Watching race horses leap over fences and hurdles is one of the most iconic images in sport – yet there are plenty of rules and regulations that go into creating these jumps before the horses even arrive at the racecourse!
And that’s why we’ve created the latest in our series of Demystifying Racing guides that focuses specifically on everything you need to know about hurdles and fences.
WHERE ARE HURDLES AND FENCES USED?
Before we look at the specs of both hurdles and fences, it’s worth understanding when they are actually used. You won’t see jumps in the height of summer, for example, because they’re solely used in the National Hunt season that runs from autumn through to spring.
The main reason for this is that horses could injure themselves jumping and landing on the hard ground at mid-summer UK and Irish meetings, yet when the going gets soft the conditions are perfect for cruising over hurdles and fences.
Now, the two jump types are very different – and you won’t see hurdles and fences mixed in one race. Usually horses that excel on Flat get a ‘step up’ to hurdles and, when they have mastered their timing, progress to the higher fences.
HOW HIGH ARE FENCES IN HORSE RACING?
The highest obstacles in horse racing, the BHA stipulates fences must be a minimum of 4ft 6in. They are made from a mix of birch and spruce or ‘other material’ and are designed to test a horses timing ability. Both horse and jockey must be in sync with each other if they are to successfully leap fences.
Now, when it comes to water jumps the fences can be lowered to a minimum of 3ft, while open ditch fences remain at 4ft 6in. The BHA stipulates that in a race involving fences there should be 12 in the first two miles of a steeplechase course and six per succeeding mile thereafter.
When you’re horse racing betting you’ll see fences used at some of the UK’s biggest race events, such as the Grand National and the King George VI Steeple Chase. Cheltenham is famous for its races over fences, which includes the Cheltenham Gold Cup. So make sure you keep an eye out for them next time you enter Paddy’s racing sportsbook.
HOW HIGH ARE HURDLES IN HORSE RACING?
Hurdles are the shorter obstacle used in National Hunt races, with a minimum height of 3ft 6in. They are made from ash and must be uniform across the racecourse – and that includes substitute hurdles too.
The BHA stipulate that eight flights of hurdles must be present in the first two miles of a race, with an additional hurdle for every further quarter of a mile. Hurdles can often flap forward after horses have galloped over them and they are far less sturdy than fences.
This means horses can run at hurdles at almost full speed and glide over the obstacles as though they’re not there.
Of course, having jumps in a horse race can impact on the racing betting experience, as horses can pull up or fall. However, trainers and owners only enter their horses into these races when they are confident the horse – and jockey – can handle the rigours of jumps.
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- What is a juvenile in horse racing?