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Stratford Racecourse's first meeting of year marks new era for racing

RACING at Stratford’s first meeting of 2022 next week will mark a new era over jumps in Britain, as obstacles begin turning white as part of a project to make hurdle and fence design safer.

The white fences at Stratford Racecourse.
The white fences at Stratford Racecourse.

After years of orange guard rails and take-off boards on fences and hurdles, a scientific study aimed at improving safety in jump racing is, after a two-year delay due to Covid-19, being implemented on Monday.

The project, commissioned by the British Horseracing Authority and backed by the Racing Foundation, follows intensive research carried out by Exeter University during 2017-18 into equine vision.

A total of 131 obstacles were analysed across 11 racecourses using cutting-edge camera equipment to establish which colours would be most visible to a horse.

Once identified, behavioural responses were then tested with 14 horses from Richard Phillips’ training yard in Adlestrop, Gloucestershire.

The research focused on trialling different colour options in a variety of racing environments and weather conditions, including the traditional orange markings.

With horses having reduced dichromatic colour vision compared with humans, they see mainly hues perceived to us as blue and yellow.

They are also unable to tell apart shades of red, green and orange.

The study found changing the wood and vinyl padding of take-off boards, guard rails and top boards to white provided increased contrast and visibility to horses, leading to improved jumping performance.

Improved vision, though, is only one component of how well a horse clears an obstacle. It does not take into consideration tiredness, speed, ground condition or jockey error.

While no one is claiming the research to be the holy grail to reducing injuries, racing is, at least, doing its best to reduce the number of fallers.

Nessie Chanter, clerk of the course at Stratford, said: “We are looking forward to showcasing the new white hurdles and fences at Stratford on Monday.

“We endorse the scientific and veterinary research that is behind this. It demonstrates how racing is continuously striving to increase the safety of all participants.”

The faller rate in British racing has reduced by one third over the last 20 years as a result of ongoing investment in racecourse safety as well as constant enhancements in racehorse and training standards.

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