I prefer to call it Jumps Racing, but I'm a "say what you see" kind of girl. The official name is Steeplechasing, and it involves horses jumping over a combination of fence and ditch obstacles. See - jumping, so jumps racing. Obvous really!
Unlike Flat racing, which is practiced across the world, steeplechasing is mainly a UK & Ireland thing. At some point in history somebody decided that just watching horses run really fast wasn't enough for them, so they decided to put a series of obstacles in the way.
In hurdles races the fences look manageable, but in true chases they're enormous. It takes a lot of training and a very fit horse to get over them. That's why jumps racing requires a great deal of skill as well as speed and stamina.
In the UK we group hurdles and chases together under the name “National Hunt racing”. Everywhere else in the world, a “steeplechase” is any race which involves jumping over obtacles, whether it be fences or hurdles.
The National Hunt season runs through the winter in the UK, which can lead to some pretty bad weather conditions. Often this can cause meetings to be cancelled if the ground is waterlogged or too bad for the horses to be able to run safely. Other times, the going can get heavy but still safe to race. Heavy ground saps the energy of both horse and jockey and can sometimes lead to very upredictable results.
The Big Races
Thee are two big races that everyone wants to win - the Cheltenham Gold Cup (the highlight of the Cheltenham Festival in March) and the Grand National (the most famous race in the UK, part of the Aintree festival in April).
Run over 3 miles 2 ½ furlongs, the Cheltenham Gold Cup is seen as the most important steeplechase of the season and has been run since 1924. Along with the World Hurdle, the Gold Cup is the highlight of the Cheltenham Festival which is the biggest betting event of the year in UK racing.
Cheltenham may have the better class of racing, but in terms of public awareness and media attention, the Aintree Grand National is the biggest single race in the UK bar none. Covering a gruelling course of 4 miles 3 ½ furlongs, the National, as it is known, offers the most prize money of any jumps race in the world. Known for its unforgiving fences including the infamous “Becher's Brook” and the Chair – the tallest fence on the course.
Famous winners of the Grand National include Foinavon and Mon Mome who both won at odds of 100/1 however, undoubtedly the most famous winner of the race was Red Rum, who conquered his rivals a record three times in 1973,1974 and 1977. Party Politics was also a famous winner in 1992, just a few days before the UK General Election. Many punters who backed him just because of the name got a nice payday that year!