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.
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.
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:
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:
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:
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.
The difference between a hurdle race and steeplechase is the size of the obstacles jumped. Hurdles are timber panels smaller than the fences on the track.
Steeplechase events vary in distance from a minimum of about two miles up to four-and-a-quarter miles. Many are long-distance races that test a horse’s stamina.
The Grand National race is not only the most famous steeplechase in the UK but in the world. Held at Aintree in April, it has a maximum field of 40 runners but many of the Grand National fences jumped are larger than standard obstacles.
As few as two horses can run in a steeplechase. The maximum field size varies depending on the racecourse, but the largest of all is Aintree near Liverpool. Up to 40 steeplechase horses run in the Grand National.
Arkle is widely considered to be not only the best steeplechaser, but the greatest horse to compete in equine sports include eventing and dressage as well as horse racing. Timeform gave him a rating of 212, two clear of Flyingbolt. In modern times, Sprinter Sacre and Kauto Star are often though of as the best of their generation.