Few people can argue with the fact that the Grand National is one of the greatest sporting events of the year. Even for those individuals who have little interest in horse racing, the intense media coverage of the event at Aintree means that it's almost impossible for everyone not to get involved. However, while it has proved a fantastic spectacle and a brilliant betting offers event for the gambling industry over history, it has also courted plenty of controversy. There have been many safety concerns about the race and following on from these issues, the pressure has certainly been on for changes to take place. It now appears as though the relevant authorities have listened to the clambering cries for alterations, after various decisions for the 2013 Grand National were announced.
Undoubtedly, the biggest chance of the race involves the starting position. It has been recommended to move the initial starting point at Aintree forward by 90 yards - meaning that the race is slightly shorter at 4m3½f, rather than the 4m4f it was last year.
A slightly less obvious alteration for spectators will be the position of the starter's rostrum, and also the starting tape. In relation to the latter, this is going to be replaced by a much more distinct tape which should make it much easier for jockey's to see.
As you may expect following all of the controversy, these are not the only changes that are going to be implemented in the 2013 event. There are many smaller ones, including the following:
• From now on, all of the jockeys will have to attend a race briefing with the starter to outline all concerns.
• There has been a big emphasis on levelling out various landing areas, with the regions around fence four, five and thirteen all being subject to this action.
• The organisers are going to implement a catching pen, on a trial basis, for loose horses around fence four.
• Following various problems with water over recent events, £100,000 has been invested in addressing this issue.
Incredibly, the changes might not end here. One of the big talking points over recent years has been the construction of fences - with many concerned that they are not made of appropriate materials considering how many horses are now colliding with them. Therefore, the BHA are going to trial various other materials at the Becher Chase race in December and a final decision for Aintree will then be made in due course.
Such changes will be welcomed by a lot of horse racing enthusiasts, following several high-profile tragedies over the years at the Grand National. Earlier this year, Synchronised and According To Pete both fell to their death and this even prompted some to call for a cancellation to the whole meeting. However, these unfortunate incidents appear to have well and truly kicked the BHA into action and there are hopes that the 2013 event will be a much safer affair.
Out of all of the changes highlighted above, it is hoped that the changed start location could be one of the biggest influencing factors on safety. Over the years a lot of people have issued concern that the start is far too close to the crowds - meaning that the horses are under unnecessary distress from a very early position. The authorities are hopeful that this 90 yard difference will provide an additional safety shield for horses, alongside the proposed "no go" zone which is to be double to thirty yards from the start tape in 2013.
Following the announcements, at least one of the affected groups has issues praise on the BHA and Aintree. The chief executive of the Professional Jockeys Association, Paul Struthers, claimed that the organisation thought all the proposed changes were well considered and would improve the safety of horses and jockeys significantly. Of course, only time will tell if the changes will be successful, and it could be interesting to see if the usual safety debate is contested after the 2013 meeting.