What’s a steeplechase?

What's a steeplechase? The term ‘steeplechase’ was coined in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century to describe an early form of point-to-point racing, in which the ‘course’ – which was, in fact, open countryside – started and finished at a church steeple. In fact, the first recorded race of this type was held in County Cork, Ireland in 1752. More recently, on enclosed racecourses, the original, natural obstacles were replaced with artificial fences and ditches, but the name endured. Nowadays, steeplechases are run over advertised distances between two miles and four miles and two-and-a-half furlongs.

With the exception of specialist, bank courses, such as the Cross Country Course at Cheltenham, steeplechasers jump three types of obstacle, namely the plain fence, the open ditch and, optionally, the water jump. The plain fence consists of a rigid frame filled with real or artificial birch and must stand at least 4’6″ high. The open ditch is simply a plain fence preceded by a shallow ditch, to create a wider, more challenging obstacle. The water jump, where present, must stand at least 3′ high, with an area of water at least 9′ wide and 3″ deep beyond the fence. Steeplechases must have at least twelve fences in the first two miles and at least six fences in each subsequent mile. One fence in each mile must be an open ditch.