Handicappers to raise winners only under conditions race trial
The BHA has sanctioned a novel attempt to improve the field sizes of Flat conditions races by limiting the action handicappers can take.
It will mean that after the running of any of 43 conditions events staged this year only the winner, or any horse that has run fewer than four times, can have its handicap raised.
All other beaten horses will have their marks left unchanged or reduced under a season-long trial that will come into force from April 1.
Conditions races are an alternative to handicaps primarily for horses that are not quite up to Group class but 24 fewer of these races have been programmed in 2017 compared to five years ago, having averaged fields of 5.72 last year.
In the long term the BHA wants to schedule more conditions races to balance a handicap-dominated programme but has found trainers believe their horses are at risk of receiving a stiff ratings rise if they run too close to a superior opponent on unfavourable terms, even though it is not borne out by analysis.
Conditions races worth more than £50,000 are excluded from the trial but the BHA hopes the new approach, devised in consultation with the Racing Group, which has cross-industry membership, will encourage greater participation from horses who often end up being sold abroad.
The BHA's chief operating officer Richard Wayman said: "As the Flat race programme has become increasingly dominated by handicaps over the last few years, for many horses there are now few opportunities to run in any other type of race. We would like to provide a greater variety of options, particularly for the group of talented horses that compete just below black type level and who regularly end up being sold overseas.
"We recognise that conditions stakes races often suffer from small fields and this trial should help identify whether removing the preconception of the handicapper’s reaction would make such races more appealing. If it proves successful, our longer term aim would be to develop the programme of conditions stakes races, supported by competitive levels of prize money, to provide an alternative to handicaps.
"It is an innovative step but we want to be bold, progressive and try new ideas. We have spoken to horsemen and the racing public and listened to their concerns over a number of years, and this trial is designed to address those concerns."
The trial has the support of the National Trainers' Federation with trainer Ralph Beckett describing it as an "excellent initiative". "Hopefully it will have a dual effect, and benefit all stakeholders," he said. "It should cater for horses that connections feel are in the grip of the efficient handicapping department. At the same time, it will give variety to a programme that has become dominated by handicaps."
BHA head of handicapping Phil Smith said: "In reality only 14 non-winners had their handicap marks raised in conditions stakes races in 2016, but we are aware that the perception is the issue that is preventing trainers from running their horses, and this is what the trial seeks to address. As an important part of the trial we will be considering the effect that this has on handicap races."