What is Steeplechasing?

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Steeplechase 101

Steeplechasing is a Thoroughbred racing sport that combines the speed of running on the flat with the skill and precision required to jump fences at high speed. Almost all steeplechase horses bred in the United States have had a career on the flat, and a number of them were highly successful. An increasing number of overseas-bred horses participate in American Steeplechasing, and many of them were bred specifically for careers over fences in England, Ireland, and France. The American Steeplechase circuit begins in the South each spring, works its way northward through the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest regions, spends its summers at Saratoga Race Course and other flat tracks, and then winds its way south again in the fall. In all, the races sanctioned by the National Steeplechase Association touch 11 states and encompass 34 individual race meets. Nearly 200 sanctioned steeplechase races—worth more than $4.6-million—occur in the U.S. every year.

The Horses

All steeplechase horses are Thoroughbreds. Their bloodlines have been registered with The Jockey Club, which also verifies their pedigrees and eligibility to race in America of horses bred overseas, usually through reciprocal agreements with registries in other countries. Typically, the American Steeplechase horse has raced on the flat and then embarked on a second career of racing over fences. Not every flat horse has what it takes to succeed as a steeplechase horse. The ideal steeplechase horse has speed, stamina, intelligence, and the ability to jump fences at racing speed. Because they are in their second careers, steeplechase horses tend to be older, and some very talented horses race at the top level past age 10. Steeplechase horses can begin their careers at age 3, and American Steeplechasing also has divisions for novices (the future stars who race in such races as the AFLAC cpaymentmethods.com Supreme Hurdle) and fillies and mares (who compete in races such as the Crown Royal Stakes).

Training and Racing

Steeplechase trainers are based throughout the Mid-Atlantic and South, with most concentrated in Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. Almost all trainers are based on private farms or training centers, where horses enjoy the outdoors while also exercising and working toward their next racing date. A typical daily workout involves at least 1½ miles of galloping. Horses train at full racing speed just once or twice per week. Because of the longer distances of their races, from two to four miles, steeplechase horses must learn to relax in their races, so they are trained to conserve their energy and save their speed until it’s needed. American Steeplechasing has two main divisions: over hurdles and over timber fences. The timber races tend to be longer and top out at four miles.

Steeplechase by the Numbers

  • Nearly 500 horses compete in U.S. steeplechase races each year.
  • Almost 200 NSA-sanctioned steeplechase races take place at one-day race meets and racetracks each year.
  • 90 jockeys take out U.S. steeplechase licenses each year.
  • 34 one-day race meets are sanctioned by NSA each spring and fall.
  • 3 racetracks will host steeplechase racing on their turf courses this year.
  • More than $4.6 million is awarded each year in American Steeplechasing purses. A similar amount is raised by NSA race meets for charities each year.
  • 440 wins by jockey Joe Aitcheson, the all-time U.S. win leader. The next highest total is 398 , while the leading active jockey, Chip Miller, has 212 (through 2012 ).
  • $1,310,104 earned by McDynamo, the National Steeplechase Association’s all-time leader by purses won in sanctioned U.S. races. Lonesome Glory earned $1,318,868, including overseas earnings and bonus money. Both are Racing Hall of Fame members.
  • 8-18 jumps are in a typical hurdle race.
  • 52 inches is the height of a standard U.S. steeplechase fence, known as the National Fence. Also called a hurdle.
  • 800,000 people saw a steeplechase race in the United States last year.
  • 37 steeplechase races won by Tuscalee, the all-time leader by wins in the United States. He also is a Racing Hall of Fame member.