The host of the Grand National has confirmed that they will be scrapping the reserves system as of the 2023 edition.
Aintree Racecourse have blamed ‘racecard supply issues’ for the move, and confirmed that if any declared horse is withdrawn from the race as a non-runner, they will not be replaced in the field.
The reserves system, as it was, allowed up to four horses to enter the Grand National after the 48-hour declaration window had closed if others were withdrawn. First introduced back in the year 2000, a reserve could get the call-up any time between the final declaration stage and 1pm on race day.
But the issue facing Aintree Racecourse was that the reserve would take the place of the non-runner they replaced on the racecard, despite the fact they would likely be carrying a different handicap as the lowest-rated horse(s) in the field.
Officials at the Merseyside venue have confirmed that many racegoers found the system ‘confusing’, while the BHA, bookies and media outlets complained of the difficulties faced in creating racecards for the 2022 renewal, at which three reserves ran.
The clerk of the course at Aintree, Sulekha Varma, said:
“The reserves system was introduced with the aim of giving us the best possible chance of ensuring we have a maximum field of 40 runners.
“However, with the Randox Grand National being such a worldwide phenomenon, there are associated demands of race day data supply, which are greater now than they were when the system was introduced.”
Waiting In the Wings
Given the nature of the Grand National, which retains its position as one of the most prestigious steeplechases in world racing, it’s unsurprising that non-runners after the final declaration stage are few and far between.
Changing conditions and the going of the track are typically the reasons for non-runners missing out on the Aintree showpiece, with a deluge of rain on the Saturday morning – or quickening ground – leading to some connections to withdraw their charges from the field.
Since 2000, there have only been two instances in which three of the reserves have been called up on race day – 2018 and then again last year, when School Boy Hours, Commodore and Romain De Senam, who would go on to finish tenth. Easysland, a former Cheltenham Festival winner, was one of those to be withdrawn.
Horses on the Grand National reserve list were generally considered not good enough to make it into the initial 40, and so they would always take bottom weight from the handicapper.
That is rarely the advantage it sounds over the giant Aintree fences, and a general lack of jumping ability amongst the reserves has led to few of them making an impression on the race or even the places.
Indeed, only Romain De Senam and Commodore, who finished 10th and 12th in 2022, have finished the course as reserves since the turn of the new millennium, with ten other late call-ups either falling, unseating their riders or being pulled up.
So while it’s a shame that there might be fewer than 40 runners in the Grand National field from 2023 onwards, it’s fair to say that reserves have made little impact on the race in years gone by.