Tag: Steeplechase

Steeplechase Around the World

As one of the oldest spectator sports in the world, horse racing, and specifically, the Steeplechase makes its presence known worldwide.

Ireland

The tradition of racing runs very deep in Ireland. It is here that steeplechasing was born; it is here that many of the most illustrious horses in racing history have been bred over the course of several centuries. – Irish Racehorse Trainers Association 

The first recorded steeplechase occurred in Ireland in 1752 between horsemen Edmund Blake and Cornelius O’Callaghan. They raced the distance between the steeples of churches Buttevant and Doneraile in Cork County. Unfortunately, the winner of this race is still unknown.

The jump racing season spans the entire year, but the majority of the races fall between November and April. The largest races have accompanying festivals, each with their own traditions. The dress code is fairly informal in comparison to other places, except for Ladies Day when women of all ages don their most elegant and extravagant clothes. 

England

spectators at Royal Ascot

Horse racing is one of the largest spectator sports in Great Britain.

The world’s most well-known steeplechase is The Grand National. The event is held at the historic Aintree Racecourse in Liverpool. Up to forty runners compete and the purse is £1 million.  Some avid steeplechase fans believe that the race has lost some of its character by implementing changes to the course in recent years (such as softening the fences). However, the race remains a popular and well-attended event. 

Following the dress code is not optional, especially at Royal Ascot, England’s most prestigious horse race. With The Queen and many other royals regularly in attendance, race attendees embrace tradition  and wear their best clothes for the occasion. 

France

Jump racing in France has never quite reached the same level of popularity as in neighboring England and Ireland. Though similar, French jump racing has a few noticeable differences. One of these differences is that the hurdles are not collapsible. Instead, many races have bullfinches, hedges up to 8 ft. tall, that horses have to jump through.

Another difference is that the racehorses are not exclusively Thoroughbreds. AQPS horses, a French breed developed by mixing Thoroughbreds with local breeds and saddle horses, are also used.

Auteuil in Paris is the most well-known racecourse. 

United States

Unlike in England and Ireland, where jump races are referred to as National Hunt Racing, Americans typically refer to jump races as steeplechasing. There are two major divisions: races over hurdles and races over timber fences.

American jump racing occurs in 11 states: South Carolina (obviously!), North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York. The National Steeplechase Association, founded in 1995, remains the governing body of jump racing in North America. Most tracks in the U.S. are privately owned, with the horses, trainers, and jockeys being independent contractors.

Steeplechase race in Middleburg, Virginia

The largest American steeplechase is the Breeder’s Cup Grand National Steeplechase (previously known as the American Grand National). It draws crowds of 50,000 and has a purse of $500,000.  Race-day fashion in the U.S. is largely focused on the elaborate hats. 

Australia

Jump racing was brought to the Land Down Under by British settlers. The obstacle sizes are reduced here due to an increased emphasis on safety in recent years.

Eagle Farm Racecourse, part of Melbourne Cup festival events 2011 Brisbane, Australia

The Grand Annual steeplechase in Warrnambool has more fences than any other steeplechase and as a whole, Australia has more racecourses than any other nation.

The jump season occurs from March to September, but Saturdays are considered the main day for racing.  Several racing carnivals are held throughout the season, the largest of which is the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival.  

 

What is a Steeplechase?

Steeplechase of Charleston

Not to be confused with the Olympic running race, the Steeplechase of Charleston is a distance horse race in which competitors are required to jump obstacles.

Background

The first steeplechase race is thought to have taken place in County Cork Ireland in 1752. Horsemen O'Callaghan and Edmund Blake raced the distance of one church to another, around 4.5 miles.

This race and others like this, is how the steeplechase name came to be. Nearby churches (steeples) would be used as reference points for the course. This was because the towering structures were the largest landmarks. Chase signified the racing aspect. 

Steeplechase horse racing is also sometimes referred to as 'jumps racing.'

Jockeys

Horse racing is a primarily male-dominated sport, but there have been a number of female jockeys in recent years. Steeplechase jockeys are generally a little heavier than flat race jockeys with the minimum weight limit being about 135 pounds.

Jockeys all wear racing silks, 

whose colorful designs are representative of the horse's owner rather than the jockey. The patterns have to be unique, since no two owners can have the same one. As a safety precaution, jockeys are also required to wear padded vests and approved helmets. Most are professional riders, but there are still some amateurs in the mix. A lot of them hail from Europe; England and Ireland, where they gain experience before coming to the United States.

Horses

All horses that participate in the steeplechase are Thoroughbreds. Their lineage must be proven with official Jockey Club registration papers. Many steeplechase horses are geldings (castrated) that are continuing their racing career.

The age range for steeplechase horses is 3-12 years old. They can compete for such a long period since they only participate in around 10 races per year.

Horses that run in steeplechases are sometimes referred to as 'chasers and can run up to 30 miles per hour. No wonder we measure speed in terms of horsepower!

The Race

The typical race length is between 4 and 6 miles. This is longer than flat races which are around .6 to 1 mile long. The distance between obstacles and the total number of obstacles varies from race to race.

Many of the obstacles are National Fences, which are man-made and portable. Developed by the National Steeplechase Association, these fences consist of a steel frame stuffed with plastic "brush." On the takeoff side, there is a foam-rubber roll covered with green canvas.

Steeplechase of Charleston 2018

The race's purse money goes to the owner of the champion horse, who shares some of it with the jockey and trainers. However, they are not the only beneficiaries of the steeplechase. Aside from the camaraderie and sense of community the exciting event provides, the Steeplechase of Charleston gives back through the Good Cheer Fund. 

2 minute interview

 

 

2 minute interview with Ross Geraghty

Steeplechase of Charleston 2019 will conclude with a 2 and 3/8 mile race. Strong horses can build their speed up to 30 miles per hour, clocking in a mile at around the 2 minute mark! We brought the pace of the races to a quick interview with Irish jockey, Ross Geraghty. Ross has enjoyed a long career with many victories. Ahead of Father's Day, Ross talks about the person who inspired him to become a winning jockey, his dad.

Ross Geraghty jockey

Q: What is your earliest memory of horse racing with your father?

Ross: I guess as a child going racing with him and horses he trained.

Q: What do you admire most about your father?

Ross: He has always been a great mentor and very encouraging to me and my siblings. He was strict, yet fair when we were kids.

Q: What is one word that describes your father and why?

Ross: Kind.

Q: What do you and your father have in common apart from horse racing?

Ross: We are the same person in so many ways.

Q: What's the best advice your father has given you?

Ross: Invest in property from early in my career.

Q: Any special memories with your father you would like to share?

Ross: I rode a lot of winners on horses he trained, which was brilliant. The most special is probably after winning the Irish Grand National and he greeting me on route to the winner's circle. He and my mum must have been in Fair Hills for some of my big days there.

The team at Steeplechase of Charleston wishes everyone a very happy Father's Day!

Have a few additional minutes to hear more from Ross Geraghty? We think you will love this interview with The National Steeplechase Association.

History of SC Horse Racing

The Steeplechase of Charleston is deeply rooted in the history of its home city. Charleston’s passion for horse racing goes all the way back to the early years of our country. With the beautiful historic town becoming the prime seat for racing in the South following the revolution, it's only natural that one of the oldest spectator sports in the world remains popular here.

The Jockey Club

The first American horse racing track was created in 1665 on Long Island. It wasn’t until the early 1700's that the sport came to South Carolina (long before the beginnings of The Post and Courier.) It was in 1734 that the South Carolina Gazette published the first record of racing in the state. And that same year, the South Carolina Jockey Club formed.

America’s first jockey club, composed of wealthy horse owners and breeders, was organized in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1734.
- SmithsonianMag.com

This Jockey Club even predates by 16 years the formation of the English Jockey Club, which still organizes English racing today. The United States did eventually found its own national-level Jockey Club modeled on the English organization.

Organized races in South Carolina began to take place in Charleston, Edisto, Jacksonborough, Pocotaligo and Strawberry Ferry. Following the American Revolutionary War, racing continued to greatly increase in popularity.

The Washington Race Course

Charleston was the home of the Washington Course, which ran around what is today called Hampton Park. Thousands of spectators would come to the site every February, kicking off the winter social season.

It was this particular race that boosted horse racing in Charleston to a level that has lasted generations. The course was first used in 1792 for the Jockey Club Purse. This race consisted of four heats, each run with the same horses and riders. Spectators would spend time between heats making new wagers and exploring the racetrack grounds.

The South Carolina Jockey Club continued to be the exclusive club for elite members of southern society for decades. Described as the “carnival of the state,” race week in Charleston was home to shops, stands, new restaurants and real estate auctions. It was also the place to purchase newly imported horses from England.

When the nation entered into its Civil War, thoroughbred horses were lost in great numbers. A massive economic decline followed the war. Horse racing in South Carolina was all but dead because of this and the Jockey Club was disbanded for good in 1899.

The rise and fall of racing

Various wars and legislation caused American horse racing popularity to fluctuate over the years. Anti-gambling sentiments and the first World War wiped out the races tracks. But when state legislatures legalized betting in exchange for a cut of the wagers, the sport had a major turnaround.

This surge in popularity was also short-lived, as World War II led to a decline in racing during the 1950s and 1960s. But the sport pushed on during this dry spell and eventually found a series of American Triple Crown winners in the horses Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed. The excitement around these winners led to a resurgence in the 1970s which lasted nearly two decades.

Popularity again began to wane from the 1980s up until today. We have had two triple crown winners in recent years, American Pharoah in 2015 and Justify in 2018. Racing is again becoming the major social event it once was.

Steeplechase of Charleston today

Through partnership with Charleston’s The Post and Courier, Steeplechase of Charleston is set to ignite the excitement and tradition of horse racing in the south. During the height of the South Carolina Jockey Club, members hosted required parties, dinners, galas and all manner of festivities. Steeplechase of Charleston brings all of these gatherings to one place.

The Steeplechase of Charleston 2019 is a day full of activities and experiences for all ages. The event centers around five races that finish off the season for steeplechase horse racing. Just as the Jockey Club Purse once consisted of multiple race heats, so too will the Steeplechase of Charleston. This makes for a full-day event to enjoy the marketplace, food trucks, tailgating and more themed activities.

There could be no more fitting home for the conclusion of race season than the city that once held the prime seat of horse racing for the entire country. Steeplechase of Charleston is proud to keep that tradition alive in 2019 and beyond.