Friday, January 27, 2012

Cheltenham – Types of Race

The Cheltenham Festival as most people know is the highlight and pinnacle of the National Hunt season and it attracts die-hard followers of the sports, once a year racegoers and first timers alike and one thing that can be confusing is all the different types of races that take place at the Festival.

Here is a short guide that will help you understand the differences between the types of races and obstacles that you would see at the Cheltenham Festival over the course of the 27 races and four days.

The first thing to differentiate is what are hurdles and steeplechase fences. Hurdles are smaller, more flexible obstacles typically about 3½ feet in height, and a minimum of eight of them are jumped in races which range from 2M to just over 3M at the Festival. Those looking for tips for racing should remember this.

Steeplechase fences are larger, rigid obstacles a minimum of 4½ feet high and are run over distances of 2M to 4M at the Festival, once again a minimum of eight obstacles are jumped per race.

The Champion Bumper is the only flat race run at the Festival and it regularly showcases some of the most exciting young horses in training, who subsequently go on to make big names for themselves over hurdles or fences. The term "Bumper" comes from the fact that in the past, only amateur riders were allowed to compete and they typically had an ungainly "bumping" style in the saddle in comparison to the professionals.

Now we have established what is jumped in a race, let's take a look at the types of race that you could see at Cheltenham. Many of the races will be for novices, so what is a novice? A novice is a horse who has not won a race under a particular code (hurdling or chasing) before the current season. They generally race against their own but there is nothing to stop a novice running in normal hurdles or chases. The last novice to win the Gold Cup was Captain Christy in 1974, whilst Alderbrook was still a novice when capturing the Champion Hurdle in 1995. People who bet on racing should bear this in mind.

Moving on we then come to handicaps of which there are 11 at the Festival – some over hurdles and some over fences. The horses in handicaps are allotted different weights assessed on their abilities over past races, the idea being that the different weights will equalise their ability and allow then to finish together. Of course that never happens but if there is a very close finish involving three or four horses you will often hear pundits/commentators say that "is a victory for the handicapper".

Although most handicap races are not for the very best horses, this is not true in all cases, and some of the biggest races in the world are handicaps, such as the Grand National. The most prestigious handicaps run at the Festival include the William Hill Chase for staying chasers and the County Hurdle for speedy 2M hurdlers.
All races are graded at the Festival are graded - the most prestigious contests are, in descending order of importance, Grade 1s, Grade 2s, Grade 3s, Listed contests, Handicaps to Bumpers - the least prestigious. The more highly graded races attract more prize money and better horses – the most important race at the Festival is the Cheltenham Gold Cup worth £500,000 and the prizes run right down to the one with least money on offer the Foxhunters, worth £40,000 but that race is more about prestige that prize money.

The Cheltenham Festival is one of the year's sporting highlights and it moves ever closer.

No comments:

Post a Comment