A reduction in field sizes for all two-mile chases at Cheltenham was one of the headline recommendations after the British Horseracing Authority published its review of the 2018 Festival.
The ruling body conducted what it described as a “rigorous process of data evaluation, consultation and review of video evidence” following the death of six horses during the showpiece meeting in March – including three in the concluding Grand Annual Chase.
The BHA noted there had been suggestions in the immediate aftermath that the fatality rate in the Grand Annual had been “adversely affected by the race being positioned at the end of Friday’s card”.
However, after comparing the race to the County Hurdle – previously the concluding race of the Festival – it said the position of the race had “little impact on the faller rate”.
But the review did recommend that field size for the Grand Annual and all two-mile chases run at the track should be reduced from 24 to 20.
Brant Dunshea, chief regulatory officer for the BHA, said: “The publication of this report represents the outcome of a substantial and significant project.
“The scale of research and evaluation carried out has allowed us to form a greater understanding of the variable factors that contribute to risk at the Festival, and to put in place tangible recommendations which we expect, collectively, to make racing at the Cheltenham Festival safer.
“Our thanks go to all involved, especially Cheltenham racecourse and the Jockey Club who have always fully supported the need for a review and have actively engaged in the process.
“The publishing of this report does not by any means represent the end of our commitment to enhancing welfare standards, at Cheltenham racecourse and across all British racecourses.”
The review was led by a dedicated group and with external inputs including the RSPCA and World Horse Welfare, with the analysis covering all races run at the Festival from 2007 to 2018 – including 5,451 runners and 208 fallers.
The 67-page report includes a total of 17 recommendations, which the BHA said had “the objective of reducing the risk of injuries occurring during the Festival and at other Cheltenham fixtures, and across jump racing as a whole”.
Along with the field-size reduction, key recommendations include a change to the race conditions of the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle, which would mean all rider weight-claiming allowances would be removed in a bid to encourage connections to use the most experienced jockeys.
The review also recommends pre-race veterinary examinations be increased to include all runners in all races at the Festival.
The BHA said an action plan for the implementation of the recommendations will now be developed by “no later than February 2019?.
Nick Rust, chief executive of the BHA, said: “British racing must work together to reduce the risk of injuries occurring at the Festival and indeed jump racing as a whole. The recommendations of this review are designed to achieve this.
“I commend this review for the rigour and thoroughness of its approach. I also support the fact that its recommendations are intended to further raise the bar when it comes to welfare not only at Cheltenham, but across all of jump racing.”
He added: “British racing has consistently and continuously improved its record on welfare outcomes over the last decade.
“However, parliament has recently sent a clear message to our sport that we must raise our ambitions for welfare further. At the BHA, we share this view, and I am today calling on everyone in the sport to help us achieve even higher goals for welfare.
“The Cheltenham review helps demonstrate our sport’s commitment towards higher goals, but it is far from the end of our ambitions on this front.
“A cross-industry welfare board is currently being formed, with the intention of delivering a new strategy for the sport.
“I hope that everyone involved in British racing will join us in working to further enhance our good track record, and ensuring the sport remains relevant, understood, accepted and embraced by the British public.”
Part of the review’s conclusion read: “It is clear that public and political attitudes to any actual or perceived shortcomings in animal welfare standards are toughening.
“These audiences provide racing with its moral, economic and political licence to operate.
“Remaining relevant to modern audiences requires us to reflect social norms and values. Any failures around equine welfare standards constitute a serious threat to the future of our sport.”