Success prompts boost in juvenile novice races

Brave Anna (Seamie Heffernan,2nd left)

Juvenile field sizes increased last year as a result of the changes

  PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (  

IT was greeted with scepticism when launched but a successful trial to convert the bulk of two-year-old maiden races into novice contests will now be rolled out across the entire 2017 Flat season.

Critics feared the move would be exploited by trainers with horses hoovering up multiple races but instead field sizes and starting prices grew bigger.

The trial, which ran from the start of the Flat turf season to July last year, will now continue through the second half of the campaign, when 442 races, or 82 per cent of maidens, will become novice contests, adding to the 80 per cent before July, when nursery handicaps start.

There will also be changes to the handicapping system under the BHA scheme, with two-year-olds now needing to win twice rather than once before being allocated a handicap mark entitling them to compete in a nursery handicap, in which they still qualify after three runs whatever the result.

The measures have the unanimous support of the Racing Group and seek to address a long-held concern that two-year-olds who win in the early part of the season, prior to the introduction of nursery handicaps, have very few opportunities to develop.

Further changes will see the two-year-old handicap ratings published prior to the beginning of programme of nursery handicaps, while the rule preventing a once-raced winner rated 81 or above, or a twice-raced winner rated 86 or above, from running in a handicap has been removed.


Richard Wayman, BHA chief operating officer, said: “We were very encouraged by the success of the trial in 2016 and the feedback we received from many horsemen. That feedback included a clear consensus that, as part of a wider package of measures, the trial would be even more effective if it was extended to the full year.

“The conversion of maiden races to novices provided more opportunities for two-year-olds and improved field sizes without any impact on the competitiveness of races.

“The extension of the novice programme means that lightly-raced winners will now have plenty of opportunities without having to run in handicaps, and the revised qualifying criteria will mean that handicappers would have more evidence to accurately assess and rate two-year-olds, thereby reducing the risk of a lightly raced horse being significantly under or overrated.”

BHA Deputy Head of Handicapping Dominic Gardiner-Hill said: “We appreciate that trainers and owners will often want a mark to be allocated to their horses as soon as possible. However, it is our job to uphold the integrity of handicaps by trying to ensure that horses are entered off a fair mark. This hasn’t always been easy as we have had to allocate marks to two-year-olds on the basis of limited evidence. The more evidence that we have upon which to base these decisions, the better in the long run for all owners, trainers, and – in particular – the betting public.”

More auction races

There will also be 50 per cent increase in the share of auction races within the two-year-old novice and maiden programme, due to concerns raised by trainers that the lack of opportunities was forcing them to run horses in open company where they were struggling to compete. This will be achieved by converting some existing open maiden and open novice, as well as median auction races, into auction races.

There will also be an auction cap in median auction races and increasing opportunities at seven and eight furlongs in the autumn with a corresponding reduction in races over sprint distances.

Trainer Ralph Beckett, a critic of the original proposals, said: “The extension of this trial to cover the whole two-year-old programme is an obvious step based on its success in 2016.

“The nursery handicapping changes should make it transparent for all involved, enable the handicappers to assess horses accurately, and hence benefit horsemen, whilst the increased number of auction races is based on statistical analysis in order to make best use of the horse population, and give opportunities for all.”


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