Boldly continuing to tackle the final frontier is an admirable move
Novice chasers are the final frontier of race planning and the BHA's willingness to continually adapt its approach is to be admired.
The BHA are fighting with laws of economics, as their own analysis shows. In a period during which slightly more horses have run in novice chases slightly more often, field sizes have dropped by 1.54 runners per race, almost 20 per cent. It is not difficult to identify the number of races as the conduit between these two apparently contrasting trends.
In other words, increased supply (mostly from the tailend of the last decade) is outstripping a fairly constant level of demand.
Shy of tackling the root cause, these changes seem a largely fair and comprehensive way to redress the balance. The only slightly unsatisfactory feeling is that it has come to something so inelegant as promising to raise only winners in the handicap.
A genuinely good move
Admittedly, an alternative approach that might satisfy all sides does not easily spring to mind. Such is the stubbornness of perception.
The introduction of novice chases restricted to maiden or once-winning hurdlers is a genuinely good move. In the long term, it might be hoped that such races become the medium-term aim for horses who, as it stands, face the starter for their hurdling debut with little realistic hope of winning a race before they run in handicap chases.
The proliferation of novice handicaps that Paul Nicholls cites has largely been a means to appease connections of the same types of horses and it makes sense that they should make way.
The slight upgrade to Cheltenham's novice handicap is a welcome footnote and will hopefully make the race a handicap in more than just name once more. It will be interesting to see the relative demand for the newly announced novice handicap final, which will presumably be run over a similarly intermediate trip and seems likely to be more valuable.
The announcement of the venue for the new final is something else to look forward to. Consider this an early vote for Aintree's Mildmay course.