Nicholls unmoved as BHA tightens hunter chase qualifications
The BHA has approved changes to the qualification criteria for hunter chases, which could curtail the number of professional stables competing in the sphere.
From next year horses who contest hunter chases for licensed trainers will be allowed to run only in other hunter chases during the same season.
It means horses such as the Paul Nicholls-trained Wonderful Charm, who ran in the Grand National after contesting the Foxhunter at the Cheltenham Festival last season, would be barred from switching disciplines.
Permit trainers and point-to-point stables will still be allowed to campaign hunter chasers at a higher grade, with the rule change applying only to licensed trainers.
The changes met some resistance from the National Trainers' Federation, with concern that the number of horses being sent hunter chasing from licensed yards might decrease, and as a trade-off the BHA agreed to allow horses who have run in November and December to be eligible for the following year's hunter chases.
Nicholls, who won last season's Foxhunter with Pacha Du Polder, said on Friday the amendments would make little difference to his plans.
"It won't change a lot for us; things like Wonderful Charm running in the National would be very much the exception because the horses we send into hunter chases have usually gone as far as they can in handicaps," he said.
"Being able to run horses in November and December is interesting, but we tend to send our hunters to a pre-training yard at that time and bring them back in come January, and I imagine that's what we'll keep doing."
Instances of hunters moving into big handicaps are indeed rare. Paint The Clouds was fourth in the bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown after finishing third in the Foxhunter two years ago, while Lord Atterbury was third in the 2004 National after disappointing as favourite at Cheltenham.
Fergal O'Brien, who started his career training hunters and point-to-pointers, said: "It's probably a better rule for the hunter chase trainers and it makes more sense to me than the old rules.
"It's interesting that the rules have changed to allow handicap runs in November and December, because we were asking for clarification about those rules for one of ours, Creevytennant. This will make that sort of thing easier."
Charlie Longsdon added: "I think it makes sense. It always struck me as a weird rule. Hunter chasers are hunter chasers, so it just didn't seem right you could pot-hunt and go back into handicaps."
The BHA's racing operations manager Stuart Middleton said: "The BHA and Point-to-Point Authority agreed the recommendations following feedback received during the course of the 2016-17 jump season.
"The changes should encourage professional trainers to give some thought to the sort of horse they may see as a potential hunter chaser, while ensuring hunters' steeplechases remain competitive affairs."
The rule changes will not affect the Grand Military and Royal Artillery Gold Cups – races Longsdon, O'Brien and Nicholls have all won in recent years.
The new rules . . .
- From January 1, 2018, once a horse in the care of a licensed trainer has run in a hunters' steeple chase, it may only run in other hunters' steeple chases for the remainder of the hunters' chase season (i.e. up to finals evening at Stratford on June 8). This excludes the Royal Artillery Gold Cup and Grand Military Gold Cup
- Horses that run in November or December will no longer be barred from the following year's hunters' steeple chase programme
- Other eligibility criteria will remain unchanged (horses who have won a Class 1 or 2 chase in the 19 months before January 1, or been placed in a Grade 1 or 2 in the 15 months before, will be excluded, etc)
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