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National Hunt Racing

What is ‘National Hunt Racing’?

National Hunt racing is a form of horse racing, popular in the United Kingdom, France and Ireland, in which horses are required to negotiate obstacles, including fences, ditches and hurdles. National Hunt races are staged over significantly longer distances than Flat races and include three different categories of races: steeplechases, hurdles and bumpers.

‘National Hunt Racing’ Explained

National Hunt racing began in Ireland in the eighteenth century, where horse races were staged across the countryside, with the start and finish lines being marked by church steeples. This explains the origin of the world ‘steeplechase’.

In a modern steeplechase, horses have to jump fences that vary in height and construction, but are, at a minimum, 4.5 feet high. Steeplechases are held over a range of distances, with the shortest being two miles, and the longest races measuring well over four miles. The most famous steeplechase of all, the Grand National, which was first run in 1839, is over four and a half miles long.

The other main categories of National Hunt races are hurdles and bumpers. Hurdle races have smaller, less sturdy obstacles and a horse that goes on to compete in steeplechases will usually start off racing over hurdles. Bumpers are races without obstacles, designed to give younger horses racecourse experience.

Technically, the National Hunt season lasts for 365 days a year, but the best National Hunt racing takes place between October and April. There are a number of spring Festivals at which the best National Hunt horses compete, with the most significant being those at Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown.

When trying to find the winner of a National Hunt race, bettors will normally focus on a horse’s jumping ability, its stamina (particularly in the longer races) and its suitability to race conditions. As National Hunt racing takes place primarily in the winter, the races are often run on stamina-sapping ground.