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National Hunt Racing in the UK & Ireland

The vast majority of racing in the United Kingdom and Ireland is either flat racing or National Hunt racing.

Flat racing is all about speed and there are no obstacles involved, while in National Hunt races, horses have to jump over obstacles such as hurdles and fences.

For many, this makes this form of racing the more exciting of the two.

We have provided more details on National Hunt racing below, including the different types of races, how they are classified and details of the big meetings.

Overview

National Hunt racing originated in Ireland and it’s far more common there than flat racing. In the UK, racing is split roughly equally between the two codes.

While flat racing is largely considered the more prestigious, and offers higher prize money, the jumping aspect of National Hunt racing makes it more enjoyable for many fans of the sport. It mostly takes place from October until April, when the weather means that the ground is softer and as such better for jumping.

Unlike in flat racing, National Hunt horses do not have to be Thoroughbreds. Many of them are, but they can be of different breeds too. Generally speaking the horses that take part have strong and robust characteristics, which make them suitable for jumping.

They will often start in informal races to get used to jumps before progressing to a more competitive level.

The horses tend to peak sometime between the ages of seven and ten years old. They are usually neutered as this is believed to help them keep their focus on competing.

As such, they have no breeding value and this makes National Hunt racing cheaper than the flat in terms of ownership costs.

Horse RacingHurdles & Steeplechases

There are two main types of National Hunt Races – hurdles and steeplechases. Hurdles are run over distances of between 2 and 3.5 miles, and are so named because the obstacles the horses have to jump are called hurdles.

These are typically made of brush and are quite flexible so they are often knocked down when horses jump them.

There have to be a minimum of eight of them in a race.

Steeplechases are usually known simply as chases, and they are run over distances between 2 and 4.5 miles. The obstacles can be plain fences, water jumps or open ditches.

Horses that have competed in hurdles frequently go on to compete in chases later in their careers, when they’re not as fast but have plenty of jumping experience.

There are flat National Hunt races too, known as bumpers. These are less common than hurdles and steeplechases, but there’s at least one bumper at most of the major meetings.

Horse RacingRace Classification

In addition to the main types of races mentioned above, races are also classified based on their relative quality and entry conditions.

The best, and most prestigious, races are the graded races.

The highest level of these is Grade 1s, followed by Grade 2s and then Grade 3s. Immediately below Grade 3 level are Listed Races.

Horse RacingPoint to Point

Point to point racing is basically National Hunt racing for amateur riders, which takes place in Ireland and the United Kingdom.

The regulations are slightly different in the two regions, most notably in that in Ireland races are open to professional trainers but in the UK they are not – unless a trainer is running a horse that they own themselves.

Irish point to points are therefore frequently used as proving grounds for young horses with potential. Those that do well at this level are often sold for big money, or kept and then raced at a higher standard.

In the UK point to points are not used quite so much for this purpose – they’re basically just a less formal form of racing – although this has started to change in recent years. Traditionally the horses were mostly those owned by farmers or Hunt members but increasingly horses from livery yards are taking part.

Although not licensed training establishments, many livery yards are run very professionally and some of them are linked in some way to licensed training yards.

Notable National Hunt Races, Festivals & Meetings

There are several notable National Hunt races, festivals and meetings. Many of these attract large crowds at the respective courses, and often large television audiences too.

We have provided details on the most important races, covering the following.

Major National Hunt Racecourses

We have compiled lists of the major National Hunt racecourses in the UK & Ireland, which you can see below. A small number of these tracks host flat races too, but they’re mostly known for their jump races.

United Kingdom

  • Aintree
  • Ayr
  • Cheltenham
  • Haydock Park
  • Kempton Park
  • Newbury
  • Sandown
  • Wetherby


Ireland