Red faces at BHA over final fields for Northern Lights Series
The BHA was left red-faced on Monday when four of the five finals of its newly instituted Northern Lights Series at Carlisle on Sunday had to be reopened because not enough entries had been received.
Even before the final numbers were known the BHA had released details of changes that would be made in an attempt to boost numbers for next year.
Only one of the five finals of the series, the 3m½f handicap hurdle attracted a double-figure entry. The others had entries of seven, eight, nine and nine.
Trainer Rebecca Menzies had foreseen likely problems and wrote to the BHA in August to voice her concerns. She was left disappointed and frustrated when her predictions proved accurate.
She said: "Although I thought the principles behind the series were fundamentally wrong as I'd rather have improved prize-money across the board, I wanted them to be a success as I want to support any initiative that helps jump racing in the north.
"The conditions were that you had to run in two qualifiers, not any two qualifiers but two qualifiers for that particular race, and I wrote to them in August saying I thought they would struggle to have enough runners in the finals as there were not enough qualifiers.
"Also, I pointed out that many of the horses who had qualified would be ground-dependent and would not be suited by racing at Carlisle in December when the going is nearly always testing."
Menzies cited the example of her Tomkevi. She thought he would be ideal for Sunday's staying chase final as he acts well on testing ground, but she couldn't get him qualified.
She said: "I ran him in a four-runner qualifier at Hexham in May – he was rated 117 and won from three horses, none of whom have won since. The handicapper was harsh on him and put him up 10lb to 127.
"I then turned him out for the summer and when I eventually got the programme book and tried to find another qualifier for him there wasn't one. He was still eligible to run in a 0-125, but they were all 0-120. I can't see the point in having a 0-125 final if nearly all of the qualifiers are 0-120."
Joe Rendall, the BHA's media and communication executive said: "This series is hugely important to us and to Jockey Club Racecourses who are hosting the finals. While it is disappointing the initial numbers are not as high as we want them to be, we see it as very much an on-going project and we've made changes for next season."
The changes are:
- There will be more qualifiers, up from 15 to 20 for each of the five races, with the bulk of the additional contests taking place in the first quarter of the year.
- Horses will need to run in just one qualifier, not two.
- Prize-money for each race will be put up to £35,000, an increase of £10,000.
- Qualifying for the 2018 series will start next month to give horses more time to qualify.
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