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what is a steeplechase

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A steeplechase is a type of horse race from the National Hunt code where fences, rather than hurdles, are jumped. BHA regulations that apply to all events contested under Rules in Great Britain say there should be six such obstacles for every mile. There’s plenty more to what is a steeplechase besides that, though. Our horse racing expert takes you through all the details.

History of the Steeplechase

While it’s easy to get confused with the long-distance hurdling event from track and field athletics, the steeplechase in horse racing is quite different. Back in the days before organised horse racing and betting, people liked to race their mounts, which were primarily a mode of transport, against each other as well as take them hunting.

With no racecourses mapped out in the countryside as we know them today, they needed landmarks as places to race to. According to The Jockey Club, the origins of the steeplechase were in Ireland where no buildings in that era were taller than the steeples on village parish churches. These could be seen for miles around. That is where the name comes from. When asked what is a steeplechase horse race, the answer is a contest between horses and their riders that originally developed from one such place to another.

There were plenty of natural obstacles between villages on agricultural land. These included banks and ditches for drainage, but also hedges that served as boundaries between different fields and farmers’ lands. In order to got from church steeple to church steeple as quickly as possible, they had to be jumped. With the exception of them running in Cross Country Chases, a steeplechase horse won’t face such obstacles on the track today. Instead, they tackle fences.

What Obstacles Will a Steeplechase Horse Face in the Race?

what is a steeplechase

There are different fences on the course for chase horse racing events. Some are wider jumps than others and different heights. Part of getting your head around what is a steeplechase race, is knowing the obstacles the horses face:

  • Plain Fences – Most jumps encountered on the way round are the standard 4ft 6in height. Made with wood and metal frames with birch covering, some plain fences are even portable so they can be taken off less broad tracks.
  • Open Ditch – A more difficult obstacle due to the greater length of the leap required. A ditch on the take-off side forces horses to start jumping sooner. Accuracy is even more important at open ditches.
  • Water Jumps – Often smaller than a plain fences at a minimum of 3ft in height, there’s water on the landing side of this obstacle. Unlike open ditches, these are no longer mandatory on a steeplechase circuit.
  • Cross Country Obstacles – Races under Rules on the Cross Country course at Cheltenham or Banks course at Punchestown pay homage to the history of the event. Banks, ditches and hedges, some with drops on the landing side, feature in events like the Glenfarclas Chase and La Touche Cup.

Best Steeplechase Racehorses Currently in Training

Based on the Anglo-Irish Chase Classification published at the end of the previous National Hunt season, these are the best steeplechasers in training in the UK and Republic of Ireland:

  • 1. Galopin Des Champs (179)
  • 2. Energumene (175)
  • 3. Shishkin (173)
  • 4. Bravemansgame (172)
  • 5= El Fabiolo (170)
  • 5= L’Homme Presse (170)
  • 7= Ahoy Senor (169)
  • 7= Edwardstone (169)
  • 9= Fastorslow (168)
  • 9= Greaneteen (168)
  • 11= Conflated (167)
  • 11= Hewick (167)
  • 13= Jonbon (166)
  • 13= Noble Yeats (166)
  • 13= Protektorat (166)
  • 16= Chacun Pour Soi (165)
  • 16= Editeur Du Gite (165)
  • 16= Gentleman De Mee (165)
  • 19. Blue Lord (164)
  • 20= Enovi Allen (163)
  • 20= Galvin (163)
  • 20= Stattler (163)

Graded Steeplechase Horse Racing Events in the UK & Ireland

Part of understanding what is a steeplechase in horse racing are notable examples of the event. The very best races over fences have graded status. Grade 3s no longer exist in the UK, but remain in place in Ireland. Grade 2 races are an even higher level of competition. Elite contests are Grade 1s, however, with ante post betting available on these so the table below looks at the best steeplechases in the UK and Ireland:

Major Steeplechases
Major Steeplechases Grade of Race Race Distance Racecourse When
An Riocht Chase Grade 3 2m 4f Killarney May
Ballybrit Novice Chase Grade 3 2m 2f 54y Galway July / August
Kilbegnet Novice Chase Grade 3 2m 110y Roscommon September
Gowran Park Champion Chase Grade 2 2m 4f Gowran Park September / October
Like A Butterfly Novice Chase Grade 3 2m 3f 150y Tipperary September / October
Buck House Novice Chase Grade 3 2m 2f 140y Punchestown October
Carvill’s Hill Chase / Irish Daily Star Chase Grade 3 2m 7f 200y Punchestown October
Old Roan Chase (Limited Handicap) Grade 2 2m 3f 200y Aintree October
Skymas Chase Grade 2 2m 3f 120y Down Royal October / November
Down Royal Champion Chase Grade 1 3m Down Royal October / November
Charlie Hill Chase Grade 2 3m 45y Wetherby October / November
Cork Novice Chase Grade 3 2m 4f Cork November
Clonmel Oil Chase Grade 2 2m 4f 96y Clonmel November
Haldon Gold Cup (Limited Handicap) Grade 2 2m 1f 109y Exeter November
Rising Stars Novices’ Chase Grade 2 2m 4f 35y Wincanton November
Poplar Square Chase Grade 3 2m Naas November
Fortria Chase Grade 2 2m Navan November
Shloer Chase Grade 2 1m 7f 199y Cheltenham November
1965 Chase Grade 2 2m 5f 8y Ascot November
Betfair Chase Grade 1 3m 1f 125y Haydock November
Craddockstown Novice Chase Grade 2 2m 180y Punchestown November
John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase Grade 1 2m 3f 200y Punchestown November
Florida Pearl Novice Chase Grade 2 2m 6f 140y Punchestown November
Berkshire Novices’ Chase Grade 2 2m 3f 187y Newbury November / December
Drinmore Novice Chase Grade 1 2m 3f 170y Fairyhouse November / December
Henry VIII Novices’ Chase Grade 1 1m 7f 119y Sandown December
Tingle Creek Chase Grade 1 1m 7f 119y Sandown December
Klairon Davis Novice Chase Grade 3 2m 1f Navan December
Peterborough Chase Grade 2 2m 3f 189y Huntingdon December
Lombardstown Mares Novice Chase Grade 2 2m 160y Cork December
Hilly Way Chase Grade 2 2m 160y Cork December
Noel Novices’ Chase Grade 2 2m 2f 75y Ascot December
Racing Post Novice Chase Grade 1 2m 1f Leopardstown Boxing Day
Faugheen Novice Chase Grade 1 2m 3f 160y Limerick Boxing Day
Kauto Star Novices’ Chase Grade 1 3m Kempton Boxing Day
King George VI Chase Grade 1 3m Kempton Boxing Day
Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase Grade 2 2m Kempton 27 December
Desert Orchid Chase (Limited Handicap) Grade 2 2m Kempton 27 December
Paddy’s Rewards Club Chase Grade 1 2m 1f Leopardstown 27 December
Savills Chase Grade 1 3m Leopardstown 28 December
Dawn Run Mares Novice Chase Grade 2 2m 6f 120y Limerick 28 December
Neville Hotels Novice Chase Grade 1 3m Leopardstown 29 December
Savills New Year’s Day Chase Grade 3 2m 6f Tramore New Year’s Day
Fowler Memorial Mares Chase Grade 3 2m 5f 30y Fairyhouse New Year’s Day
Silviniaco Conti Chase Grade 2 2m 4f 110y Kempton January
Hampton Novices’ Chase Grade 2 3m Warwick January
Towton Novices’ Chase Grade 2 2m 3f 85y Wetherby January
Killiney Novice Chase Grade 3 2m 3f 160y Punchestown January
Clarence House Chase Grade 1 2m 167y Ascot January
Lightning Novices’ Chase Grade 2 2m Lingfield January
Coolmore Mares Novice Chase Grade 2 2m 4f 78y Thurles January
Kinloch Brae Chase Grade 2 2m 4f 78y Thurles January
Cotswold Chase Grade 2 3m 1f 56y Cheltenham January
Naas Novice Chase Grade 3 3m 170y Naas January
Irish Arkle Novice Chase Grade 1 2m 1f Leopardstown February
Dublin Chase Grade 1 2m 1f Leopardstown February
Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase Grade 1 2m 4f 10y Sandown February
Flogas Novice Chase Grade 1 2m 5f 44y Leopardstown February
Irish Gold Cup Grade 1 3m 44y Leopardstown February
Kingmaker Novices’ Chase Grade 2 2m Warwick February
Game Spirit Chase Grade 2 2m 92y Newbury February
Denman Chase Grade 2 2m 7f 86y Newbury February
Ten Up Novice Chase Grade 2 3m Navan February
Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase Grade 2 2m 7f 180y Ascot February
Ascot Chase Grade 1 2m 5f 8y Ascot February
Red Mills Chase Grade 2 2m 4f Gowran Park February
Pendil Novices’ Chase Grade 2 2m 4f 110y Kempton February
Bobbyjo Chase Grade 3 3m 1f 110y Fairyhouse February
Newlands Chase Grade 2 2m Naas February
Flyingbolt Novice Chase Grade 3 2m Navan March
Webster Cup Grade 2 2m 4f 90y Navan March
Directors Plate Novice Chase Grade 3 2m 4f Naas March
Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase Grade 1 1m 7f 199y Cheltenham March
National Hunt Chase (Novices’ Chase) Grade 2 3m 5f 201y Cheltenham March
Broadway Novices’ Chase Grade 1 3m 80y Cheltenham March
Queen Mother Champion Chase Grade 1 1m 7f 199y Cheltenham March
Golden Miller Novices’ Chase Grade 1 2m 3f 168y Cheltenham March
Ryanair Chase (Festival Trophy) Grade 1 2m 4f 127y Cheltenham March
Cheltenham Gold Cup Grade 1 3m 2f 70y Cheltenham March
Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase Grade 2 2m 4f 127y Cheltenham March
Pierce Molony Memorial Novice Chase Grade 3 2m 2f Thurles March
Hugh McMahon Memorial Novice Chase Grade 3 3m 120y Limerick March
Imperial Call Chase Grade 3 3m Cork Easter Sunday
Fairyhouse Gold Cup (Novice Chase) Grade 1 2m 3f 170y Fairyhouse Easter Sunday
Devenish / Fairyhouse Chase Grade 2 2m 3f 200y Fairyhouse Easter Monday
Manifesto Novices’ Chase Grade 1 2m 3f 200y Aintree April
Aintree Bowl Grade 1 3m 210y Aintree April
Mildmay Novices’ Chase Grade 1 3m 210y Aintree April
Melling Chase Grade 1 2m 3f 200y Aintree April
Maghull Novices’ Chase Grade 1 1m 7f 176y Aintree April
Cheltenham Silver Trophy (Limited Handicap) Grade 2 2m 4f 127y Cheltenham April
Celebration Chase Grade 1 1m 7f 99y Sandown April
Oaksey Chase Grade 2 2m 6f 164y Sandown April
Punchestown Champion Chase Grade 1 2m Punchestown April / May
Champion Novice Chase Grade 1 3m 60y Punchestown April / May
Punchestown Gold Cup Grade 1 3m 30y Punchestown April / May
Barberstown Castle Novice Chase Grade 1 2m Punchestown April / May
Glencarraig Lady Francis Flood Mares Chase Grade 2 2m 5f Punchestown April / May
Premier Handicaps & Irish Equivalents

The British Horseracing Authority replaced all their Grade 3 and Listed handicaps with Premier Handicaps from the 2022-23 season onwards. Their Irish equivalents now have either Grade 3 or Listed status instead of being categorised Grade A and Grade B. These are the Premier Handicap Chases in the UK and biggest horse racing handicaps over fences in the Emerald Isle:

Premier Handicap Chases Race Distance Racecourse When
Summer Plate 2m 5f 89y Market Rasen July
Galway Plate 2m 6f 111y Galway July / August
Kerry National 3m Listowel September
Munster National 3m Limerick October
Byrne Group Handicap Chase 2m 167y Ascot October / November
London Gold Cup 2m 7f 180y Ascot October / November
Badger Beers Silver Trophy 3m 1f 30y Wincanton November
Cork Grand National 3m 4f Cork November
Paddy Power Gold Cup 2m 4f 44y Cheltenham November
Jewson Handicap Chase 3m 3f 71y Cheltenham November
Troytown Handicap Chase 3m Navan November
Coral Gold Cup 3m 1f 214y Newbury November / December
Rehearsal Chase 2m 7f 91y Newcastle November / December
Becher Chase 3m 1f 188y Aintree December
Dahlbury Handicap Chase 3m 2f Cheltenham December
December Gold Cup 2m 4f 127y Cheltenham December
Ascot Silver Cup 2m 7f 180y Ascot December
Rowland Meyrick Chase 3m 45y Wetherby Boxing Day
Paddy Power Chase 3m Leopardstown December 27
Welsh Grand National 3m 6f 130y Chepstow December / January
New Year’s Day Handicap Chase 2m 4f 127y Cheltenham New Year’s Day
Classic Chase 3m 5f 54y Warwick January
Dan & Joan Moore Memorial Handicap Chase 2m 1f Fairyhouse January
Peter Marsh Chase 3m 1f 125y Haydock January
Thyestes Chase 3m 1f Gowran Park January
Cheltenham Countdown Handicap Chase 2m 4f 127y Cheltenham January
Great Yorkshire Chase / Sky Bet Chase 2m 7f 214y Doncaster January
Leopardstown Handicap Chase 2m 5f 44y Leopardstown February
Swinley Chase 2m 7f 180y Ascot February
Grand National Trial 3m 4f 97y Haydock February
Coral Trophy 3m Kempton February
Greatwood Gold Cup 2m 3f 187y Newbury March
Centenary Novices’ Handicap Chase 2m 4f 10y Sandown March
Leinster National 3m 126y Naas March
Ultima Handicap Chase 3m 1f Cheltenham March
Grand Annual Chase 1m 7f 199y Cheltenham March
Festival Plate Handicap Chase 2m 4f 127y Cheltenham March
Midlands Grand National 4m 2f 8y Uttoxeter March
Irish Grand National 3m 5f Fairyhouse Easter Monday
Red Rum Handicap Chase 1m 7f 176y Aintree April
Topham Chase 2m 5f 19y Aintree April
Freebooter Handicap Chase 3m 210y Aintree April
Grand National 4m 2f 74y Aintree April
Scotty Brand Handicap Chase 2m 110y Ayr April
Scottish Grand National 3m 7f 176y Ayr April
bet365 Gold Cup 3m 4f 146y Sandown April
Guinness Handicap Chase 2m 5f 50y Punchestown April / May
Punchestown Novice Handicap Chase 2m 5f 5oy Punchestown April / May
Pat Taaffe Handicap Chase 3m Punchestown April / May

Conclusion

All of the best betting sites in the UK that cover horse racing will let you wager on steeplechases. This is because they are a constituent part of the National Hunt code of the sport. Some bookies are better than others, though, so we have a recommendation. There is lots to like about Betfred and not just because they sponsor lots of races either. Steeplechase betting is a centrepiece of their horse racing coverage.

FAQs

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Jamie Clark
Jamie Clark
Jamie Clark

Jamie Clark has been with www.bettingsites.co.uk from the very beginning and penned the very first pieces of content that appeared right here. Known for his horse racing expertise, his strong gambling knowledge comes from childhood where he was surrounded by both horses and betting. The godson of a former on-track bookmaker at Market Rasen Racecourse, Jamie ended up working in the same industry and became Sports Editor of heavyweight bookies Coral for three years before they merged with Ladbrokes. After a successful spell freelancing for other big names in the business, he helped us launch this site with his skills, experience and ability coming in useful. Read long form content across a range of betting subjects from Jamie right here.