Safety changes to National fences are set to backfire

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RUBY Walsh has criticised the modifications to Aintree’s Grand National course, claiming the changes could lead to more horses becoming injured.

Winner of the 2005 renewal on Hedgehunter, Walsh makes the claim in the updated edition of his autobiography that reflects on the two high-profile equine fatalities in last year’s contest.

Likening the changes to motorists avoiding road humps designed to slow traffic down, the top Irish rider concludes: “Horses will get braver, jockeys will take advantage and take more risks.

“Hurdle races are faster than chases because the obstacles are smaller and if you keep lowering the size of the National fences, all you’ll be doing is increasing the speed at which horses run.”

Walsh’s solution is to lower the wooden stakes in the middle of the fences to prevent horses being turned over when they hit “something solid high up,” while piling more spruce on top of the obstacle to give the “optical illusion” of greater height.

“In the horse and jockey’s mind, that fence will be something he has to be more careful at and so they will take more time over the jump,” he added.

Though Ruby: The Autobiography went to press before the whip rules were further modified, the jockey is scathing about the issue after being a high-profile victim of the changes when they were first introduced last October.

“I am definitely finding now that I’m finishing fourth or fifth on horses that would have finished third,” he admits.

“I won’t take the chance of picking up a ban just so the horse can win place money. Is that what they really want? Jockeys being okay with not finishing in their best possible position? I can’t get some horses to win races now that I could have got them close to before.”

On a brighter note, the jockey reveals that he was surprised by Kauto Star’s historic fifth King George triumph at Kempton – he thought Long Run, five years younger, would improve sufficiently.

Walsh makes no bold claims about Kauto Star winning a third Cheltenham Gold Cup, but adds: “He’s the horse of my career and I can’t imagine ever being lucky enough to find another like him.”

Tom George feels 2010 Charlie Hall winner Nacarat is showing all of his old sparkle ahead of his fourth appearance in the Racing Plus Chase at Kempton.

Winner of the race in 2009, he was narrowly denied back-to-back successes by Razor Royale and finished a gallant third 12 months ago.

“Despite him being 11, he’s never had that much racing so it’s not like we’ve bottomed him,” said George. “Although you never can tell with horses until you run them, he’s had a very good prep.”

Top weight is leading Grand National contender from the yard of Philip Hobbs. He will be ridden by Richard Johnson who is particularly excited about riding Sadler’s Risk, a former Mark Johnston horse on the Flat, in the Juvenile Hurdle earlier on the card.

Cheltenham’s Triumph Hurdle is the target and Johnson said: “He needs one more run for a bit more experience before Cheltenham and this is ideal.”

Johnson and Hobbs will know more next week about the prospects of Fingal Bay lining up in the Neptune Investment Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.

The six-year-old is unbeaten in all five of his races to date, including the Challow Hurdle at Newbury last time out, but has met with a slight setback.

Flat rider Richard Hughes plans to appeal against a hefty riding suspension picked up in India that could sideline him until the end of April and force him to miss the start of the 2012 domestic campaign.

A BHA spokesman could not comment on whether the suspension will apply here because they have received no notification from the Indian racing authorities.