BHB slashes chasing allowance for horses aged four and five.
THE BHB yesterday put the brakes on the "unacceptable" number of four- and five-year-olds winning over fences in a move one critic claimed would result in fewer horses of that age bracket contesting novice chases.
Chasers aged four and five will, from next season, receive less weight from their elders - and for a shorter period of time - after scissors were taken to the existing weight-for-age scale.
The changes, approved last month by the BHB's race planning committee, will have a major effect on the Cheltenham Festival championship novice chases.
In the Royal & SunAlliance Chase, the allowance enjoyed by five-year-olds next season will drop from 10lb to 2lb, while in the Arkle Trophy, five-year-olds, who in recent years have carried 5lb less than older horses, will compete on the same terms after the allowance expiry date for 2m novices was brought forward from June to February next year.
Four of the last nine Arkle winners have been aged five, with none of them scoring by more than two and a half lengths.
In announcing the changes, the BHB pointed to the increasing number of horses racing over fences at the earliest permitted age, a number that has risen in each of the last five seasons.
In the 2002-03 season, there were 27 runs by four-year-olds over fences, whereas this term that figure rose to 134, up from 79 from the previous campaign. In the last quarter of 2006, the winning strike-rate of four-year-old chasers was almost double that of older horses.
Presenting the BHB case, head of handicapping Phil Smith said: "It is natural that the win percentages of four-year-old and five-year-old chasers who receive an allowance is higher than that of older horses, as they are generally on the upgrade, but their strike-rate has risen over the last few years to a level which had become unacceptable."
However, top bloodstock agent Anthony Bromley, who has purchased many high-profile winners aged four and five from France, is unhappy with the decision.
"It's a knee-jerk reaction," he said. "I thought they might shave the allowance, but not lump into it like they have."
He added: "What we will see is fewer four- and five-year-olds winning over fences, because there will be fewer of them racing over fences.
"Trainers will decide that, as horses of that age are still not fully developed, there is no point racing them over fences without the same allowance.
"There is no sense in pushing a young horse to go novice chasing so early. They will stay over hurdles for another season.
"The French horses all get stronger at five going on six, so if there's no advantage to racing them over fences at four going on five, we won't do it."
More supportive of the BHB move was trainer Philip Hobbs, who was among the committee members to debate the changes.
He said: "This is something that is going to be renewed annually, but I do support it.
"It's difficult to assess because you still have a relatively small pool of horses involved, and there aren't many statistics to examine.
"However, there seems to be a trend that those horses win a significantly higher percentage of races than they should."
Anthony Bromley (left) said the move is "knee-jerk", but Philip Hobbs (right) welcomed it