Nicky Henderson welcomes extra races at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival

Trainer Nicky Henderson
Trainer Nicky Henderson

Nicky Henderson has welcomed the introduction of a new Grade Two mares' chase at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival.

The British Horseracing Authority announced on Monday that a two-and-a-half-mile event will be added to the meeting, replacing an existing race which has yet to be decided.

The Grade One OLBG Mares' Hurdle and the Grade Two Mares' Novices' Hurdle are already run at the Festival and Henderson believes the addition of a chase will give owners further incentive to race their mares.

He said: "I am delighted to hear of the introduction of a mares' steeplechase to the Festival order of running.

"The encouragement that has been given to racing jump mares has worked incredibly well, and with the two mares' hurdle races at the Festival being so popular, it is a great time to introduce a mares' chase.

"There are undoubtedly more and more high class mares coming through the system and going chasing, and this would obviously be further encouragement for owners and particularly owner/breeders to race their good mares over fences."

Ian Renton, regional director, Cheltenham & The South West, The Jockey Club, added: "I hope that by providing time for trainers, owners and breeders to consider if they have a mare suitable this will allow for the development of top-class equine athletes for the new race.

"Given the need to replace an existing race at the Festival in 2021 in order to stage the mares' chase, I am sure there will be much debate as to which one this should be."

A two-furlong reduction in the distance of the National Hunt Chase is another of the changes to the Cheltenham Festival that have been announced by the British Horseracing Authority on Monday.

Following a controversial renewal of the amateurs' race at this year's Festival, when only four of 18 starters finished a race run on soft ground, the BHA and Cheltenham's owner, Jockey Club Racecourses, have unveiled some alterations to the contest.

The Grade Two contest will now have minimum rating for horses of 120, which brings it in line with the Grade One novice chases at the meeting, while contenders must have run in two novice chases and been placed in the first four in one of those over an extended two miles, seven and a half furlongs or further.

Runners must also have had at least one outing in the current National Hunt season, while the amateur riders who take part in the race must have had a minimum of 20 rides and at least five winners, with all qualifying rides coming under Rules.

The National Hunt Chase was first run in 1860 and became, in 1911, the race around which the Festival was created and developed. Previous winners include dual Grand National hero Tiger Roll, while 2016 Gold Cup winner Native River finished second in the race.

Derek O'Connor, representative of the Irish Amateur Jockeys Association and two-time winner of the race, said: "The National Hunt Chase is one of the races you dream about winning when you become an amateur jockey, it's one of the pinnacles of our season.

"The changes that have been made may mean some riders have to get more experience then they would have previously, but that's no bad thing and overall the new requirements look pretty fair."

Champion trainer Paul Nicholls said: "The National Hunt Chase is one of the most important amateur races of the season and its produced some top-class staying chasers down the years.

"Balancing that tradition and history with making the race safer was never going to be easy, but the changes that have been agreed seem sensible and most importantly the amateur status of the race has remained.

"If the new conditions mean that the race still retains its character whilst hopefully making it safer for everyone who takes part, then that can only be a good thing."

Brant Dunshea, the BHA's chief regulatory officer, added: "The changes to the National Hunt Chase announced today have the full support of the BHA, its board and the Jump Pattern Committee.

"This year's Festival included many great highlights and we will continue to work closely with Cheltenham and stakeholders to ensure that as an industry we take evidence-based decisions."

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