The Grand National will be held at Aintree racecourse today but there will be a few differences.

As well as fewer horses running in the £1m race, the start time will be much earlier than viewers and racegoers are used to. This year's race starts at 4pm, considerably earlier than the traditional 5.15pm time.

So, why is the Grand National starting at 4pm?

It is part of a number of new safety measures and significant changes that have been brought in this year. The deaths of four horses at last year's Grand National led to increased calls for more safety protocols.

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Pushing the start time forward by some 75 minutes is a move to help improve the ground at Aintree and make it safer for horses. The number of runners has also been cut, with the total number of horses reduced from 40 to a maximum of 34 for this year.

There had been calls to reduce the field down to 30, but these were dismissed amid suggestions too few horses would lead to a faster race that would be more dangerous.

Sulekha Varma, the Jockey Club’s north west head of racing , said: “This was a decision we took after a number of participants and other racing stakeholders raised concerns about the long build-up to the race throughout the day and heightened tension as a result. These were not issues which had been identified as a problem when the race was previously staged at 3.45pm and 4.15pm.

“Bringing forward the start time of the Grand National by 75 minutes to 4pm will also help us to maintain optimal jumping ground, as warm or breezy conditions can dry out the racing surface.”

In a further change, the first fence has been brought forward, towards the start line, by 60 yards in order to reduce the speed at which the horses reach it. For the same reason, the start itself will now be a standing start at the tape, rather than the traditional rolling start.

Each horse must have an official rating of at least 130, up from the traditional 125, while they will no longer be led onto the course by a handler before the race. Instead, each horse will be released to canter in front of the grandstands.

Fence 11 has also been reduced in height by two inches, with the drop on the landing side reduced. No changes to any other fences have been announced.