What is the difference between hurdles and fences in National Hunt horse racing?

Hurdles and fences are the two big obstacles horses must vault during horse racing—and Paddy Power’s here to explain the difference

Hurdles and fences explained in Paddy Power horse racing betting guide

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Hurdles and fences are two of the most iconic objects in horse racing. The obstacles have caused more drama, shocks and against-the-odds moments than anything else in sport.

Watching your horse leap the final fence with a nose in front and gallop its way to the line is one of the most beautiful sights in racing. Yet there are big differences between hurdles and fences that horse racing betting fans should be aware of.

So what’s the difference between hurdles and fences? Paddy Power is here to explain it all and offer some tips on how to bet on horse racing during these races.

Paddy Power hurdle and fences betting guide

Horses lead over a hurdle at Punchestown Racecourse (GETTY)

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HURDLES AND FENCES

There are some key differences between hurdles and fences that racing betting fans should be aware of. Let’s take them…

HURDLES

  • The smaller of the two obstacles, with a minimum height of 3ft 6in
  • 40 UK racecourses stage hurdle races
  • Made from small branches called brush for improved flexibility
  • Races must feature minimum eight hurdles over at least two miles distance
  • Perfect for Flat horses who are gaining experience in National Hunt races

FENCES

  • The larger of the two obstacles, with a minimum height of 4ft 7in
  • Erected in steeplechase races across 40 UK race courses
  • Made from a mixture of spruce and birch wood
  • Race distances range between two and four-and-a-half miles
  • Obstacles include plain fences, open ditches and water jumps
  • Perfect for horses that have mastered hurdles and have nailed their jumping technique
Grand National fences horse racing

Fences in horse racing – like this at the Grand National – are higher (GETTY)

WHAT IS THE POINT OF HURDLES AND FENCES?

Obstacles such as hurdles and fences in National Hunt races are there to provide the horse and jockey with an additional challenge during the race. Horses that are blisteringly fast in Flat events may move to hurdles, and then progress to fences.

Authorities over the years have worked to mitigate the accidents occasionally caused by hurdles and fences. Materials used are now much less sturdy than they used to be, while fences have been lowered on many courses. 

Hurdles and fences at Cheltenham Festival

Cheltenham features plenty of jumps during the Festival (GETTY)

BEST HURDLES RACES

Arguably the most famous hurdle race is the world is Cheltenham Festival’s Champion Hurdle. Run since 1927, the race offers a +£250,000 winners’ cheque and has produced legendary horses down the years.

Cheltenham also stages the Stayers’ Hurdle, while the Christmas Hurdle that runs at Kempton is often seen as a prelude to the Champion Hurdle three months down the line.

BEST STEEPLECHASE RACES

The UK boasts the two biggest steeplechase races in the world, run over fences. The Grand National has run for over 180 years and features 40 horses navigating 30 jumps. The race is famous for producing unexpected winners that can shatter the horse racing odds.

The Cheltenham Gold Cup is the most prestigious National Hunt race of the year and features 22 fences. Famous winners include L’Escargot, Best Mate and Kauto Star.

So, the next time you look at a race card and plan your next bet, be sure to examine whether fences or hurdles are being used. Read up on your selections to see if they are masters of either obstacle, because this could be the key to a winning bet.

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