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National Hunt: Guide to jump racing

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National Hunt racing involves events in which horses must successfully navigate through obstacles such as fences and ditches. While flat races are largely a test of speed and endurance, jump horses and their jockeys compete in meetings that are either Hurdles or Steeplechases.

As the label implies, a Hurdles race is when the horses jump over hurdles that are usually over three and a half feet high. They are typically made of brush that has some flexibility and there are a minimum of eight hurdles with a minimum distance of two miles.

Hurdles races are divided into several categories, determined by age, experience and distance:

· 2 mile Juvenile

· 2 mile Novice

· 2 mile Open

· 2½ mile Novice

· 2½ mile Open

· 3+ mile Novice

· 3+ mile Open

'Juvenile' races are those open only to three-year-old and four-year-old horses, depending on when the event takes place. 'Novice' races are only open to horses who, at the start of the Jumps season, have yet to win a race. The horse can continue to run in Novice races all season even after it wins a race, so long as at the start of the season it had never won a race. 'Open' races, as the term implies, are open to all horses.

In a Steeplechase, the horses must navigate through a variety of obstacles such as plain fences, water jump or an open ditch. The most famous Steeplechase event is the Grand National which is run annually at Aintree Racecourse, in Liverpool.

Plain fence: which are a minimum of 4'6" in height on the take off side

Water Jump: where horses clear a fence of at least 3' in height and land in water 3" deep

Open Ditch: Are a minimum of 4'6" in height on the take off side with a ditch on the take off side

Steeplechasing is divided into the following categories based on age, experience and distance:

· 2 mile Novice

· 2 mile Open

· 2½ mile Novice

· 2½ mile Open

· 3+ mile Novice

· 3+ mile Open

Bumpers (National Hunt Flat Races) are the last race on a Jumps card. Bumpers allow novice horses to race on flat ground in order to become accustomed to racing before facing the challenge of Jump racing.

A Handicap Race is an event where the horse carries a certain amount of weight, depending on the horse's handicap rating. This is an equalizing method (that induces betting) which allows horses of a poorer quality an even chance of winning the race. A Claiming Race is a race in which any runner may be claimed after the race for an advertised sum or more. A Selling Race is a race in which the winner must be put up for auction.

A Maiden Race a race for non-winners (i.e., horses who have yet to win a race). Similarly, an Apprentice Race is a race for apprentice jockeys only.

Most jump races take place between October and April, as well as, during the summer months. Additionally, most jump horses are former flat runners who have developed their jumping abilities as their gained experience on the track.

There are 59 horse racing tracks in Britain; 17 of which host flat meetings while 24 host jump races. A total of 18 tracks can host both flat and jump competitions. The highest quality flat races are Group 1, 2, and 3 races while jump races are called Graded Races.

There are two festivals that are considered the main events of the Jumps season. The Cheltenham Festival takes place in mid-March and is the pinnacle of the Jump racing calendar. Officials organize every race, be it the Gold Cup or a Novices Hurdle, as a championship race.

The Aintree Grand National Festival takes place a month late in April, thus horses require recovery and recuperation in order to compete in the other main jump festival. Since its inaugural running in 1839, the John Smith's Grand National has become the most famous and most valuable chase in the world. The event involves a large field of 40 elite jump horses looking to tackle about thirty fences.

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