National Hunt racing

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In horse racing in the United Kingdom, France and Republic of Ireland, National Hunt racing requires horses to jump fences and ditches. National Hunt racing in the UK is informally known as "jumps" and is divided into two major distinct branches: hurdles and steeplechases. Alongside these there are "bumpers", which are National Hunt flat races. In a hurdles race, the horses jump over obstacles called hurdles; in a steeplechase the horses jump over a variety of obstacles that can include plain fences, water jump or an open ditch. [1] In the UK the biggest National Hunt events of the year are generally considered to be the Grand National and the Cheltenham Gold Cup.



Most of the National Hunt season takes place in the winter when the softer ground makes jumping less dangerous. The horses are much cheaper, as the majority are geldings and have no breeding value. This makes the sport more popular as the horses are not usually retired at such a young age and thus become familiar to the racing public over a number of seasons.

Jump racing is most popular in Britain, Ireland and France. In Ireland the sport receives much higher attendances than flat racing, while in England, Wales and Scotland it is more balanced, but the different seasons (there is little top-class flat racing in Britain from November to March) mean that most fans of the sport can enjoy both forms of racing.[ citation needed ]

National Hunt horses are often bred for jumping, while others are former flat horses. National Hunt horses do not have to be Thoroughbreds: many French-bred jumpers are Selle Français or AQPS. [2] Many horses begin their racing careers in amateur point-to-pointing where they compete over steeplechase races of three miles (4.8 km).

The two main highlights of the National Hunt calendar are the Cheltenham Festival meeting and the Grand National meeting. The Cheltenham Festival is held at Cheltenham Racecourse over four days in the second week of March. It features eleven grade one races, culminating in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the best and most prestigious Chase race in the world, on the Friday. The Grand National meeting is held at Aintree over three days every April. Many of the best horses come to these festivals, which are watched by a huge television audience worldwide. Hundreds of millions of pounds are gambled on these festivals.

Other important festivals are: the Galway Races a hugely popular mixed (NH and flat) meeting in Ireland; Punchestown Festival the Irish equivalent of the Cheltenham Festival; The Tingle Creek at Sandown Park Racecourse; the Scottish Grand National at Ayr Racecourse; the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park Racecourse; the Welsh National at Chepstow Racecourse; and the Irish National at Fairyhouse Racecourse.


National Hunt racing originated in Ireland, particularly in the southern counties. Early races were mainly two-horse contests known as "pounding races" that became popular in the early 18th century. These involved long trips across country where horses were required to jump whatever obstacles the landscape threw in their way.

The first recorded race of this nature is traditionally said to have taken place between the towns of Buttevant and Doneraile in the north of County Cork in 1752. [3] The distance of the race was 4.5 miles (7.2 km). The start and finish were marked by the church steeple in each town, hence the term "steeplechase". Point-to-point races, amateur steeplechases normally run on farmland, remain hugely popular in the same region and in many parts of rural Ireland and Great Britain, today.

The first use of the term steeplechase on an official racecard was in Ireland in the early 19th century. The 'official' first running of the world's most famous steeplechase, the Grand National, held annually at Aintree in England, took place in 1839. An Irish horse, Lottery, took the honours. The "National", as it is known, was run over 4.5 miles (7.2 km), but since 2013 is run over 4.3 miles (6.9 km). Notably, the 'Liverpool Grand Steeplechase' (to give its original name) was actually initiated in 1836, although the three earliest runnings have been overlooked in many historical chronicles.

Organised steeplechasing in Britain began with annual events being staged cross country over a number of fields, hedges and brooks, the earliest most notable of these being the St Albans Steeplechase (first run in 1830). For some years, there was no regulation of steeplechasing. The sport gained a reputation as being a bastard relation of flat-racing and consequently fell into decline.

A breakthrough came in the 1860s with the formation of the National Hunt Committee, and the running of the National Hunt Steeplechase. This steeplechase would form part of an annual race-meeting staged at a different track each year. The 'National Hunt Meeting' established itself in the racing calendar, in turn moving around such courses as Sandown, Newmarket, Derby, Liverpool, Hurst Park, Lincoln, Leicester and many others.

In 1904 and 1905, Cheltenham hosted the meeting, and although Warwick was awarded it for five years after that, it then returned to Cheltenham which became the permanent home of the fixture. Further prestigious races were added to the card during the 1920s, such as the Cheltenham Gold Cup and Champion Hurdle.

As steeplechasing entered its modern era, the Cheltenham Festival became the pinnacle of the season, providing a series of championship races at which virtually all top horses would be targeted.

With the introduction of sponsorship (starting with the Whitbread Gold Cup in 1957), a whole host of other important races have been added to the National Hunt racing season, although many of these are geared towards generating betting turnover in the form of competitive handicaps that attract large numbers of runners.

National Hunt racing today

Given the sport's origins, Irish-bred and trained horses remain a dominant force in national hunt racing today. In 2005 and 2006, Irish-trained horses captured the three main prizes at Cheltenham and won the Grand National. Best Mate who captured the Cheltenham Gold Cup three successive times between 2002–2004, was Irish-bred, but trained and owned in England.

In recent years however French-bred horses have also come to the forefront with horses such as Master Minded becoming the highest rated horse in Britain after winning the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Kauto Star who won the Gold Cup in 2007, 2009 and was second in 2008 is also French bred.

Types of race

Grades and classes

Races are graded. The most prestigious are Grade 1, then Grade 2, Grade 3, Listed, Handicaps, to Bumpers the least prestigious. The more highly graded races attract more prize money and better horses. (In flat racing the more prestigious races are Group 1, 2, and 3, then Listed)

All National Hunt races are also classified in classes 1-7 (class 1 best). Graded and listed races are class 1.

See the list of Grade 1-3 National Hunt races and the list of Group 1-3 Flat races

Major National Hunt festivals


The capital of National Hunt racing in the UK is Cheltenham Racecourse, in the Cotswolds, which hosts the Cheltenham Festival in the third week of March each year, as well as other important fixtures during the NH calendar.

There are numerous well-known trainers operating in the Cotswolds including Jonjo O'Neill, Richard Phillips, Tom George, Nigel Twiston-Davies, and latterly Kim Bailey.

The highlight of the Cheltenham Festival is the Gold Cup. All races run at Cheltenham finish with a long uphill run-in in front of the stands. The Gold Cup is a Grade 1 race, run over a distance of 3 miles 2 12 furlongs (5.3 km). All horses carry the same weight in the Gold Cup. On numerous occasions the hill at the finish has found out the brave. Famous winners of the Gold Cup include Dawn Run (mare, ridden by Jonjo O'Neill), Arkle, Golden Miller, Best Mate, Desert Orchid & Kauto Star.

Grand National

The most famous National Hunt race is the Grand National, run at Aintree in April each year. The race is a different sort of contest from the Gold Cup: it is a Grade 3 race, it is run over a distance of more than 4 miles (6.4 km), there are up to 40 runners, the course at Aintree is essentially flat, and the horses are handicapped (the best horses carry the most weight). Perhaps the most fundamental difference is that the Grand National fences are far bigger than the fences at Cheltenham, and a number of fences incorporate significant drops. The most famous fence is Becher's Brook which is 5 ft (1.5 m) high, but has a 7 ft (2 m) drop on landing and is widely regarded as the biggest challenge on the course.

Famous winners of the Grand National include Red Rum (won 3 times (1973, 1974, 1977), runner up twice (1975, 1976)); Mr Frisk (1990) (the last winner to date to be ridden by an amateur jockey and still holds the record for the fastest time); Aldaniti (1981) (ridden by Bob Champion shortly after he had recovered from cancer. His story was made into a film); and Foinavon (1967) (won at odds of 100/1 after a mêlée at the 23rd fence resulted in the majority of the field falling or refusing. Foinavon was far enough behind at that point to avoid the confusion and ran on to win by 20 lengths. The fence where the mêlée occurred is now named "Foinavon Fence").

Some followers of steeplechasing feel that the race has now lost a considerable amount of its character due to changes made to the course (notably the softening of the fences).

Other notable National Hunt races

Other NH races of note include the King George VI Chase, run at Kempton Park on 26 December and the Hennessy Gold Cup run at Newbury at the end of November.

Hunter chase racing

Hunter chases take place at national hunt racecourses, but are only open to horses that have hunter certificates. Hunter certificates are issued to horses that have hunted for at least four days in the season before racing starts in January. In addition, the jockey must be an amateur who has obtained a certificate from the hunt secretary.

Unlike point-to-points, licensed trainers as well as amateur trainers may have runners in Hunter Chases. This often causes controversy when big name trainers run former Grade 1 horses in Hunter Chases as amateur trainers feel they are unable to compete. New rules which took effect in 2009 will prevent horses which have finished in the first 3 of a Grade 1 or 2 chase in the previous season from taking part.

The two biggest Hunter Chases are the Aintree Fox Hunters' Chase and Cheltenham Foxhunter Chase. The Aintree Fox Hunters' is run as the feature race on the first day of the Grand National meeting over one circuit of the Grand National course. This gives amateur riders the chance to jump these famous fences before the professionals.

The Cheltenham Foxhunter is run after the Gold Cup over the same distance and is often referred to as the amateur Gold Cup.

Point to point racing

"Point to Point" racing is steeplechase racing for amateurs.

See also

Related Research Articles

Steeplechase (horse racing) Horse race form originally from Ireland, featuring jumps over fence and ditch obstacles

A steeplechase is a distance horse race in which competitors are required to jump diverse fence and ditch obstacles. Steeplechasing is primarily conducted in Ireland, the United Kingdom, Canada, United States, Australia and France. The name is derived from early races in which orientation of the course was by reference to a church steeple, jumping fences and ditches and generally traversing the many intervening obstacles in the countryside.

Hedgehunter Irish-bred Thoroughbred racehorse

Hedgehunter is an Irish race horse, who won the 2005 Grand National steeplechase, ridden by Ruby Walsh and trained by Willie Mullins. He had fallen at the final fence the previous year when well placed. He then finished second in 2006 to Numbersixvalverde. He also finished second in the 2006 Cheltenham Gold Cup to War of Attrition. The horse is owned by Lancashire billionaire Trevor Hemmings who also owned Blackpool Tower.

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One Man was an Irish-bred National Hunt steeplechase racehorse sired by Remainder Man out of the mare Steal On. The popular grey won 20 of 35 races, including the Queen Mother Champion Chase in 1998. He was trained by the late Gordon W. Richards and owned by John Hales. Renowned for his jumping ability and high cruising speed, he was nicknamed his "little bouncing ball" by Richards and was adopted by many as the new Desert Orchid. One Man received a Timeform rating of 179, an outstanding figure.

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Morley Street (1984-–2009) was an Irish racehorse. He was a specialist hurdler but also won steeplechases and races on the flat. In a racing career which lasted from November 1988 until December 1995, he ran forty-five times and won twenty races including the Champion Hurdle in 1991 and the Aintree Hurdle on four successive occasions. He won the title of American Champion Steeplechase Horse on two occasions, as a result of back-to-back wins in the Breeders' Cup Steeplechase.

Jodami was an Irish-bred, British-trained Thoroughbred racehorse. A specialist steeplechaser, he ran thirty-nine time and won eighteen races in a career which lasted from March 1990 until February 1997. After winning five races over hurdles, Jodami switched to racing over fences in the autumn of 1991. In early 1993 he won four consecutive races, culminating with a win in Britain's most prestigious steeplechase, the Cheltenham Gold Cup. He also won three editions of the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown Racecourse. Jodami's racing career was ended by injury in 1997. He died in 2008.

Silviniaco Conti French racehorse

Silviniaco Conti was a French-bred, British-trained Selle Français racehorse who competed in National Hunt races. After winning several important races over hurdles he emerged as a leading long-distance steeplechaser in 2012. After winning both his races in his native country, the horse won his first three races in England, culminating with a success in the two and a half mile Ascot Hurdle. After running poorly over shorter distances he was ruled out of a bid for the Champion Hurdle and was switched to steeplechasing. In his first season as a chaser he won the Mildmay Novices' Chase and finished second in a strong renewal of the Feltham Chase. In the 2012/2013 season he won the Charlie Hall Chase, Betfair Chase and Denman Chase and in the following season he was rated the best jumper in Britain and Ireland after wins in the King George VI Chase and Betfred Bowl. In the 2014/2015 season he recorded repeat victories in the Betfair Chase, King George VI Chase and Betfred Bowl but failed when favourite for the Cheltenham Gold Cup. In the following season he was beaten in his first three races but returned to form in February to win the Grade One Ascot Chase by 20 lengths.

Albertas Run was an Irish-bred, British-trained Thoroughbred racehorse who competed in National Hunt races. He won two National Hunt Flat races and became a successful hurdler, winning the National Hunt Novices' Handicap Hurdle Final and the John Smith's Extra Cold Handicap Hurdle in 2007. He became more successful as a Steeplechaser, winning four Grade I races: the Royal and SunAlliance Chase, the Melling Chase and two runnings of the Ryanair Chase. His other wins included the Reynoldstown Novices' Chase, the Amlin 1965 Chase and the Old Roan Chase.

Trabolgan Irish-bred Thoroughbred racehorse

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Oscar Whisky was an Irish-bred, British-trained Thoroughbred racehorse who competed in National Hunt racing. In his early career he showed promise, winning two National Hunt Flat races and two novice hurdles. In the 2010/2011 National Hunt season he emerged as one of the leading hurdlers in the British Isles, winning the Welsh Champion Hurdle and the Aintree Hurdle as well as finishing third behind Hurricane Fly in the Champion Hurdle. In the following season he won the Relkeel Hurdle and a second Aintree Hurdle. He won the Ascot Hurdle and a second Relkeel Hurdle in 2012/2013 before being moved up to compete in steeplechases in the following season when he won the Dipper Novices' Chase and the Scilly Isles Novices' Chase. Oscar Whisky was fatally injured in a fall at Sandown Park Racecourse on 6 December 2014.

Charter Party was an Irish-bred British-trained thoroughbred racehorse, best known for his win in the 1988 Cheltenham Gold Cup. He overcame persistent injury problems to win twelve races under National Hunt rules. He showed promise as a hurdler and as a Novice steeplechaser before recording his first major win in the 1986 National Hunt Handicap Chase. As a ten-year-old in 1988 he defeated Desert Orchid in the Gainsborough Chase, before taking the Gold Cup at Cheltenham in March. He never won again, but produced a fine effort to finish third on heavy ground in the 1989 Gold Cup.

Many Clouds Irish-bred Thoroughbred racehorse

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Easter Hero (1920–1948) was an Irish-bred British-trained racehorse who won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1929 and 1930 and made three unsuccessful attempts to win the Grand National. He showed little early promise and was passed from owner to owner before beginning to display ability in 1927. Wins in the Becher Chase and the Coventry Chase established him as a leading steeplechaser and he was bought by Alfred Loewenstein with the aim of winning the National. In his first attempt at the race he fell at the eighth and brought the field to a virtual halt after becoming trapped in the ditch in front of the fence.

Prince Regent was an Irish Thoroughbred racehorse who won the 1946 Cheltenham Gold Cup. He was the dominant steeplechaser in Ireland during World War II with his wins including the Irish Grand National in 1942. After the war he was able to compete in the major British chases and won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1946. He finished third when favourite for the 1946 Grand National and fourth in the race in 1947, carrying top weight on both occasions. He continued to race until the age of fourteen, retiring in 1949.

Silver Fame was a British Thoroughbred racehorse who won the 1951 Cheltenham Gold Cup. After beginning his racing career in Ireland he moved to England and became one of the leading steeplechasers of his time. He won races at the Cheltenham Festival in 1948 and 1950 and ran twice in the Grand National, falling when favourite for the race in 1948. Despite running extremely well at Cheltenham he did not contest the Gold Cup until 1951 when he won the race in record time. He was also the oldest winner of the race up to that time, and remains one of only two horses to win the race at the age of twelve. He spent his retirement as a hunter.

Limber Hill was a British Thoroughbred racehorse who won the 1956 Cheltenham Gold Cup. He was owned and bred by James Davey and trained in Yorkshire by Bill Dutton. After racing on the point-to-point circuit he then ran over hurdles before becoming a steeplechaser in 1954. He made an immediate impact and won the National Hunt Handicap Chase at the end of his first season. In the 1955/56 National Hunt season he was the leading staying chaser in Britain winning both the King George VI Chase and the Cheltenham Gold Cup. He continued to race until 1958 but his later career was disrupted by injury and he never recovered his best form.

Native River is an Irish-bred, British-trained, Thoroughbred racehorse who races under National Hunt rules. He is a specialist long-distance steeplechaser known for his front-running style and apparently inexhaustible stamina. He won three minor hurdle races but began to show better form in the 2015/16 when taking the Worcester Novices' Chase and the Mildmay Novices' Chase. He emerged as a top-class steeplechaser in the following season when he won the Hennessy Gold Cup, Welsh Grand National and Denman Chase as well as finishing third in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. In the spring of 2018 he won a second Denman Chase before recording his biggest win in the 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup.

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Minella Times is an Irish-bred Thoroughbred racehorse who competes in National Hunt racing. In 2021 he became the first horse ridden by a female jockey, Rachael Blackmore, to win the Grand National.


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  2. "French AQPS system offers an easier route to jumping top tier". Free Online Library. 2012-03-09. Retrieved 2012-07-25.
  3. "Buttevant in North County Cork, Ireland". Retrieved 2012-07-25.