When it comes to jump racing, there are two main race types that really set the sport apart from other horse racing genres: hurdle races and steeplechases. We cover steeplechases elsewhere on this site, with this page being dedicated to the world of hurdling. The main difference between the two forms of racing is the style of fence that needs to be jumped.
That’s not to suggest that the style of fences is the only thing that separates the race types, of course. Steeplechases are typically much longer than hurdles, for one thing, whilst they are also open to older horses than hurdles tend to be. A good rule of thumb is that as jump races age they move from bumpers to hurdles to steeplechases, though this isn’t set in stone.
Hurdle Races At The Cheltenham Festival
|Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle||2m 4f 56y||Class 2 Hurdle||£69,000|
Spa Novices' Hurdle
The Spa Novices' Hurdle
|2m 7f 213y||Grade 1||£128,000|
|County Handicap Hurdle||2m 179y||Grade 3||£98,500|
JCB Triumph Hurdle
The Triumph Hurdle
|2m 179y||Grade 1||£128,000|
|Dawn Run Mares' Novices' Hurdle||2m 179y||Grade 2||£88,500|
|The Stayers' Hurdle||2m 7f 213y||Grade 1||£320,000|
|Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle||2m 7f 213y||Grade 3||£98,500|
Juvenile Novices' Hurdle
Fred Winter Juvenile Novices' Hurdle
|2m 87y||Grade 3||£79,000|
|Coral Cup||2m 5f||Grade 3||£98,500|
Ballymore Novices' Hurdle
The Baring Bingham Novices' Hurdle
|2m 5f||Grade 1||£122,000|
|The Champion Hurdle||2m 87y||Grade 1||£463,000|
The David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle
|2m 3f 200y||Grade 1||£120,000|
|Supreme Novices' Hurdle||2m, 87y||Grade 1||£123,000|
Hurdle Races At Other Cheltenham Meetings
|Handicap Hurdle||2m 179y||Class 3 Hurdle||£16,400|
|Handicap Hurdle||2m 7f 213y||Class 2 Hurdle||£20,000|
|Kingston Stud Handicap Hurdle||2m 4f 56y||Class 2 Hurdle||£25,000|
|Novices' Hurdle||2m 4f 56y||Class 2 Hurdle||£20,000|
|Fillies' Juvenile Handicap Hurdle||2m 179y||Grade 3||£40,000|
|Mares' Handicap Hurdle||2m 4f 56y||Listed||£25,000|
|Mares' Novices' Hurdle||2m 4f 56y||Listed||£25,000|
Supreme Trial Novices' Hurdle
The Sharp Novices' Hurdle
|2m 87y||Grade 2||£25,600|
|Greatwood Handicap Hurdle||2m 87y||Grade 3||£78,700|
|November Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle||2m 5f 26y||Class 3 Hurdle||£12,350|
|Intermediate Handicap Hurdle||2m 5f 26y||Class 3 Hurdle||£17,600|
|Handicap Hurdle||2m 7f 208y||Listed||£23,600|
JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle
The Prestbury Juvenile Hurdle
|2m 87y||Grade 2||£25,600|
Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle
The Hyde Novices' Hurdle
|2m 5f 26y||Grade 2||£25,600|
|Novices' Handicap Hurdle||2m 87y||Class 3 Hurdle||£12,350|
|Handicap Hurdle||2m 7f 213y||Class 2 Hurdle||£17,215|
|Catesby Handicap Hurdle||2m 179y||Class 3 Hurdle||£12,400|
|British EBF National Hunt Novices' Hurdle||2m 179y||Class 3 Hurdle||£9,900|
|December Mares' Handicap Hurdle||2m 4f 56y||Class 2 Hurdle||£23,600|
|International Hurdle||2m 179y||Grade 2||£110,200|
Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle
Bristol Novices' Hurdle
|2m 7f 213y||Grade 2||£25,600|
|JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle||2m 179y||Class 2 Hurdle||£19,675|
|Steel Plate And Sections Handicap Hurdle||2m 179y||Class 2 Chase||£27,050|
|Cleeve Hurdle||2m 7f 213y||Grade 2||£59,050|
Ballymore Classic Novices' Hurdle
The Classic Novices' Hurdle
|2m 4f 56y||Grade 2||£31,500|
|JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle||2m 179y||Grade 2||£31,500|
|Relkeel Hurdle||2m 4f 56y||Grade 2||£49,200|
|Handicap Hurdle||2m 7f 213y||Class 2 Hurdle||£24,600|
|Ballymore Novices' Hurdle||2m 4f 56y||Listed||£24,600|
|Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle||2m 87y||Class 3 Hurdle||£16,000|
|Maiden Hurdle||2m 87y||Class 3 Hurdle||£15,000|
|Handicap Hurdle||2m 5f||Class 3 Hurdle||£16,000|
|Ballymore Novices Hurdle||2m 5f||Grade 1||£20,000|
|Showcase Novices' Hurdle||2m 7f 208y||Class 2 Hurdle||£15,000|
|Handicap Hurdle (Series Qualifier)||2m 7f 208y||Class 2 Hurdle||£25,000|
|Masterson Holdings Hurdle||2m 87y||Class 2 Hurdle||£40,000|
Hurdle Races Explained
There aren’t a huge heap of hard and fast rules for hurdle races that absolutely must be adhered to no matter what. There are some things that are applicable to hurdle races, however. For starters, hurdles are constructed in sections, with each hurdle being 3 foot and 6 inches tall. During a race, there must be 8 hurdles within the first 2 miles.
If the race is longer than 2 miles in distance then there needs to be an additional hurdle for each further quarter mile. This is why you’ll see some hurdle races that feature 8 jumps exactly, whilst others can feature 10 or more. It’s linked to the length of the race and the number of hurdles added will be adjusted depending on that length.
A typical rule of thumb is that a hurdle race needs to be at least 2 miles long and can be no longer than 3 and a half miles. Hurdle races are often quite quick because the horses can jump the obstacles in a speedy manner. The fact that the races are usually taken on by younger horses also adds to this sense of speed.
The reason why it’s often younger horses that are chosen to race in hurdle events is that the hurdles are both smaller and easier to jump than the fences used in steeplechases. Hurdlers are typically designed to give way if a horse’s legs crash into them, which is why it can often seem as though horses are trampling them down rather than jumping over them.
Combinations Of Race Types
Whilst hurdle races will all feature the same form of jump that the horses need to negotiate before they reach the closing stages of the race, they don’t all have to be the same type of race. That is to say, a stayers’ hurdle will be different in its form from a novices’ hurdle, as an example. The latter will be aimed at less experienced horses, whilst the former will be for those that can run longer distances.
Indeed, the only thing that they will definitely have in common is the type of fences that they feature. Hurdle races can be limited to female horses, young horses, amateur jockeys, novice horses or champion horses. There’s nothing in the British Horseracing Authority’s rules to say that every hurdle race must be a certain distance or limited to horses of a given ability.
That’s why there are often combinations of races types in meetings. A race for novices will also be a hurdle. A hurdle race will also be a handicap race. Whilst there’s nothing to say that hurdle races have to be for novices, there is a likelihood that novice races will be a hurdles event because of the age and ability of the horses that are taking part, but it isn’t a hard and fast rule.
Stayers’ hurdle races are a good example of this. Generally speaking you would expect a horse that can run for longer to be older, because of the strength needed to maintain fitness and consistency in running. Most stayers’ races, which are typically over about a mile and a half, are run over hurdles to give the horses a chance of finishing the race.
Major Hurdle Races
To give you a clearer understanding of the way in which hurdle races work, let’s have a look at a number of the more high profile ones. Keep an eye out for how long they are, how many hurdles need to be jumped and the varied ages of the horses that the races are for.
The most prestigious race for hurdlers in the National Hunt calendar is the Champion Hurdle. The final leg of the Triple Crown of Hurdling, it is run over 2 miles and 87 yards and features eight hurdles during its running. Open to horses aged four and over, the following weight information is at play:
4-year-olds: 11 stone 2 pounds
5-year-olds and over: 11 stone 10 pounds
Fillies and mares are given a 7 pounds allowance
Former winners of the Champion Hurdle include the likes of National Spirit, Persian War, Istabraq and Lanzarote; some of the best hurdlers in the history of horse racing. First run in 1927, it has enjoyed numerous moments during the Cheltenham Festival that have caught the public imagination. Dawn Run won it in 1984, for example, becoming the second mare to do so.
Fighting Fifth Hurdle
Run at Newcastle Racecourse over 2 miles and 46 yards, the Fighting Fifth Hurdle was inaugurated in 1969 and is the first leg of the Triple Crown of Hurdling in the UK. It’s for horses aged 4 and over with a weight of 11 stone and 7 pounds, with fillies and mares given a 7 pound allowance. There are 9 hurdles during the race.
Typically taking place in late November or early December, the name of the race is a reference to the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers. The race was run as a limited handicap in the 1990s and was given Grade 2 status before being upgraded to a Grade 1 offering in 2004. It is the first race of the National Hunt season that is considered as being for top-class hurdlers.
Leg two of the Triple Crown of Hurdling is the Christmas Hurdle, which takes place at Kempton Park on Boxing Day each year. Part of the card that has the King George VI Chase at its centre, it is run right-handed over 2 miles is open to horses aged four and over. The weight information is 11 stone and 7 pounds, with fillies and mares given a 7 pound allowance.
The race features 8 hurdles. There was a race called the Kempton Park Handicap Hurdle run at Kempton on Boxing Day in the 1960s, but it was abandoned in 1967 and 1968 and when it returned in 1969 it had become the Christmas Hurdle. Lanzarote, Dawn Run and Faugheen are three horses that have won this before winning the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Dawn Run Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle
Dawn Run is one of the most successful female hurdlers that British racing has ever seen, so it’s no surprise that the Cheltenham Festival boasts a race in her honour. This one proves the manner in which hurdle races can be so different from each other, given that it is limited to fillies and mares aged 4 and over. The weight information is also different from other races:
- 4-year-olds: 10 stone 8 pounds
- 5-year-olds and over: 11 stone 2 pounds
- Class 1 Weight-For-Age hurdle race winners are given a 5 pound penalty
- Class 2 Weight-For-Age race winners and Class 1 handicap hurdle race winners are given a 3 pound penalty
Run over 2 miles and 179 yards, it features 8 hurdles and is for novices. First run in 2016, it was added to the Cheltenham Festival roster when the meeting expanded to have 28 races. It has enjoyed numerous sponsors since its inauguration.
Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
Another Cheltenham Festival offering is the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, which is greeted by the famous ‘Cheltenham Roar’ because it’s the first race on the opening day of the meeting. Run over 2 miles and 87 yards, it is run left-handed on the Old Course and is open to horses aged 4 and over. Here’s the weight information at play:
- 4-year-olds: 10 stone 13 pounds
- 5-year-olds and over: 11 stone 7 pounds
- Fillies and mares are given a 7 pound allowance
There are 8 hurdles that must be jumped during the race, which is aimed at novice hurdlers. It has had a number of different names since its inaugural running, having originally been called the Gloucestershire Hurdle. After that it has mainly enjoyed different sponsored titles, with Ruby Walsh and Willie Mullins both enjoying good success in it.
Staying at Cheltenham for the Festival once again, the Stayers’ Hurdle is an excellent example of how some hurdle races can be so different from others. It is run over 2 miles, 7 furlongs and 213 yards, making it the longest race on this list so far. The added length also means that there are more hurdles to be jumped, with the race featuring 12.
It is for horses aged 4 and over, so that relatively youth remains in place, but it is the distance that truly sets it apart from other events. In fact, it is considered to be the leading long-distance hurdle event on the National Hunt’s calendar. Such is its level of importance that it is the feature race for the third day of the Cheltenham Festival meeting.
Finale Juvenile Hurdle
Shifting away from Cheltenham to Chepstow but maintaining the idea of discussing races that offer something different, the Finale Juvenile Hurdle is limited to horses aged 3. Run over 2 miles and 11 yards and offering 8 hurdles, it is on the race card for the same meeting as the Welsh Grand National.
Sometimes weather or other things will interfere with the meeting, which should take place in late December, and force it to be run in January instead. When that happens, the age of the horses is 4, given that all horses celebrate their birthday on January 1st regardless of when they were born. It is one of three Grade 1 hurdle races for juveniles.
Anniversary 4-Y-O Novices’ Hurdle
Another of those three Grade 1 hurdle races for juveniles is the Anniversary 4-Y-O Novices’ Hurdle. As the name suggests, the race is limited to 4-year-olds when it is run at Aintree Racecourse as part of the Grand National meeting. With a weight of 11 stone and 0 pounds plus a 7 pound allowance for fillies, it is run over 2 miles and 209 yards.
Called the Lancashire Hurdle during the 1960s and 1970s, it has enjoyed numerous sponsorship titles over the years. It was a Grade 2 race before being promoted to Grade 1 in 2005. Horses that ran in the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham will often enter this race. A good example of such a horse is Pentland Hills, who won both in 2019.
Long Walk Hurdle
Ascot Racecourse is more typically associated with flat racing, but each December it welcome jump race horses and one of the events that they take part in is the Long Walk Hurdle. Run over 3 miles and 97 yards, it has 12 hurdles that must be negotiated. It’s for horses aged 4 and over, with a weight of 11 stone and 7 pounds, though mares are given a 7 pound allowance.
First run as a handicap race in 1965, it was made into a conditions race in 1971 and promoted to Grade 1 in 1990. Horses that do well in this race will often go on to be competitive in the Stayers’ Hurdle during the Cheltenham Festival, such as Big Buck’s, Thistlecrack and Paisley Park. Baracouda won this race four times between 2000 and 2004.