The British Horse Racing Authority (BHA) has announced a new rule that will see stewards able to declare a non-runner in any race beginning from starting stalls.

Under the existing rules, a horse can only be declared a non-runner if it has been prevented from starting due to a faulty action of the starting stalls or if it is riderless at the off. The new rule will see stewards declare non-runners if they believe that a horse has been denied a fair start.

Brant Dunshea, Chief Regulatory Officer at BHA, commented: “This amendment to the rules will enable British racing to become signatories to the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities model rule on non-runners and therefore see us align with other major racing nations.

“It seeks to provide greater clarity and consistency for all involved and provides a regulatory solution in scenarios where it is deemed that a horse has been denied a fair start due to a situation beyond its own control or that of its rider, not previously covered by the rules.

Coming into play from 1 May, the powers of the stewards will be enhanced to include situations where a horse has been prevented from starting on equal terms, resulting in its chances in a race being materially affected as a consequence.

The update aligns Britain with the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA) model rule and the approach applied by other major racing nations. With the change following engagement and feedback from industry stakeholders, including participants from the betting industry, and approval by the BHA Board.

The new rule could be used in a range of scenarios. For example, in instances where a stalls malfunction causes some stalls to open more slowly than others, as was the case in the 2023 Epsom Dash.

It could also cover scenarios where there is a problem with equipment fitted at the start, or a stalls handler is still attempting to help a horse and jockey when the starting mechanism is triggered.

Additionally, the rule can also be applied in circumstances where a horse has obtained an unfair advantage at the start, such as if a runner forces the gates open prematurely before the starter has triggered the starting mechanism.

However, the BHA has stated that a horse will not be declared a non-runner if it merely accelerates the gates once the starter has operated the starting mechanism. 

In addition, the organisation has emphasised that any consideration by the stewards will always precede the ‘weighed in’ signal, with participants, racegoers and the betting public alerted that an incident at the start of the race is being reviewed.

Last year saw a number of new rules brought into British horse racing, such as adjustments in regards to the use of the whip in the sport and a package of changes to the 2023/24 Pattern and Listed Jump programme.

Dunshea concluded: “While we don’t expect this Rule to be required very often, we hope that extending the Stewards’ power in this area – something we have discussed at length with industry stakeholders prior to implementation – is a positive development for participants and bettors.”

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