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First Posted: Sep 24, 2008
Apr 3, 2011

Steeplechase Racing/Jump Racing

by Debora Johnson

What does it mean when the words "steeplechase racing"" or "jump racing" are used? Jump racing is a term used to describe any type of racing involving jumps. This article will deal with steeplechase racing, specifically; however, at the end of the article will be a link to "hurdle racing," as well.

Steeplechasing originated in Ireland in the 18th century. Steeplechases can cover much ground. Often it is as long as 4 miles. Both the horse and the rider must be really fit. It is grueling. The jumps are usually fixed rails, fixed objects, ditches, and water jumps. They are large, as there are many horses and riders steeplechasing in competition at the same time. In Virginia, an internationally well-known steeplechase takes place every spring on the same day as the Kentucky Derby (a race on the flat--no jumps). It is always the first Saturday in May--rain or shine. Our family has attended the Virginia Gold Cup Steeplechase Races for the past 25+ years. This link is to the 2007 races. Below you will find much more information on the 2008 Races. Probably the most famous Steeplechase race is Aintree Grand National.

Virginia Gold Cup 2008
Virginia Gold Cup/2008 Galleries
Galleries 2008/Hats and Cigars!

Steeplechase Racing

The steeplechase is a form of horse racing (primarily conducted in the United Kingdom, United States, France, and Ireland) and derives its name 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. In the UK and Ireland the term steeplechase is not used, even though the word originated in Ireland: the term (and formal code of racing) is National Hunt racing.

It is a term now used to refer to a distance horse race with diverse fence and ditch obstacles; the most famous of these is the Grand National run annually at Aintree Racecourse, in Liverpool, since its inception in 1837.


The steeplechase originated in Ireland in the 18th century as an analogue to cross-country horse races which went from church steeple to church steeple, hence "steeplechase." The first steeplechase is said to have been the result of a wager in 1752 between Mr. Cornelius O'Callaghan and Mr. Edmund Blake, racing four miles (6 km) cross-country from Buttevant Church to St. Leger Church in Doneraile, in Cork, Ireland. An account of the race was believed to have been in the library of the O'Brien's of Dromoland Castle. Most of the earlier steeplechases were contested cross-country rather than on a track, and resembled English cross country as it exists today. The first recorded steeplechase over a prepared track with fences was run in Bedlam, North Yorkshire in 1810.

Racing/United States

Thomas Hitchcock (1860-1941) is known as the father of American steeplechasing. In the late 1800s, he built a steeplechase training center on his 3,000-acre (12 km2) property in Aiken, South Carolina and trained horses imported from England. No less important are the contributions by fellow Aiken seasonal resident F. Ambrose Clark. Clark held many important chases on his Brookville (Long Island) estate, Broad Hollow, in the 1920s and 1930s. Ford Conger Field was built by F. Ambrose Clark and is the site of the annual Aiken Steeplechase, a part of the Triple Crown in March. The first Steeplechase Meet in Aiken was held March 14, 1930 in Hitchcock Woods. In addition to the Aiken Steeplechase, South Carolina is also home to the Colonial Cup and the Carolina Cup, which is the largest event on the circuit. Both of these races are held in Camden, South Carolina.

The Virginia Gold Cup is also among the oldest steeplechase races in the United States, with its first running in 1922. Every first Saturday in May, more than 50,000 spectators gather at Great Meadow near The Plains, Virginia (45 miles west of Washington, DC). The 4-mile (6.4 km) grass course with 4-foot (1.2 m) high timber fences is often referred to as the "crown jewel of steeplechasing."

The Iroquois Steeplechase event is held in Nashville, Tennessee. Starting in 1941, it has been held at Percy Warner Park. It is annually held in the spring and it is considered to be one of the great sporting spectacles in Nashville and its surrounding areas. Beginning in 1941, with one year off during World War II, the Iroquois Steeplechase has been running continuously at Percy Warner Park on the beautiful race course inspired by Marcellus Frost and designed by William duPont. The widely renowned event would not have endured without the guidance of Mason Houghland and Calvin Houghland, who between them lovingly put on the race for half a century. They combined the efforts of the foxhunters and volunteer horsemen with the cooperation and support of the Metropolitan Board of Parks and Recreation to create a great sporting spectacle that has become a springtime institution in the region.

The Queens Cup Steeplechase is another major annual steeplechase event. It is held the last Saturday of April at Brooklandwood, a farm and estate in Mineral Springs, North Carolina, about 20 miles (32 km) from Charlotte. This day long event of racing and social activities attracts over 10,000 spectators, many of whom travel great distances to attend.

During the 1940s and 50s, the Broad Hollow Steeplechase Handicap, the Brook National Steeplechase Handicap and the American Grand National were regarded as American steeplechasing's Triple Crown.

Kentucky Downs near Franklin, Kentucky (originally Dueling Grounds Race Course) was built in 1990 as a steeplechase track, with a kidney-shaped turf circuit. At its inception, the track offered some of the richest purses in the history of American steeplechase. The track has undergone numerous ownership changes, with steeplechase races playing an on-and-off role (mainly off) in the track's limited live race meets.

The Stoneybrook Steeplechase was initiated in Southern Pines, North Carolina on a private farm in 1949 and was held annually in the spring until 1996, with attendance near 20,000. It resumed as an annual spring event at the new Carolina Horse Park in 2001.


Australia has a long history of jumps racing which was introduced by British settlers. In the 20th century the northern states of Queensland and New South Wales phased out all jumps racing. Today only Victoria and South Australia hold steeplechases, Tasmania having ceased jumps racing as of April 2007.

The jumping season in Australia normally takes place from March until August (some minor races are held either side of these months). Horses for steeplechasing are primarily former flat racing horses, rather than horses specifically bred for jumping. There is an emphasis on safety in Australia which has led to a reduction in the size of obstacles. As jumps races take place at flat racing meetings there is also a need for portable jumps. Most chasing occurs on steeple lanes but also includes parts of the main flat racing track. From Easter to May the major distance races occur. The Great Eastern Steeplechase at Oakbank is held on Easter Monday in South Australia drawing crowds of over 100,000. The Grand Annual, which has the most fences of any steeplechase in the world, is held in May at Warrnambool. Each state holds its own Grand National, the most prestigious is the VRC Grand National at Flemington run in the winter. The jumping season culminates with the set weights and penalties Hiskens Steeple run at Moonee Valley. The Hiskens is regarded as the Cox Plate of jumps racing.

The most famous Australian horse in the field was Crisp, who was narrowly beaten by the champion Red Rum in the English Grand National. Crisp subsequently beat Red Rum at set weights. More recently Karasi has won the Nakayama Grand Jump, the world's richest jumps race held in Japan, three times.


The equestrian sport of eventing has a steeplechase phase, which is held in its "classic" or "long format." Unlike the racing form, horses do not race each other over the course, but rather are just meant to come under a pre-set "optimum time." The fences are usually very similar in type, all with brush that is meant to be jumped through rather than over. Ditches, post-and-rail, and other upright fences are not used. Penalty points are added to the horse's score

Hurdle Racing

"A Hurdle is a National Hunt horse race where the horses run over obstacles called hurdles that are over three and a half feet high. They are typically made of relatively thin pieces of wood, that have some give in them. Hurdle races always have a minimum of 8 hurdles and a minimum distance of two miles (3 km). Horses that go hurdling are often former flat horses. National Hunt horses may also compete in these races to give them jumping practice before they go into Chases. Many of the best hurdling horses eventually compete in chases when they are older, as they are too slow to hurdle and because their jumping technique will have improved over time."

YouTube Video Horse Hurdle Racing-Graphic

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