National Hunt Racing
The Grand National is the peak of the National Hunt racing season. With the millions of pounds bet on the Grand National every year, it is easy to forget the rich history and tradition that forms the basis of National Hunt racing.
National Hunt racing has its roots in that most ancient of sports – the hunt. In the past the horse was an important part of hunting, as it gave hunters the advantage of speed over their prey. Hunters favoured horses that could move quickly whilst being able to clear any obstacle in their paths.
It is difficult to determine exactly when hunt horses were first used in competitive racing. What is known is that the first competitive races were run in Ireland approximately 300 years ago, and involved two competitors racing over the countryside between two towns. The starting and finishing points were the steeples of the town churches, giving rise to the term steeplechase.
National Hunt racing has always been strongest in Ireland, the home of the sport, however the sport’s major showpiece, the Grand National is held in England and provides an excellent showpiece for the game in the United Kingdom.
As a result of the heroics of past Grand National winners the sport of Hunt Racing is becoming increasingly popular across the United Kingdom with versions of the Grand National run in Wales, Scotland and Ireland and the sport fast equalling flat racing in the popularity stakes.
National Hunt Racing Today
National Hunt racing has evolved into three formats. Chase races are run over distances between 2 to 4½ miles and horses are required to clear a series of obstacles called fences which are a minimum of 4½ feet high. This is the most demanding National Hunt format.
The second National Hunt format is Hurdling which is run over distances between 2 to 3½ miles. The obstacles faced by horses are called hurdles and are a minimum height of 3½ feet. The final National Hunt format is Flat Racing, and is used to blood horses new to the sport. Races are run over 1½ to 2½ miles.
National Hunt racing takes place over winter months and is particularly appealing to horse trainers as horses are not required to be pedigreed. The two most important events on the Hunt Racing calendar are the Cheltenham Festival and the Grand National at Aintree racecourse.