National Hunt races provide some of the most dramatic horse racing experiences of the year, as jockeys leap over hurdles and fences in the battle to victory.
But those new to racing betting may be wondering why there seem to be different types of races during National Hunt events.
What National Hunt race types are there?
The National Hunt season runs through the winter in the UK and Ireland and meetings stage up to three different race types.
These races are Chases, Hurdles and Bumpers. The race name – such as the Champion Hurdle, Queen Mother Champion Chase or Champion Bumper – gives you the best clue as to what type of race is set to run.
All three are unique and test a horses ability in their own specific ways. So let’s dive into what makes them so special…
Chase races are also known as Steeplechases and originate from Ireland, when jockeys would race each other and leap over any obstacle in their path. For this reason chases feature the tallest obstacles – fences – which must be a minimum four-and-a-half feet high.
Horse racing fences are featured across 40 UK racecourses and are made from spruce and birch wood. Obstacles include plain fences, water jumps and open ditches.
The Grand National, Cheltenham Gold Cup and King George VI Chase are all examples of chases.
Horses generally graduate to fences after developing their jumping technique over hurdles. The majority of household-name race horses earned their fame over fences, be it by winning the Grand National or dominating at Cheltenham.
Hurdles racing mixes the speed of Flat horse racing with the drama of the Chase. Horses run over three-and-a-half foot hurdles that are less sturdy than the taller fences. This leads to blistering runs and dramatic finishes towards the line.
Races featuring hurdles are also run over shorter ground than Chases — no further than three-and-a-half miles in fact. This means the horses generally run faster and are less likely to fall on the lower obstacles.
Cheltenham’s Champion Hurdle, the Christmas Hurdle and the Stayers’ Hurdle at Aintree are all Grade 1 races that have created iconic moments down the years.
Horses can sometimes go straight into hurdles racing but many begin life running Flat races before graduating to Bumpers and eventually Hurdles.
A bumper horse race is certainly a less familiar sight at National Hunt meets compared to Chases and Hurdles. That’s because a Bumper is actually a race run without jumps — and therefore usually doesn’t pack the same gravitas of racing pedigree found in other races.
Bumpers are designed to introduce inexperienced horses to running at big events with noisy crowds. Adding jumps into the race could be dangerous, and so these horses run a flat race with the expectation they will eventually graduate to hurdles.
Cheltenham’s Champion Bumper is the only Grade 1 Bumper race in the UK, but other notable runs that horse racing betting fans look out for include the Winter Bumper at Newbury and Aintree’s Champion Standard.
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