Betting on the Cheltenham Festival is a lot easier when you know what’s going on – and that can sometimes be a daunting prospect for new horse racing betting fans who aren’t so accustomed to the jargon associated with this sport.
We get it. When punters talk about jockeys weighing in, juvenile races and the intricacies of form guides, it’s sometimes hard to keep up. That’s why we’ve created our series of Demystifying Racing guides to help you cut through the jargon.
And with Cheltenham just around the corner it’s time to spruce up on your racing betting knowledge. In this guide you’ll learn the difference between fences and hurdles at Cheltenham Festival, how high they are and what they signify.
What are fences and hurdles in horse racing?
Fences and hurdles are types of jumps that are used in horse racing to add an extra challenge for the horses and jockeys. Obstacles have been part of the National Hunt season for decades and their use over the winter months in the UK and Ireland is permitted because the turf that horses land on is usually soft enough for the impact.
Hurdles are the smaller of the two obstacles and so provide less of an obstacle for horses, which means they often glide over the jumps at full sprint. Fences are taller and must be better timed when approaching, which means there is usually more drama associated with these jumps.
How high are hurdles at Cheltenham Festival?
The smaller of the two obstacles at Cheltenham, hurdles are a minimum 3ft 6in high and are made from ash. They must be uniform across the entire Cheltenham racecourse and are bashed about quite a lot by the trailing legs of horses.
There are eight hurdles used in the first two miles of a race, with an extra hurdle added for every subsequent quarter mile. Horses who perfect hurdling can often take a step up to running in steeplechases, which is where fences are used.
The biggest Cheltenham Festival races to use hurdles are the Stayers’ Hurdle, the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and the Champion Hurdle, which are all Grade 1 races.
How high are fences at Cheltenham Festival?
Fences are taller than hurdles in the National Hunt season, and they are an integral part of Cheltenham Festival and racing betting. The Cheltenham fences stand at a minimum 4ft 6in tall and are made of a mix of birch and spruce or ‘other material’. As these jumps are taller, the task of vaulting them is much tricker than hurdles – and it requires perfect timing from both horse and jockey to safely overcome a fence at speed.
There are three types of fence in National Hunt racing: normal, water jump and open ditch. Cheltenham has all three, although the majority of fences at the festival are normal ones.
Races involving fences are called steeplechases, which must include 12 fences in the first two miles, and an extra six for every subsequent mile. The biggest Cheltenham Festival steeplechase races are the Queen Mother Champion Chase, the Golden Miller Novices’ Chase and, of course, the Cheltenham Gold Cup. And you can bet on all of them with Paddy Power!
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