The latest Grand National rule changes will ensure the 2012 Aintree race will be unlike any other National before it. Firstly, it will be subject to the latest version of the rigorous new whip rules introduced by the bungling BHA in 2011.

The rules are pretty much the same for all horse races whether they are four mile chases or five furlong sprints on the flat. The only concession to the requirements of riding over obstacles and the longer distance that jump jockeys race over is that they are allowed one more strike than their colleagues on the flat.

Ironically, it was the outcry after Jason Maguire's whip fest on Ballabriggs, the 2011 Grand National winner, which largely led to the development of much more stringent whip rules and much tougher penalties for contravening them. Whilst Maguire's use of the whip in the final stages of the 2011 National did seem excessive and definitely was not conducive to a positive image for the sport, the new limit of a total of eight strikes of the whip seems precious few for a four and a half mile race with thirty fences. Even the pre'fence encouragement of a tap down the neck is currently included in the counting process.

Secondly, after the public relations disaster of the highly visible casualties of 2011, the course at Aintree has once again been tweaked and the entry criteria for the race have been tightened.

In a bid to avoid casualties both equine and human, the new initiatives introduced include:

It has to make sense to ensure that an appropriately experienced and high quality field of both horses and jockeys contest the race. Whether or not the slight amendments to the course will make a significant difference is a subject of more debate. The view of many of the experts following the fatalities in the 2011 National is that they were predominantly caused by going too fast on the relatively fast ground rather than the obstacles themselves.

It will definitely take more than one running to see if the Grand National rule changes to the course and the entry criteria have the desired effect on the casualty rate. It will be interesting to see how hard the jockeys try to stay within the eight strike whip limit. In comparison with other Nationals, this could resemble a hands and heels race at the finish.

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