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.
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.'
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.
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 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.
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.