The British Horseracing Authority has initiated a 48-declarations policy for the Cheltenham Festival - read our full story below and watch Racing UK pundit David Yates have his say.
By Geoffrey Riddle
The National Trainers Federation has backed the British Horseracing Authority's decision to implement 48-hour declarations for the Cheltenham Festival, starting in March.
The move by the regulatory body is supported by the BHA’s Racing Group, the Executive of Cheltenham Racecourse and Jockey Club Racecourses (JCR) and came on Tuesday in response to feedback from the Horseracing Bettors’ Forum as well as the racing public and media, but conspicuously there was little backing from trainers, or their umbrella organisation.
Concerns have been aired previously by National Hunt trainers that 48-hour declarations would lead to an increased number of non-runners.
"The NTF has been involved in the discussions regarding the introduction of 48-hour declarations for the Cheltenham Festival," Seamus Mullins, the current President of the NTF and the Chairman of the NTF National Hunt Committee, told Racinguk.com
"We have highlighted the increased problems this initiative will present to trainers, but we also acknowledge the benefits for the media, bettors and fans of the sport.
"Despite the potential challenges for trainers, we believe that the benefits for the Cheltenham Festival will outweigh these difficulties. The introduction of a reserves system for handicap races has been welcomed by the NTF National Hunt Committee as this will provide more horses with the opportunity to run and produce full fields."
The change will provide earlier clarity with regards to running plans for racing fans, bettors, the media and bookmakers and enhance their ability to focus on the race and its participants when promoting the event.
As part of the move to 48 hour declarations for all races at the Cheltenham Festival, no horse will be permitted to declare more than once at the meeting, whether subsequently declared a non-runner or not, unless eliminated from a race or declared as a reserve.
This applies to all races except the six non-novice Grade One contests: Stan James Champion Hurdle, OLBG Mares' Hurdle, Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase, Ryanair Chase, Sunbets Stayers’ Hurdle and the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup.
All handicap races at the meeting will have two reserve slots, which will have a deadline of 1pm the previous day, as is the case for races such as the Randox Health Grand National and Coral Scottish National.
The deadline for reserves was to extended from 9am to 1pm on the day before the race in October 2015. This followed consultation with the media and betting industry, and was deemed to be the latest time that reserves could be added without having a detrimental impact on the publication of final racecards in newspapers and also the volume of betting activity.
The BHA will liaise closely with the rest of the racing industry to monitor the changes as they come into effect, particularly in relation to horses being declared for more than one of the championship races, which will be kept under review annually.
Richard Wayman, Chief Operating Officer at the BHA, said: “We have taken on board feedback from racing fans, the betting public and the media, and we’re pleased to introduce 48-hour declarations for all races at the Festival, which we believe will have a positive impact on the promotion of the event and be welcomed by the sport’s various customer groups.
“We appreciate that, in some circumstances, this could create an extra challenge for trainers but we want to ensure that the sport is in a position where it can make the very most of what are such an important four days in the British Racing calendar.”
Ian Renton, Regional South West Director of The Jockey Club, added: “This is a progressive move by the BHA which we believe makes sense on a number of levels.
“We have been part of the ongoing discussions and after listening to the views of everyone regard this as a sensible decision which will enhance the Cheltenham Festival experience for racegoers and provide assistance to the media.”
Simon Rowlands, Chair of the Horseracing Bettors’ Forum, said: “This move is welcomed by the Horseracing Bettors Forum, which received a fair amount of correspondence from the public around the time of the last two Cheltenham Festivals suggesting declarations be made 48 hours, or even longer, in advance.
"All roads over jumps in the winter lead to Cheltenham in March, and this initiative should help to ensure that racing can promote the occasion itself more effectively, to the benefit of the betting public and the wider sport."
Barry Orr, representative of Betfair, said: "This is an extremely positive move for Racing fans and the switch to 48hrs declarations is a decision that must be applauded.
"It will further enhance the build up to the greatest Festival in the world, with the previous situation of not knowing the final fields until 11am the day before being a hindrance rather than a help in this regard.
"The 'reserves' initiative and the prevention of double declarations are also very sensible and it's hard to see any downsides to this whatsoever. I'm sure punters will be fancying their chances even more of winning the annual battle with the bookmakers and will be putting the extra day of study form to good use."