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Steeplechasing 101?

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  • Steeplechasing 101?

    Calling Emily, Drvmb1ggl3, and all other 'chasing experts!

    I am hopelessly addicted to steeplechasing on TVG (International Racing around 9am EST). I LOVE IT. But I am admittedly ignorant. Please educate me!

    I know the basics (hurdles vs. fences), but what are the ins & outs of the sport? Strategies? Why would you run a horse in a hurdle vs. a steeplechase? What is considered a "short" distance, or a "long" distance? How do trainers condition and prepare their horses?

    The footing also amazes me-- so soft and deep, especially after multiple races. Yet there aren't too many scratches; the horses run through anything. How do they stay sound?? Do they wear studs? I don't see many wearing boots/wraps either. What else is unique about the sport?

    Please share your wisdom! I've learned a lot about flat racing (in KY, it's hard not to!), but I know little about jump racing. I've read Dick Francis novels, and I know it's really fun at a 3-day (long format!!). But what's it like, for REAL?
    “A clever person solves a problem. A wise person avoids it.”
    ? Albert Einstein


  • #2
    First off, there are differences between jump racing in Europe (which is what you're watching) and the US version.
    I'll anwser from the European perspective, since that is what you are watching.

    Hurdles: smaller fences, only 3'6" in height. They are propped at an angle and fall when hit hard enough. The races are generally shorter, from 2m to 3m. Classic distance (i.e like the Champion Hurdle, which is sbout to be off at Cheltenham in less than an hour) is 2m. Hurdling requires a speddy horse, who doesn't have to be a great jumper.

    Chases: bigger fences, 4'3" to 4'6" in height. The fences are stiffer, wider made of tightly packed birch and can have open ditches in front of them or water on the backside. There are exceptions, like the Grand National fences which used to be big scary things, now they are slightly smaller scary things.
    Chases can be anywhere from 2miles to 4½miles. The classic distance is around 3¼m. A chaser needs stamina and the ability to jump well.

    National Hunt horses run well into the double digits, it's common to see 12 year old horses running, so yes they do stay sound. They generally start their careers later, often not broken until they are 4yo. Most of the horses are purpose bred for National Hunt racing, though you will see the some converted flat horses, esp over hurdles where speed is important (the fav in todays Champ Hurdle, Detroit City, is a Kingmambo).


    • #3
      As regards conditioning, they do lots of slow work, miles of cantering up and down hills with occasional "pipe openers" blowouts. A new horse will often start out with roadwork, trotting and walking 4 or 5 miles, and will sometimes go hunting. Once a horse gets the hang of jumping they actually do very little jumping at home, unless they start to get sloppy in racing.
      Strategy wise, it's no different that on the flat. Some horses will to run off the lead, others are great closers. One huge difference is the the going. Horses will be pulled, even well known horses in high profile races, if they going isn't to their liking. That's not considered wimping out like it is in flat racing.


      • Original Poster

        Thanks! I had no idea hurdles were actually 3'6"... the horses just skip over (or through) them, and they do seem tiny compared to the birch fences.

        I have noticed that they seem to be fairly normal "horses." Not multi-million dollar business beasts. Maybe just because most of them are older, but all the horses seem quiet, well-behaved (in the walking ring, at lineup) and just, well "normal." Not hyped-up, lip-chained, dancing prancing balls of fire. (NOT meant to be offensive! just an expression)

        As for pulling up when they're having a bad day-- that just seems like good horsemanship. Too much risk for horse (or rider!) to be hurt if the horse isn't on his game... I certainly wouldn't want to gallop a horse down to a 4' hedge if he wasn't going 100%!

        This may be a sensitive question, but in light of recent racing outrage... how often are horses fatally injured? (not looking for statistics, just general) There are a lot of falls, but most horses seem to bounce right back up. We hear so much about US racehorses breaking down, simply from running circles on flat ground; how much of an issue is this for horses galloping miles up/down hills over fences, with the acceptance that there will be falls and crashes almost on a regular basis?

        Again, thanks drvmb1ggl3, I appreciate your help! I wish 'chasing would catch on more here in the US-- I think the public might like to follow a racehorse's career into his teens, instead of retiring at 4. (though we'd have the backlash of the "cruel" crashes and falls...as with any)

        I wish TVG was showing Cheltenham. I guess I'll look for the races on YouTube later.
        “A clever person solves a problem. A wise person avoids it.”
        ? Albert Einstein



        • #5
          No, no studs. When you're ankle or hock deep in mud (though not the 'pulling' kind of mud we have here, jsut a soft peat type of mud over there) studs don't do jack. Horses are shod flat, or maybe with outer rims. Just plain light steel or some in aluminum, but not many as they do so much road 'work' getting to their public training grounds.
          It is an amazing sport over there. Taking nothing away from US jump racing, of which I am a lifelong supporter, UK jump racing is in another league.
          Boots and wraps are bound to fall off or slip down. Only if a horse really really really hits himself will you see them used. Very rare.
          Conditioning over there is the same as here - long slow work, short fast work. Not much long fast work. You save that for the racecourse. (Marathon runners don't 'prepare' for their marathon by jogging 26 miles, as a comparison.) Many of the chase trainers over there live miles from the public training grounds, so therefore jog miles on the macadam lanes to get to their gallops so, by proxy, get lots of 'legging up' work. Plus, the training grounds tend to be hillsides so you do a good bit of by-proxy interval training (gallop up the 3/4ths mile hillside, pull up, jog down, walk a bit, turn and gallop back up. Rinse. Repeat. Jog home) as opposed to galloping round and round like you would here at a standard training track or 'normal' galloping field.
          * www.huntersrest.net -- Virginia hunt country's best Bed-and-Breakfast-and-Barn.


          • #6
            Cheltenham live audio http://www.rte.ie/smiltest/radio1mw.smil
            ... _. ._ .._. .._


            • #7
              Re: fatalities. Sure it happens some.
              But by and large, SPEED KILLS. Steeplechasers (here or there) aren't running quite as fast, nor quite as 'hard' (on a perfectly tuned, speed-favoring dirt track, I mean) as flat horses.
              * www.huntersrest.net -- Virginia hunt country's best Bed-and-Breakfast-and-Barn.


              • #8
                I'm a novice to steeplechasing, too -- wish we had it on the scale the UK does. Or, at least, that TVG would send a satellite-camera crew to the meets.

                The longest steeplechase in the world is the Grand National Steeplechase at 4 miles, 4 furlongs, at Aintree, Liverpool, UK -- you may have seen it dramatized in National Velvet (I also recommend Champions). They start with 40 runners but seldom more than 10 finish. The average winning time is over 8 minutes, but it's not unusual to go over 9. In fact, in 2001, Red Maruader slogged in first through the rain at 11:01.1.

                The next running is coming up in April.
                Starts with an 'S,' ends with a 'T.' You figure it out.

                "Houston, Tranquility Base here, picking up where we left off ..."


                • #9
                  Originally posted by WhiteCamry View Post
                  I'm a novice to steeplechasing, too -- wish we had it on the scale the UK does. Or, at least, that TVG would send a satellite-camera crew to the meets.
                  A fading opportunity for the sport to be sure.

                  It's a shame that the NTRA [with their own fading but still big-league media connections] don't see steeplechasing as being an excellent complimentary product to track racing which should be promoted in unison.

                  Today it is often the showcase of second careers for retired flat track horses which is a good thing! Networks cringe to be honest more then ever at horse racing's "betting" element even though it’s legal. Some viewers/organizations do take them to task for promoting betting by carrying horse racing. Well steeplechasing - with the exception of Saratoga races and the Breeders' Cup - doesn't have formal betting assigned to it.

                  Steeplechase races up and down the eastern seaboard if you look at the people dotting the landscape, at the rail, and tailgating make for a marketers dream: a significant percentage are families, most races have adopted a charity for proceeds, they have a place in the community social calendar, raw attendance numbers have only been increasing in recent years, and lets face it the setting of an emerald green meadow can't be beat for a day at the races over some pealing paint, cigar smoke filled, and ice cold stadium seating at a tired old track. The measured demographics are top notch yet with precious little capitalizing by the "leaders" on it.

                  The central product itself - the racing - can be as exciting as tv needs to be for broadcasting. It does require more cameras to do so then the boring racetrack single shot [with the "ants on the backstretch"] but certainly nothing like what NASCAR requires to make their bland product exciting

                  Then again from my own personal interaction with people in the sport [from the NSA down] I'll say much of the ignored focus is brought on by the players in the sport itself. They like that clubby feel, they don't want to give up the way its run now, they seemingly don't want it be any different.

                  Maybe things will change and like the amazing surge in popularity for PBR - which is cheap tv to produce - steeplechasing will change its tune.

                  Ok rant over


                  • #10
                    Also, except for the summer cards at Saratoga or Belmont, the North American steeplechase venues are well off the beaten path. The British ones, in contrast, are just out of town if urban sprawl hasn't surrounded them already. And they race in the winter.
                    Starts with an 'S,' ends with a 'T.' You figure it out.

                    "Houston, Tranquility Base here, picking up where we left off ..."


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by WhiteCamry View Post
                      Also, except for the summer cards at Saratoga or Belmont, the North American steeplechase venues are well off the beaten path.
                      That is actually a bit of a misnomer in my view.

                      Great Meadow in The Plains, Va for example with Virginia Gold Cup (40k people) and International Gold Cup (15k people) may not be the same geographically as RFK Stadium in DC - but it is fully accessable to the hordes of people who flock to it. The Gold Cup is well promoted in the social magazines and young social clubs in Wash DC.

                      The Breeders' Cup in Far Hills, NJ gets 50,000 to attend in no small part from New York City residents. The Iroquois Steeplechase draws huge numbers - 71,000 in '06 - of folks from Nasville. Last year's Atlanta Steeplechase had its highest attendence ever at around 25,000 and the organizers have 50k as their goal in 10 years. The Carolina Cup in Camden pulls in over 65,000 from all over South Carolina. The various races outside of Philadelphia - Radnor, Willowdale, and Winterthur - all do very well with an urban draw. And so forth ...

                      Sure some of the smaller Virginia and Maryland races on their respective circuits tend to draw just the local folks which is fine. Old Guard, Genesee Valley, up near Rochester NY likewise is small but fiercely loyal with its fans who generally number around or below 5,000.

                      Bottom line is that attendence for NSA sanctioned races [around 40] draws well over 700,000 people in person - excluding Saratoga - for their races during a year.

                      ps - no steeplechasing at Belmont or Long Island any more, which is making Ambrose Clark I'm sure roll in his grave


                      • #12
                        ... and don't forget hurdle races every Sunday (or Saturday? Can't remember) for all 6-7 weeks of the Colonial Downs meet near Richmond. The Strawberry Hill hunt meet used to be held damn near downtown Richmond, at the old State fairgrounds til it was taken over by Nascar (I think.) The meet, formerly a blowout tailgate infield haven, has been equally well attended and supported since its move a few years ago to CD.
                        Plus, Nashville's Iroquois Steeplechase, another of hte big daddy's, attracts 75k or more. Its about 20 miles south of town, north of Franklin, which is now a 'city' itself. Atlanta's meet springs to mind too. Its out of hte city but not so far that ma and pa and the kids don't want to load up a picnic and a few dogs and friends and make a day of it.
                        THAT is the beauty of US jump racing - a day in the countryside, pretty horses, friends, up CLOSE to teh action (not ants on teh backstretch.) You can sit practically on TOP of the jumps at many of the meets.
                        * www.huntersrest.net -- Virginia hunt country's best Bed-and-Breakfast-and-Barn.


                        • #13
                          Jeez. Sorrry Glimmerg. I only read your 1st paragraph. Yeah, what he said about Iroquois and Atlanta. I concur. (duh.)
                          * www.huntersrest.net -- Virginia hunt country's best Bed-and-Breakfast-and-Barn.


                          • #14
                            Back when I was a youngun, one of the premier chasing meets, much like the Iroquois, was at Rolling Rock in Ligonier, PA.

                            When did that one fold? And why? Its tailgating was legendary.
                            "I'm a lumberjack, and I'm okay."
                            Thread killer Extraordinaire


                            • #15
                              Rolling Rock ceased in 1983

                              Originally posted by vineyridge View Post
                              ... was at Rolling Rock in Ligonier, PA. When did that one fold? And why? Its tailgating was legendary.
                              As found on the web - Photo: Oct 1968 Rolling Rock Steeplechase

                              From The New York Times October 2, 1983

                              The annual Rolling Rock steeplechase races, which have benefited handicapped children for almost 50 years, have been abruptly ended.

                              The races, held with a few exceptions since 1934 on the Mellon family estate of Rolling Rock, at Ligonier, 60 miles east of Pittsburgh, have been more a social than a sporting event.

                              Over the years the sponsors, the Mellon Trust and the Rolling Rock Hunt Racing Association, have contributed more than $1.2 million to the Rehabilitation Institute of Pittsburgh, formerly the Home for Crippled Children. The association, made up of a group of people from the Ligonier area, functions only to conduct the two days of racing at temporary facilities.

                              To ease the financial pain to the institute, the Richard King Mellon Foundation announced that it would grant it $500,000 over the next five years, giving it time to find new sources of funds.

                              33,500 at the Final Event

                              The cancellation came after the races last month drew 33,500 people, 4,500 more than last year. The association estimated that it raised $52,000 this year. Of $1.25 million in prize money distributed by the association in 1982, about $100,000 went to Rolling Rock.

                              The sponsors cited such factors as ''the need for other use of the land, higher labor costs and the need for increased security in regard to public safety.'' They said they had reluctantly made ''a thoughtful decision based on a combination of economic and practical factors.'' There have been reports that the site would be converted into a golf course or used for condominiums.

                              The Home for Crippled Children became the races' chief beneficiary five years after they began. They were canceled during World War II and in 1966, when danger of an equine virus arose.

                              The sponsors' statement surprised Richard P. Mellon, adopted son of the financier Richard King Mellon, and Alfred M. Hunt, of the family that founded the Aluminum Company of America. Lenny Bughman, the announcer who has called the races for 36 years, said he was unaware of the plans.

                              The races were run at the estate put together in 1921 by Richard Beatty Mellon. Many devotees of the steeplechase thought it was the nation's most attractive setting for that aristocratic sport, as spectators viewed not only the thoroughbreds leaping the temporary barriers but also the fall foliage.
                              As a side note - one the most recognizable Rolling Rock beer logos is actually of a steeplechase fence - the one with the white rectangle and lattice at the bottom

                              (The famed Rolling Rock brand was sold by Latrobe Brewing Company to Anheuser-Busch in May, 2006)


                              • #16
                                The International Gold Cup (the actual trophy) used to be run for at Rolling Rock. It was a hurdle race, over natural hedges. A big stake.
                                When RR folded, Great Meadow attracted the cup and put it on a big, fall timber stake (to balance their big spring timber stake, the Virginia Gold Cup, which they'd attracted when VGC's longtime home of Broadview course in downtown Warrenton Va. was sold for development in the early 1980s.
                                The IGC actually ran at GM *before* the VGC, as GM opened for racing the fall (of 1985?) and the IGC runs in October, the VGC in May.
                                Rolling Rock was a fantastic meet. Sorry its gone.
                                The IGC, the trophy, by the way, is a fantastic solid gold cup, absolutely lovely. Prettier, IMO, than the more gilded VGC.
                                * www.huntersrest.net -- Virginia hunt country's best Bed-and-Breakfast-and-Barn.


                                • #17
                                  Originally posted by Hunter's Rest View Post
                                  ... when VGC's longtime home of Broadview course in downtown Warrenton Va. was sold for development in the early 1980s.
                                  Interestingly in this month's Virginia Living magazine there is an article on the lovely old Warrenton estate of Oakwood, today owned by M/M Bertrand Collomb. They have been slowly assembling back the parcels of land adjacent to it sold off in the prior decades. Per the article:

                                  [Caroline] relishes telling visitors the fact that an early Virginia Gold Cup was held on the grounds and she would love one day [to] be able to redo all the jumps. "We still have the plan of the track".
                                  The private c1805 estate will be open to the public April 25th for VA Garden Week (http://www.vagardenweek.org/schedule-warrenton.htm)


                                  • #18
                                    Steeplechasing - on ESPN 2007

                                    Amazing .. I take back my knock on the NTRA [above] for not helping the NSA getting racing on air ...

                                    ESPN will televise several major steeplechases on tape-delay this season and the events will also be featured on the network’s Internet site, thanks to an agreement between NTRA Productions and the National Steeplechase Association.

                                    All airings are assumed to be ESPN [not the Duce or Ocho]
                                    Race, Race Date, ESPN Air Date/Time (all times EDT)
                                    Carolina Cup, March 31, April 7, 5-6 p.m.
                                    Royal Chase for the Sport of Kings, April 20, May 5, Noon-3 p.m.
                                    Iroquois, May 12, May 19, 2-5 p.m.
                                    National Hunt Cup, May 19, June 9, 3-5 p.m.
                                    A.P. Smithwick, August 9, Aug. 25, 4-5 p.m.
                                    Also in the news - a few known ex racers who are going into steeplechasing. Perhaps Ten Cents a Shine will become like Straight Gin who finally has taken to steeplechasing

                                    Ken Ramsey’s Grade 2-placed winner and former classic starter Ten Cents a Shine has been transferred to Maryland-based trainer Tom Voss for re-training as a hurdler.

                                    The seven-year-old Devil His Due gelding, runner-up in the 2002 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs, won four of 17 starts in five seasons and earned $144,644. He finished unplaced in the 2003 Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness Stakes (G1).
                                    Alumni Hall did not begin his flat racing career until age five due a series of physical setbacks, but in a three-year career the A.P. Indy horse won nine of 28 career starts and four stakes, including the 2005 Ben Ali (G3) and Fayette (G3) Stakes at Keeneland Race Course, for owners-breeders William S. Farish, W. Temple Webber Jr., and the estate of James A. Elkins and trainer Neil Howard.
                                    Alumni Hall, having not been all too interested in his stud career will be trained by Jonathan Sheppard. I suspect then he might be in Campbell Soup heir, George Strawbridge Jr's Augustin Stable.

                                    Source: TB Times 3-17-07 "Alumni Hall, Ten Cents a Shine retraining for steeplechase careers"


                                    • #19
                                      ... AND the Virginia Gold Cup will be the first US timber race to carry a $100,000 purse. (The Marlborough Cup in England, a proper US timber race which ran for just 2 years in 1997 and 98, was worth $100k.)
                                      Big news for US chasing.
                                      Now if we could just get poor Virginia's point to point season kick-started (Warrenton had to cancel their races last Saturday due to SNOW. Sigh. Casanova, Rappahannock and Blue Ridge had canceled prior weeks due to EHV.)
                                      Piedmont SHOULD run (if the creek don't rise) this Saturday, with Farmington-Keswick on Sunday. Forecast looks good so far.
                                      * www.huntersrest.net -- Virginia hunt country's best Bed-and-Breakfast-and-Barn.


                                      • #20
                                        Anyone planning to go to Piedmont...if it cancels...journey up to MD for the Howard County Iron Bridge Races. We're throwing a huge tailgate, and all are invited!