The Daily Racing Blog, has on occasion spoke of the steeplechase races at Saratoga, and while it may be after the fact, here is a brief primer in regard to “The Jumpers”.
What is a steeplechase?
A steeplechase is a race for Thoroughbred horses over fences.
Steeplechase is an unusual word. Where did it come from?
The origin of racing over fences is shrouded by the mists of history, but by all accounts it began in Ireland in the 18th century. Its roots were in the fox-hunting field, and occasionally horsemen would match up their horses for races over considerable distances. They would race to landmarks such as church steeples, and thus one of these races was a chase to the steeple, or a steeplechase.
What is a steeplechase horse?
A steeplechase horse is a Thoroughbred, just like those that race at American racetracks on all other days. In addition to speed, the steeplechase horse must possess the ability to jump fences at a fast pace. They usually are a little older than the horses that race on the flat, and most of them have experience on the flat. Because steeplechase races are longer than those on the flat, the steeplechase horse also must have enough stamina to carry its speed over two miles or more. Most are geldings and have long continuing careers racing over fences.
Are these horses prepared for their races at the racetrack?
In most cases, no. While most flat horses are housed in the stable areas of racetracks, steeplechase horses generally are trained in country settings. Steeplechase horses can be trained anywhere, but most of them are based on the East Coast between Pennsylvania and South Carolina. The country setting allows them to spend plenty of time outdoors, unlike horses housed at the racetrack.
What is the sanctioning organization for American steeplechase races?
The National Steeplechase Association is the governing body of American steeple-chasing. It is based in Fair Hill, Maryland, and is responsible for licensing owners, trainers, and jockeys. It establishes the rules for the sport, and it also organizes the entries for races held at racetracks and at one-day race meets in the United States.
What kind of fences are used?
The obstacles used in most races are known as National Fences. They are portable obstacles that are used in steeplechase races up and down the East Coast, where most steeplechase races are held. The man-made fence consists of a steel frame stuffed with plastic “brush,” and it has a foam-rubber roll, covered with green canvas, on the takeoff side. Horses jump the fence in stride, much like human hurdlers in track and field events. The jumps are shipped to racetracks by truck and are set up on turf courses in advance of the races. Other fences are timber fences, which are wooden post-and-rail obstacles, and a few race meets have natural brush fences.
Who are the steeplechase jockeys?
They are a varied group of both men and women. Most are professional riders, but some amateur jockeys remain in the steeplechase sport. Many of the leading jockeys today are from Ireland or England, where they gain valuable riding experience, as the majority of the races ‘across the pond’ are contested on turf courses.
Do steeplechase jockeys also ride in flat races?
In general, no. Steeplechase jockeys are taller and heavier than most flat jockeys. The weights carried by steeplechase horses are higher than those of flat runners, so the jockeys tend to weigh a bit more than their counterparts on the flat.
Do steeplechase jockeys have any special equipment?
Yes. The National Steeplechase Association requires jockeys to wear certified helmets that meet stringent crash-protection standards, and they carry padded whips to protect the well-being of the steeplechase horses.
We hope you enjoyed this brief look into the world of steeplechase racing, and if you ever have the opportunity to take in such a race, by all means do so. Tally Ho !