WITH a resurgence in race horse numbers for jumps racing, the Australian Jumps Racing Association in conjunction with Racing Victoria will invest in new 'One Fit' hurdles from Britain for next year's jumping season.
A group of leading Australian jumps jockeys and trainers have given the thumbs up for the new hurdles after they have been used in jumping schools over the past few months.
Warrnambool Racing Club chairman Nick Rule, who is also the vice-president of the AJRA, is one of the people behind the change of hurdles.
"This is yet another step forward in our social licence to operate the jumps racing industry, following suit from the British Horseracing Authority and is a sensible and required approach," Rule said.
"The Warrnambool Racing Club is in full support of implementing the new design. They are a lot safer for jumps jockeys and horses as is shown by the statistics from the UK. Australian jumps jockeys were all of the opinion that the 'one fit' was far superior than the hurdles currently used.
"The jockeys' support of wishing to have the hurdles implemented to improve equine and participant welfare is apparent in their overall feedback during the trial. The horses respect the hurdles far more, which is important because they will be less likely to make a mistake because of this. The foam padding is far more forgiving and safer for all participants."
Racing Victoria steward James Hitchcock, who is also on the Jumps Review Panel, said there had been positive feedback from jumps jockeys and trainers about the new hurdles.
"The jumps jockeys and trainers seem to be happy with the new hurdles," Hitchcock said. "There's a bit more dialogue and paperwork to be completed between a few parties before they get the tick-off but everything is positive."
The 'One Fit' design is a modified hurdle frame with a custom fitting closed-cell foam pad replacing the traditional birch. The hurdle was developed by the British Horseracing Authority's Senior Inspector of Courses Richard Linley, in consultation with relevant industry bodies, with the objective of reducing both the fall rate and the risk of injury as the result of a fall.
The improvement in equine welfare in the UK has been significant. Since their initial trial began in June 2013 the fall rate has reduced to 1.59 per cent (56 falls from 3,525 runners), which represents a reduction of 0.5 per cent compared to the ten-year average number of fallers across all hurdle designs.
Former champion jumps jockey and now trainer Brett Scott came out in support of the hurdles.
"The One Fit hurdles to me look like a great mix of old-style made from modern safer materials," Scott said. "I think this mix will provide a safe jump for horse and rider that is going to be more user friendly for track staff to set up and remove from tracks. These hurdles will also be easily stored during the off season."
Top jumps trainer Eric Musgrove spoke in glowing terms of the new jumps.
"All the riders seem very positive about them," Musgrove said. "The horses jump them well, they are a lot lighter construction than the previous hurdles which means less downtime to horses. Since its inception in England, the fall rate has decreased significantly."
The AJRA hopes to place an order in August to have the new hurdles here for the 2021 jumps season.
Warrnambool trainer Shayne Fisher admits things have changed over the years at Moonee Valley racecourse. Fisher made his first trip to the Valley for more than 24 years on Sunday when he took his maiden performer Henry's Reward for a 1520 metre race at the Cox Plate track. Apprentice jockey Tayla Childs, the daughter of former champion jockey Greg Childs, rode Henry's Reward into third place behind Altimeter and Legend Of Zorro in the $31,000 event.
The Warrnambool Grand Annual winning-trainer said he was happy to have been part of such a big day for the young apprentice hoop.
"Henry's Reward was Tayla's first metropolitan ride," Fisher said.
"The meeting had country status but it was still run at a metropolitan track.
"It would have been a fairy tale story if she could have won on Henry's Reward because that's the track her dad had so much success on Sunline but it was still a great result to run third.
"Tayla was really thrilled. She rode a great race. It was also a big day for me because I was not sure where I was going around the Valley.
"It's changed so much, it was an incredible day for Tayla and it was also for me."
Henry's Reward had his 29th start on Sunday and Fisher has his fingers crossed the six-year-old is not far away from breaking his maiden status.
Former Warrnambool trainer Declan Maher was upbeat with the performance of his new stable acquisition Ascot Red at Moonee Valley on Sunday. Ascot Red was a $100 chance of winning the flat race over 2040 metres but surprised Maher with his third placing.
"My brother Ciaron and David Eustace used to train Ascot Red," he said.
"There was a change in ownership of the horse and I've ended up training him for a few friends.
"It was an excellent run on the flat. We're looking forward to running him in some jumps races. He's won two of his eight jumps starts and has five placings over them."
Jockey Brian Higgins pleaded guilty of a careless riding charge at Moonee Valley on Sunday following his ride on Miss Skeptical.
Higgins was outed by stewards for eight meetings.