchronized and According to Pete
  • Horse welfare charity welcomes course changes but urges a reduction in number of horses allowed to enter

(CNN) -- A package of measures designed to improve the safety of the UK's Grand National steeplechase have been announced by British horse racing authorities.

Details of changes to the start and modification to fences were published Thursday by Aintree Racecourse and the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) following the deaths of two horses during this year's race last April.

"Following this year's race, our priorities were to establish the facts surrounding the incidents that occurred during the running of the race and, secondly, to review the events which led to what was an unsatisfactory start to the race," Jamie Stier, Director of Raceday Operations and Regulation for the BHA, said in a statement.

"We have worked closely with Aintree and consulted widely with jockeys, trainers and legitimate welfare organizations - the RSPCA (a UK-based animal welfare charity) and World Horse Welfare - on a range of elements related to the race," Stier added.

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These include moving the start 90 yards (82 meters) away from the crowds and the grandstands.

The objective of these changes is to create "a calmer and more controlled environment for both horse and rider," Stier says.

"We recognize that there is pressure and tension before the race and we want to alleviate that where possible," he added.

Along with ongoing research into safer fence design, the BHA and Aintree have announced alterations to Becher's Brook -- the fence where both Synchronized and According to Pete were fatally injured in 2012.

The fence which is jumped twice (6th and 22nd in a total of 30) during the race is having its landing area leveled further, while landing areas at fences four, five and 13 will also see work carried out to smooth out natural undulations.

The number of horses allowed to enter the race will remain at 40.

World Horse Welfare welcomed the new commitments to course alterations.

"We are especially encouraged by their program of work on the fences, replacing the hard cores with softer materials to make them more forgiving to the horses. This has the potential to make a big difference to safety," Roly Owers, chief executive of World Horse Welfare said in a statement.

But Owers was disappointed at the lack of action on the size of the field.

"We believe that the number of fallers, unseated riders and horses being brought down by other horses in the National is too high (50% in 2012), Owers said.

"While there is clearly no magic formula here, changes need to be made to significantly reduce the faller rate which will reduce the number of injuries, fatalities and loose horses which pose risks to themselves and others on the course. We believe the single most effective way of doing this is to trial a reduction in the field size -- say for three years."

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