What is an open ditch?
In National Hunt racing, an ‘open ditch’ is one type of obstacle that must be negotiated during a steeplechase. In fact, the Rules of Racing stipulate that, in any steeplechase, one in six obstacles must be an open ditch.
An open ditch consists of a standard, plain fence, the bottom of which is extended to accommodate a shallow ditch on the take-off side. The fence is constructed in the same fashion as any other plain fence – that is, of birch, or birch and spruce or any other approved material – and must stand at least 4’6″ high on the take-off side. However, the presence of the ditch increases the width, or spread, of the obstacle, such that it presents a more challenging test of jumping ability and agility than a plain fence alone. Steeplechasers must be nimble enough to approach the take-off board closely enough to stretch over the ditch and clear the fence successfully.
Perhaps the most famous open ditch in British National Hunt racing is the ‘The Chair’ at Aintree, which is jumped as the penultimate fence on the first circuit of the Grand National. The Chair stands 5’2″ high and is preceded by a 6′ wide ditch on the take-off side, making it the tallest and broadest obstacle on the Grand National Course.