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What Is National Hunt (Jumps) Racing?

Rate this Article Find out more about the national hunt! Horse Games Online - What Is National Hunt (Jumps) Racing?

Globally, whether you play racing games on sites like this one or go to a real horse race, the most common event you will see is flat racing. It is easy to understand. Horses are bred for speed, and they will race around a track. There are differences, of course, and you might see the horses run on turf, dirt/sand or synthetic tracks. But the basic strategy is to shoot out of the traps and keep going until you reach the finish line.

National Hunt Racing is different. There are some video games based on national hunt racing, but it’s not as widespread as traditional flat racing. In fact, national hunt – sometimes called jumps – racing is usually confined to the UK and Ireland. There are some jumps races run in the USA, France and elsewhere, although they are limited in prestige. The British Isles are the home of national hunt racing.

As you might expect from the term ‘jumps’ racing, the disciple involves navigating obstacles. The courses are very different too. Normally, national hunt races are run over courses of rolling countryside, not flat tracks. It’s for that reason you won’t find a jumps race in a big city like Louisville, home of Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby. National hunt racing is a rural sport.

Hurdles or Fences?


The obstacles can be different types – hurdles or fences. This gives rise to the two main sub-divisions of national hunt racing, hurdling or steeplechasing (the latter is often shortened to chasing). The main difference is that hurdles are smaller obstacles than the fences in chasing. They are easier to jump than the fences, and you will often see that a horse will begin life as a hurdler and move on to chasing when more experience is gained.

Cheltenham in the United Kingdom is considered the home of jumps racing. Each year, a four-day festival is held at the Cheltenham Racecourse, and it is considered one of the biggest events in the British sporting calendar. Cheltenham races betting is a huge industry in itself, and bettors will place wagers in the weeks leading up to the event. This year’s festival (16-19th March) will see Al Boum Photo as the 3/1 favorite for a third Gold Cup, a race which is considered alongside the Grand National as the most prestigious in the national hunt.

There are some other peculiarities that mark jumps racing from regular racing. The longevity of the horses is much greater in the former. For instance, a horse like Triple-Crown winner, American Pharoah retired to stud at four-years-old in 2016. If he were a jumps horse, he would only be reaching his prime today. Some jumps horses will go onto have winning careers into their 12th or 13th years.

Longer Races Across Rolling Countryside


There is also a difference in the length of the races. The Kentucky Derby, for instance, is run at over a mile and a quarter, whereas the Cheltenham Gold Cup and Grand National are about three times longer. This makes tactics in the race different. Horses are bred for speed and skill, sure, but endurance is also a key attribute. The differences are as stark as watching a sprint compared to a marathon at the Olympics.


It’s always going to be a subjective opinion to say that national hunt racing is better than flat racing, but there are some elements that make it arguably more exciting. The fences, for example, mean that a race is never won until the horse has passed the post. Jumps racing history is full of heart-stopping moments – like Annie Power falling at Cheltenham in 2015 – where a horse has been robbed of victory when seeming unstoppable. That sense of unpredictability adds to the excitement.

So, there you have it – a very brief overview of national hunt racing. There are some horse racing games that focus on national hunt racing, including some in the Starters Orders series for PC. Some of those are worth checking out, but seeing the real thing is impressive – and it might change your mind about your favourite type of racing.

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