When it comes to the world of horse racing, cross country races are perhaps the ones that sit closest to the way that races originally were. Steeplechases, after all, would originally have been races from the steeple of a church in one town or village to the steeple of a church in another, jumping over whatever obstacles lay between the two.
In that tradition, cross country races are typically run on longer courses than normal races and ask the jockeys to guide their mounts over more random obstacles than a standard jump course. It is the definition of an endurance race, usually lasting for longer than all but the toughest of steeplechases and putting more obstacles in the way of the competitors.
Cross Country Races At The Cheltenham Festival
|Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase
|3m 6f 37y
|Class 2 Chase
Cross Country Races At Other Cheltenham Meetings
What Are Cross Country Horse Races?
A cross country race is one that is designed to test a horse’s speed, jumping ability and endurance. At the same time it is testing the ability of the trainer as well as the manner in which a jockey is able to correctly judge a horse’s strength and pace to last the distance.
The obstacles that are used in a cross country race are typically designed to look as natural as possible, though it’s not unknown for random things to be added in order to test a horse’s bravery in the jump. The idea is that the obstacles reflect the sort of things you’d encounter when riding across the country. That means the likes of ditches, trees, water and banks are common.
Cross Country Race Rules
The first thing to note is that cross country races that take place during standard horse racing meetings are different from the cross country that takes place during eventing meetings. That involves a horse and its rider taking on other competitors at three different events, of which one is cross country and the others are dressage and show jumping.
Whilst the general idea behind those cross country events and the cross country races that are held at meetings such as the Cheltenham Festival is the same, cross country held during eventing is scored in a very specific manner and has different rules in place. It’s an interesting discipline to find out about, but it’s not what we’re looking at here.
The key rule when it comes to cross country racing is that the obstacles have to be ones that could be found naturally in the countryside. The likes of steep banks and mounds are common because they ask a lot of technical questions of the horses and their training as well as they agility. Tracks can even go over roads if the course requires it.
Each racecourse will have its own structure to the cross country race, with a specific line that the jockeys need to get their horses to follow. This became a controversial topic in 2008 when the jockey Davy Russell asked stewards if some laurel bushes were there for decoration or to mark the line of the course, with the former being the case.
Russell then cut a corner when the rest of the jockeys thought that the bushes were there to mark the line of the course, eventually winning the race by three lengths. It occurred after the 22nd fence on the Cheltenham Cross Country Course and the Cheltenham authorities promised to ensure that the route would be clarified moving forward.
Key Information About Cross Country Races
It is not necessarily the length of a race that makes it a cross country event; after all, the Grand National is run over four miles and yet is just a standard steeplechase. The Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase that takes place during the Cheltenham Festival, on the other hand, only lasts for 3 miles and 6 furlongs.
That being said, the Cheltenham Festival race is seen by many as a good test ahead of the Grand National, with Tiger Roll winning it prior to winning the Aintree spectacular in 2018.
It is the course that defines a cross country race, owing to the fact that it is a combination of distance and obstacles that makes it such a tough race to run. Another good example is the Cross Country Course at Punchestown, which hosts the P.P. Hogan Memorial Cross Country Chase that is run over 3 miles and 1 furlong and boasts 28 fences.
The sorts of horses that tend to take part in cross country races are older ones. This is because they’ve developed more stamina than younger horses and can better cope with the different fences that they need to be able to jump during a race’s running. Younger horses do take part in the races, of course, with the age for the Cheltenham event being 5+.
We’ve already made mention of the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase that is run at Cheltenham Racecourse and Leopardstown’s P.P. Hogan Memorial Cross Country Chase, but there are other interesting examples of cross country races that you might want to find out some more about.
The Grand Pardubice Steeplechase is known as the world’s toughest horse race, having been run for the first time in November of 1874. Held in the Czech Republic, the course is actually a mixture of ploughed fields and turf and the three water jumps are actually over natural streams that are on the course.
It is four miles and two furlongs in distance, boasting 31 jumps during that. Its difficulty has earned it the nickname of The Devil’s Race, not least of all because of Velky Taxisuv Prikop or Great Taxis Ditch. That is the biggest fence jump in the world of horse racing, with a huge jump coming before a ditch.
The Crystal Cup European Cross Country Challenge, meanwhile, is an eleven race series that asks competitors to take on some of the toughest cross country courses in Europe. Beginning in Pau in South West France, the competition comes to a conclusion at Cheltenham in December having taken in courses around Europe.
Traditionally run on Ladies Day during the Cheltenham Festival, the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase is usually the race that is run after the Queen Mother Champion Chase. The thinking behind that is that it’s entirely different type of event to the day’s feature race, so it’s more likely to keep the punters interested than just another hurdle or steeplechase.
Despite the somewhat classic feeling to the race, in the sense that it’s based on the manner in which the first ever steeplechases were run, it’s only actually been taking place at Cheltenham since 2005. That was the year that the Festival was had a fourth day added to its running and therefore needed extra races to be created in order to fill up the race card.
It was also a chance to add an extra race onto the Cheltenham books that made use of the Cross Country Course, with two other cross country races taking place at Prestbury Park in November and December. It was a handicapped race until 2016 when it was made into a conditions race, meaning that the horses are given weight to carry according to certain factors.
These include things such as the horse’s age, its sex, its previous success and its ability. The race itself takes place over 3 miles and around 6 furlongs, featuring 32 obstacles during that distance. Enda Bolger is the race’s most successful trainer at the time of writing, with four of those wins coming courtesy of its most successful jockey – Nina Carberry.