Rail replacement: onus now on the jockeys after Cheltenham changes
Cheltenham's run-in will look slightly different this year. Instead of the tape that used to guide the field up the famous hill there will be a solid rail, which will be positioned by groundstaff after the field has gone out on its final circuit.
The rail is a response to two incidents in October on the first day of Cheltenham's season, when One For Billy and Oighear Dubh ran out after jumping the last with winning chances.
If the scenes on trials' day are anything to go by, when the Ben Pauling-trained Kildisart veered left after the last as if about to head out for another circuit before going on to win, it could prove crucial.
Explaining the reasoning on Thursday, clerk of the course Simon Claisse said: "We could think of only one previous example of a horse running through the tape, but after two episodes in one day – and in the interests of safety of the participants – we decided to put in a rail.
"Previously we'd ruled it out because it puts our people working on a live track at greater risk, as they can potentially be on course with loose horses, but it worked and when we added greater numbers.
"We now use nine staff and that reduced the time from a minute and 48 seconds to 30 seconds, which reduced the risk. The old system was tried and tested, but we're fortunate enough to have the resources to be able to implement this. Hopefully it should help."
Pauling is thankful for the new rail after January’s incident although the fact Kildisart veered left suggests a lingering configuration issue. As such, he now believes the onus is on the jockeys to do their bit to make the system work.
"He certainly had a good look," said Pauling of Kildisart's antics after the last. "It's not easily resolved as the finish is where it is and the course is famous for it, they're not going to reconfigure the course.
"They're doing everything they can and the solid rail is a huge help, so I think before they put their whip in their right hands, jockeys will have to get it into the horse's mind they're going up the hill and not around again – until that’s sorted in the horse’s mind they’ll have to be wary.
“There’s not really too much more Cheltenham can do, we may go all festival without any horse looking, but we had a couple duck out this season and a few have done it over the years, I’m thinking of that incident in the Foxhunter [when Oscar Delta jinked left and unseated Jane Mangan].”
Eight-time champion jockey Peter Scudamore, who rode 13 festival winners and was top jockey at the meeting three times, also believes the racecourse's actions leave riders with very little excuse.
He said: "I think the onus is on jockeys now – they've put in the rail and there is not much else they can do, so they need to have their stick in the right hand, and by right I mean correct, which is probably their left.
"It's something they've got to be aware of. It's not good enough to say you were in a driving finish, you have to have the presence of mind to do the right thing."
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