Jump racing, also referred to as steeplechasing, is a popular horse racing event in which participating runners are required to jump over a diverse selection of ditch and fence obstacles. Jump racing is immensely popular in Ireland, where it originated during the 18th century. However, you will also be able to enjoy jump racing events in countries like the United Kingdom, France, Canada, the United States and Australia.
The name “steeplechase” derived from the very first jump racing events in which competitors had to race from one steeple church to another steeple church. The ditches and jumping fences that were included in a steeplechase were essentially there to simulate the obstacles that you would find along the way if you were racing in the countryside.
Steeplechasing, or jump racing, has a long and rich history and continues to be an immensely popular form of horse racing for betting across the globe. In this section of our website, we are going to take a closer look at what jump racing actually is and the jump racing events you will find in countries like the United Kingdom, Ireland and the United States. There will also be an in-depth look at the breeds used in jump racing, the differences between jump racing and flat racing and the history of jump racing, so let’s get underway…
What is jump racing?
Some know this form of horse racing as jump racing, while others refer to it as steeplechasing or National Hunt. Before we go any further, let’s shed some light on the different names for this exciting sport. The term “steeplechase” means something different in the United Kingdom and Ireland when compared to the rest of the world.
In the United Kingdom and Ireland, it refers to races that only feature large, fixed obstacles. This is completely different from hurdle races in which the obstacles are much smaller. Horse racing enthusiasts in the United Kingdom and Ireland often use the term National Hunt racing, or jump racing, to refer to hurdle races and steeplechases. However, you will be surprised to learn that National Hunt also can apply to flat races. In the rest of the world, the term “steeplechase“ is used to describe races that include jumping obstacles.
Jump racing is basically a horse racing event that includes a series of obstacles that a jockey and horse need to jump over before completing a race. You can find both hurdles and fences in jump racing, depending on where the event is taking place. Even though jump racing occurs throughout the year, it traditionally takes place in winter, spring and autumn. Jump racing is essentially a test of the horse’s jumping ability and stamina, which means the horses that participate in these events are usually older when compared to those used in flat racing events.
The horses that are used in jump racing events are known as chasers or hurdlers, and might have a history of flat racing before they were brought over to jump racing, or could have been bred specifically for jump racing from the start. Jump racing events take place at an array of distances, ranging from 2 to 4½ miles depending on the ability of the horse, the age and the sex. Some jump racing events might even be restricted to less experienced or amateur jockeys, also referred to as conditionals.
Jump racing in the US
You will come across two variations of jump racing in the United States: timber and hurdle. Nearly all hurdle races in America take place over national fences that are 52 inches tall and made from steel or standardized plastic. All other jump races in the United States will feature traditional natural fences that are made out of packed pine or live hedges. Most hurdle races take place at a distance of 2 to 3 miles and primarily occur in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions.
Timber racing events occur over immovable and solid wooden rail fences that can sometimes reach a height of 1.5 meters. The distance of timber racing events are much longer, ranging between 3 and 4 miles, and the jumping technique required to make these fences is completely different from that in hurdle racing events. Timber horses are trained to jump over fences with an arc due to the unyielding and solid construction of the fences.
Jump racing events in the US occur in 11 states, and the National Steeplechase Association is considered the official sanctioning body of jump racing in America. Let’s take a look at the most popular jump racing events from each state in the table below.
|Spring Hunter Pace
Georgia Steeplechase Festival
|South Carolina||Plantation at Stono Ferry Racetrack|
Aiken Steeplechase Association
|Steeplechase of Charleston
Aiken Spring Steeplechase
Aiken Fall Steeplechase
|North Carolina||Green Creek Race Course|
Brooklandwood Race Course
|Tryon Block House Steeplechase
Queen’s Cup Steeplechase
|Tennessee||Percy Warner Park||Iroquois Hurdle Stakes|
|Kentucky||Kentucky Horse Park||High Hope Steeplechase|
|International Gold Cup
Virginia Gold Cup
Virginia Fall Races
|Maryland Hunt Cup
Fair Hill Races
|Pennsylvania||Kennett Square||Willowdale Steeplechase
Pennsylvania Hunt Cup
|Delaware||Winterthur Museum||Point-to-Point Steeplechase|
|New Jersey||Far Hills||Far Hills Races|
|New York||Saratoga Racecourse||New York Turf Writers Cup|
Jump racing in the United Kingdom & Ireland
There’s no denying that steeplechase or jump racing is more popular in the United Kingdom and Ireland than anywhere else in the world. In fact, Ireland and the United Kingdom account for more than 50% of all jump racing events in the world. Just to give you a better idea, let’s look at the race totals per country.
In the United Kingdom, you can enjoy 3,366 jump races each year, while Ireland has a total of 1,434. In contrast, the United States only offers 200 jump races each year, while Australia only has 146. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the popular jump races you will find in both the United Kingdom and Ireland.
|United Kingdom||Haydock||Betfair Chase|
|United Kingdom||Newcastle||Fighting Fifth Hurdle|
|United Kingdom||Kempton||King George VI Chase|
|United Kingdom||Ascot||Clarence House Chase|
|United Kingdom||Cheltenham||Cheltenham Gold Cup|
|United Kingdom||Aintree||Ryanair Stayers’ Hurdle|
|United Kingdom||Kempton||Christmas Hurdle|
|United Kingdom||Ascot||Ascot Chase|
|United Kingdom||Cheltenham||Triumph Hurdle|
|Ireland||Down Royal||Ladbrokes Champion Chase|
|Ireland||Fairyhouse||Royal Bond Novice Hurdle|
|Ireland||Limerick||Greenmount Park Novice Chase|
|Ireland||Naas||Lawlor’s of Naas Novice Hurdle|
|Ireland||Naas||Lawlor’s of Naas Novice Hurdle|
|Ireland||Leopardstown||Paddy’s Reward Club Chase|
|Ireland||Leopardstown||Frank Ward Memorial Hurdle|
|Ireland||Leopardstown||Spring Juvenile Hurdle|
|Ireland||Leopardstown||Irish Gold Cup|
Horse breeds used in jump racing
Once you have a better understanding of jump racing, or steeplechasing, you will realize that there isn’t a specific horse breed that completely dominates jump racing. In nearly all jump racing events, you will come across American quarter horses, American paint horses, Appaloosa horses, Arabian horses, Morgan horses, Tennessee walking horses and thoroughbred horses. However, most will do their best to obtain a thoroughbred horse in jump racing events, as they are renowned for their jumping abilities.
Jump horses, or chasers, are usually older when compared to the horses used in flat racing events. This is because the effort required in jump racing events tends to be easier for horses with a greater adult bone structure, and the races require more stamina and power as opposed to flat racing events, which is why older horses are used instead of younger, less experienced horses.
Flat racing vs. jump racing
In several countries around the world, horse racing events occur on flat surfaces or over multiple jumps, also known as steeplechase of National Hunt. You will come across two variations of obstacles when you look at jump racing: steeplechase fences and hurdles.
Hurdles are far smaller than fences and are designed for less experienced jumpers, while fences tend to be much bigger and designed for experienced jumpers. What you will find is that horses tend to start with hurdles, before upgrading to chases once they gain more experience as they become older.
Both flat racing and jump racing events occur on either turf or grass surfaces. Flat racing usually occurs in the summer, while jump racing tends to take place during the winter. However, after the introduction of “all-weather” artificial surfaces back in 2001, both jump racing and flat racing could occur all year round.
Jump racing usually had a small break of around eight weeks between June and July, but that all changed with the introduction of summer jump racing events. Jump racing does not occur on artificial surfaces.
Flat racing events tend to use younger horses and take place at shorter distances when compared to jump racing events. Horses that participate in flat racing events start at the age of 2, while the horses in jump racing events only start once they reach 3. Flat racing events occur at distances that range from 1,000 meters (5 furlongs) to 4,400 meters (2 miles, 6 furlongs). However, there are only a handful of races that go beyond 3,200 meters (2 miles) in flat racing. Jump racing events occur at distances that range between 2 and 4 miles. However, there’s only a handful of jump races that go beyond 3 miles.
The weight that is carried by horses in jump and flat racing events also differs significantly. In flat racing events, you will notice that the races are more geared toward speed, which means the jockeys are usually lighter, as well as the saddle, which means the total weight ranges from 51 kg to 63 kg. In jump racing events, the total weight ranges from 63 kg to 76 kg.
Jump racing history
The very first jump race occurred in Ireland during 1752 when two friends decided to race their horses from Buttevant Church all the way to Doneraile Church. Both riders had to jump over a series of obstacles along the way, hence the name “steeplechase.” Most of the steeplechase events that occurred thereafter were contested in a cross-country format as opposed to competing on a racetrack.
The first steeplechase event that was ever recorded on a prepared track occurred in 1810 at Bedford, England. However, there was also a steeplechase racing event that occurred in 1794 in Newmarket, as well as a steeplechase event in 1792 in Leicestershire. The very first hurdle race occurred in 1821 near Bristol, at Durdham Down, and consisted of five hurdles spread across a mile-long course.
In March 1830, the first National Steeplechase racing event took place in England at a distance of 4 miles. The event started at the Bury Orchard, Harlington, in Bedfordshire, and ended at the Obelisk, in Wrest Park, Bedfordshire. The race was won by “The Wonder” with a time of 16 minutes and 25 seconds.
Once steeplechase racing events became popular across Ireland and the United Kingdom, it didn’t take long for the race to spread across the globe. In has managed to remain popular in countries like France, Ireland, Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom to this very day.