National Hunt racing in the UK takes place primarily between the months of October and March though a limited amount does take place during the summer months. There are three main types of race – hurdle, chase and bumper. Let’s take a brief look at each.
Races over hurdles involves the horses jumping a number of obstacles a minimum of three feet and six inches in height. The number jumped varies dependant on the distance of the race which is usually between two and three and a half miles. To run over hurdles a horse must be a minimum of three years old. Juvenile hurdles are generally for three and four year old horses. Novice races are for animals which have not won a race before prior to the start of the current season.
There are also handicap hurdle races for horse which have earned a handicap mark. The qualifying conditions vary depending on the rating of the horses. In addition we have maidens – for horses who have yet to win a race, claimers – when each horse can be claimed by a new owner for a given price, selling races after which the winner is subject to sale by public auction and apprentice races which are restricted to apprentice jockeys.
A chase is a race run over larger obstacles known as fences. The minimum height of each fence is four feet and six inches on the take-off side. Water jumps must be at least three feet high. Open ditch fences have to be at least four feet and six inches high.
Chases are run over distances of two miles minimum to over three miles. There are longer distance chases with perhaps the most famous being the Grand National which is around four and a quarter miles in distance and an extreme test of stamina for horse and jockey. Similar to the hurdles, steeplechases involve novice races and handicaps.
National Hunt Flat
This type of race is also known as a “bumper.” It is for horses which have yet to graduate to hurdles and require experience of racing. No obstacles are involved. The distance run is typically from a mile and three-quarters upwards.
The National Hunt season builds to a crescendo each March with the staging of the annual Cheltenham Festival. This sees four days of top class jumps racing such as the Champion Hurdle and the Gold Cup.
Horses running over the jumps tend to have longer careers that their flat counterparts with the public taking them to their hearts. Some famous National Hunt horses from recent times include Red Rum, Desert Orchid, Kauto Star, Denman, Florida Pearl and Istabraq.
A day at a National Hunt meeting tends to be a more relaxed affair than the flat. Most of the courses are in beautiful rural country and quite scenic. Cheltenham itself falls in to the category. Other courses in such settings include Ludlow, Fakenham, Market Rasen, Perth, Wetherby and Bangor-on-Dee. Literally from one end of the country to the other.