Timeform focus on National and Kauto
Timeform argue against making further changes to the John Smith's Grand National course in their latest Chasers & Hurdlers annual.
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Last year's renewal of the race certainly wasn't short of points of interest, including the changes made after the previous year's furore, and all are covered in the wide-ranging essay on Neptune Collonges.
The deaths of two of the runners inevitably made the headlines afterwards, though Chasers & Hurdlers points out that the "factors involved in both fatalities could not have been foreseen or prevented", whilst also underlining that the media coverage of deaths in the National has failed to have a lasting effect on public opinion, with a sell-out crowd of over 70,000 in attendance and a TV audience of 10m, the highest since 2008.
Timeform argues against "further major changes being made to the race or the course without very good reason", especially in relation to calls for a reduction in field size or further modifications to Aintree's unique fences.
In the Neptune Collonges essay they argue: "It would be easy to make further cosmetic changes to the Grand National, such as cutting the field size and even reducing the extreme distance of the race, but more changes should not, in all conscience, be made without good reason and then only after mature reflection. After all, where is the evidence that tweaking the fences in recent years has made the race that much safer? The times have tended to get faster in the National as the course has been remodelled, something which, in itself, has the potential to increase the danger.
"Winning trainer Paul Nicholls said after the latest running: 'The worst thing you can do is go too far. If you make the fences smaller, they go faster and you get more fallers.'
"On the subject of reducing the number of runners in the National from the present permitted maximum of forty, the argument does carry some weight given that the field nowadays is largely evenly-matched, with the runners virtually all racing from within the handicap proper, which in turn leads to the field not getting so stretched out as it once tended to do. Incidents at the fifth fence and at first Canal Turn in the latest National arguably resulted from a shortage of room. That said, a big field is part of the National's attraction and the fences are much wider than on other courses."
Timeform feel the sport of jump racing is enjoying a golden period.
They reflect on Kauto Star, the best steeplechaser for more than 40 years whose comeback was one of the stories of the season - he won his fourth Betfair Chase and his fifth King George - and his essays draws a parallel with Muhammad Ali, who was similarly idolised as a great champion who returned to the top of the tree following high-profile defeats.
They also believe he deserves the chance to bow out with a sixth success in the Boxing Day feature.
In the essay they say: "Alas, not many of the sporting greats enjoy the type of end to a glorious career that they deserve. Muhammad Ali, for example, certainly isn't the only heavyweight boxing champion who carried on for too long-probably only Gene Tunney, Rocky Marciano (retired undefeated) and Lennox Lewis can claim to have gone out 'at the top' in the championship's 130-year history.
"Let's hope Kauto Star is given an opportunity to go out in a blaze of glory. Retirement after winning a sixth King George would be a dream outcome - and certainly a fitting end - to the career of a horse who has done more than any of his generation to promote steeplechasing to the wider public beyond the sport's diehards. It is not such a fanciful idea either as - ignoring his Gold Cup display - Kauto Star was again the best staying chaser in training in the latest season, as he had also been in each of the four seasons before Long Run temporarily took his title (Kauto Star was also the best two-mile chaser in training during his first two seasons at the top).
"Certainly, as he jogged exuberantly round the paddock in the champions' parade at Sandown on the last day of the season, Kauto Star hardly looked like a horse for whom retirement was beckoning."