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Willie Mullins praises new-look Grand National

Willie Mullins has given his support to the idea that the racing world should embrace changes to the sport and move with the times. The successful jumps trainer has described himself as something of a traditionalist, however he has admitted that lots of good has come from the changes made to the Grand National over the past ten years or so.

Mullins made his comments on the eve of the first press conference of the Horse Welfare Board, during a discussion of the National Hunt Chase. This was a very hot topic at last year’s Cheltenham Festival with just four finishing from a field of eighteen. This has resulted in the race being reduced in length by two furlongs and other conditions being imposed, including a minimum rating.

Mullins naturally feels lots of affection for a race in which he triumphed on two occasions as a jockey and twice more as a trainer. He felt that the decision to make the race the final one of the opening day of the festival, and therefore on cut-up ground, was a contribution towards the problems experienced last year.

Mullins said: “I thought that where the race was last year, the last race on the Tuesday, with the ground, it was very unfair. It used to be the first race on the second day and to have fresh ground. I’m a traditionalist, I’d like to see it what it was. But maybe racing in general is going to have to adapt to the new way people think about horse welfare.

“Of course I would be disappointed [about changes to the National Hunt Chase] but maybe racing, like every sport, has to move on and acclimatise to how people perceive the sport, perceive how it should be run. The welfare of horses and jockeys is paramount. It’s just a thing we’re going to have to get used to.

“I wouldn’t have agreed with what changes were done to the Grand National. However, now we have a £1m Grand National with [TV] ratings at the roof and it’s a huge spectacle. We lost maybe a lot of the spectacularism of it, the drops and the big jumps, but we have £1m to aim for and a huge race. I’m for change when it’s going to bring the sport forward and welfare obviously has to be a main issue.”