An increasing trend for small field sizes in National Hunt racing is "arguably the biggest challenge facing racing, and in particular jump racing", according to British Horseracing Authority chief executive Paul Bittar.
Bittar’s comments come in the wake of 14 of the 21 contests staged last weekend having to be reoffered at the final declaration stage, while this Saturday’s Grade One Long Walk Hurdle will have a maximum of just five runners if all the contenders stand their ground.
The issue of small field sizes was a priority for the BHA during the compilation of the 2015 Fixture List and race programme, and further measures may be taken to achieve long-term targets.
Outlining concerns, Bittar said: “The British racing public’s affinity for jump racing is clear and its popularity is undiminished. Attendances continue to be very strong for the feature meetings, as exemplified by the record crowds at this year’s Cheltenham Open meeting, while eight of the top 10 betting races so far in 2014 have been jump races.
“However, we have made it very clear over the past months that arguably the biggest challenge facing racing, and in particular jump racing, is the issue of small-field races and the importance of competitiveness at all levels of the sport. We are well aware that field sizes and the number of races with sufficient numbers have been well below what we consider acceptable at this stage of this season.
“This trend was predicted and is exactly why we have taken action to address it by introducing a range of robust measures, including the removal of around 100 jump races from the programme in 2015.
“It will take time for the measures implemented in 2015 to have an impact. This is not going to be a quick-fix and we have set what we believe are realistic targets. However, to meet those targets it is likely that more steps will need to be taken. This is why we have instigated a thorough and ongoing statistical analysis of jump racing so that we can address specific areas of concern accordingly.”
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