What is Steeple Chase racing?

a Steeple Chase in action Image by Graham Kemp from Pixabay

Steeple Chase and point-to-point racing are quite similar in nature. They also differ in several important ways including the fact that Steeple Chase racing is classed as professional racing. Point-to-point racing is amateur in nature. Sometimes Steeple Chase can be conflated with other racing types such as jump racing but in its purest form in UK racing Steeple Chase is a category of its own, overseen by the British Horse Racing Authority (BHA).

Differentiating the race

There is a human Steeple Chase which is classed as an Olympic discipline. Here we are referring to only the horse racing Steeple Chase and point-to-point with our four-legged friends! The theory is the same however, as a course with obstacles that need to be overcome.

Steeple Chase racing is a professional form of horse racing that takes place on a specially designed course. Steeple Chase originated in Ireland in the 1700s and crossed over to the UK sometime thereafter. The name “Steeple Chase” comes from how the race was run in the past. Organised Steeple Chase racing would be point-to-point between two Steeples or church towers with natural obstacles such as fences and ditches rather than man-made as they are today. Modern Steeple Chase is run on courses across the country with rules and regulations to help prevent injury.

What’s involved in a Steeple Chase race?

Steeple Chase courses still involve obstacles such as fences and water obstacles to be jumped but are man-made and heavily prescriptive in nature as to their construction. The rules are set by the BHA and laid out in a rather thick regulations book. As part of that rule book the obstacles are bigger than you would find in a normal jump race with rules setting out the fence sizes (4ft 3 in) and defining obstacle settings in the BHA guide. For any course to be called a Steeple Chase, it must have at least twelve obstacles in the first two miles and six per mile after that.

A Steeple Chase course is usually between two and four miles in length and includes a larger series of obstacles such as fences, ditches, and water jumps. The riders in Steeple Chase races are professional jockeys, and the horses are highly trained and bred specifically for racing.

The main differences between point-to-point and Steeple Chase racing are the level of competition, the skill level of the jockeys and horses, and the formality of the races. Point-to-point is generally considered to be a more casual and amateur form of racing. It uses novice jockeys and owners while steeplechase is a professional and highly competitive sport with huge sums of money spent on performance of the rider and horse. There are still novice races however! For example, the Cheltenham Novice Steeple Chase has a first prize of £125,000.

Popular Steeple Chase Races

One of the most famous British races is The Grand National. It runs in early April every year at the Aintree racecourse near Liverpool. The purse is obviously much bigger than would be found in point-to-point racing. Last year the total prize money was just over £1,000,000. Half of this is for the first past the post winner of the race. The Grand National is seen as the pivotal UK racing fixture. Not least with regards to the volume and size of bets placed.

Feature Image: a Steeple Chase in action Image by Graham Kemp from Pixabay

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