MANY sports have their origins in Britain, that is why Britain is sometimes called the cradle of sports. Two types of rugby, modern game of hockey, cricket, darts, tennis and boxing were invented in Britain. Golf has its origins in Scotland. Very popular sports are: cricket, football, golf, cricket has never been adopted in foreign countries. It is intensively played only in the United Kingdom, Australia and some other Commonwealth countries. The major sports events in Britain are Wimbledon (the Grand Slam Tennis Tournament), the British Open Golf Championship, The Grand National in Liverpool (it is the best known horse-race steeplechase).


The first recorded steeplechase occurred in 1752 in County Cork, Ireland. Cornelius O’Callaghan and Edmund Blake engaged in a match race, covering about 4½ miles from St. John’s Church at Buttevant to St. Mary’s Church in Doneraile. Church steeples were the most prominent, and tallest, landmarks on the landscape. Though history did not record the winner of the O’Callaghan-Blake race, the sport took its name from this simple “chase to the steeple.”


Another source . . .
The steeplechase originated in Ireland in the 18th century as an analogue to cross-country horse races which went from church steeple to church steeple, hence "steeplechase." The first steeplechase is said to have been the result of a wager in 1752 between Mr. Cornelius O'Callaghan and Mr. Edmund Blake, racing four miles (6 km) cross-country from Buttevant Church to St. Leger Church in Doneraile, in Cork, Ireland. An account of the race was believed to have been in the library of the O'Brien's of Dromoland Castle. Most of the earlier steeplechases were contested cross-country rather than on a track, and resembled English cross country as it exists today. The first recorded steeplechase over a prepared track with fences was run in Bedlam, North Yorkshire in 1810.


#Steeplechasing emerged from matches between individuals over hunting country, eventually becoming races for several participants over constructed courses. Commercialisation began in the 1830s, first at St. Albans and then at Aintree where the Grand National was inaugurated. Most National Hunt racing was over fences but there were also hurdle races run at a faster pace often involving flat-race horses seeking to extend their careers. The sport became formally organised in 1866 with the formation of the National Hunt Committee which also began to issue licences to riders. There was a substantial expansion after the 1870s following the Jockey Club imposition of a minimum prize-money regulation for flat racing which pushed many race committees to convert to National Hunt racing where there was no such rule. In 1911 there were 235 professional jockeys who had received licences to ride, but in contrast to the situation on the flat, the list also contained 55 qualified (i.e. amateur) riders. Yet these were listed only if they qualified by ‘election’ rather than by status as a gentleman or farmer, so the actual number of amateur riders was significantly higher. Most National Hunt races were open to all comers but many more than on the flat, especially at meetings hosted by hunts and racing clubs, were restricted to amateur riders, usually socially defined but often with the addition of residential, occupational or hunting qualifications. Hence there were substantial openings for the amateur rider to compete either against professionals or just among fellow gentlemen riders.

If 1902 is examined in detail it is apparent that, although some amateurs rode at only one or two local meetings, there was a hard core of about 25 who raced at multiple meetings, both against professional riders and other amateurs. The races they took part in were a mixture of National Hunt flat races, open welter races, steeplechases and hurdles; unlike flat racing no race specifically stated that it was for ‘gentlemen riders’. Of the 1626 races in the National Hunt calendar 225 (14%) were competed for by professionals only. Amateur riders took part in the remainder. In 201 (12%) races only amateurs competed but in 1200 (74%) jockeys were a mixture of amateurs and professionals. Over twelve months amateurs won about a third of these open races which suggests that many gentlemen riders were competent in the saddle and able to compete effectively with professionals. For those who felt that even National Hunt racing had become too professionalized there remained point-to-point events run over natural terrain with no prize money at stake. Popular from the 1880s, these were for horses that had been hunted and amateur jockeys who had ridden to hounds. Here no licence was required, merely a certificate from the local Master. Indeed most were hosted and organised by local hunts even when the races were for members of the Stock Exchange or the legal fraternity of the Pegasus Club. Initially each meeting set its own rules but in 1913 the Master of Hounds Point-to-Point Association established a national set of regulations, an unanticipated outcome of which was that between 1913-29 women were allowed to compete against men, as, unlike those of the Jockey Club and the National Hunt Committee, their rules did not specifically exclude female riders.

Tradition has it that in 18th-century Ireland, following a hunt, the riders raced each other toward a distant steeple. Another version has it that, after a fruitless hunt, a rider suggested a race toward a church spire. At the conclusion of the race, the promoter was said to have remarked “what great sport it was without those . . . hounds.”

Later, steeplechase came to occupy the time between hunting seasons. Gradually, these races, usually under the auspices of a hunt, became independent sporting events in the forms of timber racing, hurdle racing, and point-to-point races. With increasing popularity and more spectators, they moved to permanent facilities. The most famous British course is Aintree, the home of the Grand National Steeplechase, which began in about 1839 and was so named in 1847. Aintree is designed to mimic the obstacles encountered during the hunt, while allowing viewers to watch the whole race. The governing body for steeplechase events in England is the National Hunt Committee.


Steeplechase and Hunt Horse Racing

Hunt Racing and Steeplechase are very similar forms of horse racing mostly held in the UK, Ireland and the US. Join me as we take a look at each both steeplechase and National Hunt Racing.

Steeplechase racing began during the 18th century in Ireland. It was a cross-country horse race run between two church steeples and was thus named steeplechase. It is said that the first ever steeplechase was run in 1752 due to a wager between Edmund Blake and Cornelius O'Callagan. This first chase was a distance of 4 miles starting at Buttevant Church and ending at St. Leger Church. Originally the steeplechase was basically a contested cross-country race. The first steeplechase to occur on a proper track with fences is said to have taken place in 1810 at Bedlam, England. Today steeplechase involves a distance horse race which features ditch and fence obstacles. The best-known steeplechase is the English Grand National which began in 1837.

#National Hunt Racing is held chiefly in Ireland and the United Kingdom and is also known as another name for steeplechase. During this exciting race the horses encounter a number of obstacles referred to as fences or hurdles. The National Hunt season is mostly in winter when the ground is ideal for jumping. This form of racing is very popular for several reasons, including the fact that horses are less expensive and can be retired at a later age. Interestingly, National Hunt racing or jump racing is more popular in Ireland than thoroughbred flat racing. Actually, National Hunt racing began in Ireland's southern regions from what was known as “pounding races” during the 18th century. In this sport horses and their riders would race across wild areas, tackling all obstacles in their path. Topping the National Hunt Calendar is the well-attended Cheltenham Festival, held annually in March. Brilliant horses gather to this prestigious event and the crowds are enormous. Plenty of money is wagered during the four days which see many victories. Hunt racing fans can also enjoy the sport at the Punchestown Festival, Tingle Creek, Scottish National and Aintree's Grand National. Horses which take part in National Hunt racing are often previously flat race horses whilst others have been specifically bred for their jumping skills. Several of the most oustanding hunt racing horses began with point-to-point racing.

Thoroughbred Horse Racing

# Similar in many ways to hunt races, point to point racing is a form of amateur horseracing. It occurs mainly in the various countries of the United Kingdom and is usually strictly limited to thoroughbred horses. In Ireland, point to point races are used as a way to introduce young horses to the sport while in England and Wales, horses used in point to point races are often at the end of their careers. In the Irish system, young stars are spotted early and often this will result in the horse selling for more than would normally be the case.

Point to point racing has its origins in steeplechasing - much the same as hunt racing does. Steeplechase racing originated in County Cork in 1752 when a Mr Black challenged his neighbour, Mr O’Callaghan, to a race across country from Buttervant church to Doneraile church. The race took place over four and half miles of country terrain which included stonewalls, ditches and hedges and the sight of the steeple (thus steeple chasing) served as a guide for the race. The idea caught on and before long, steeple chasing became a national sport. The formal version of this sport gravitated towards a man-made oval track with fences and this is what we know today as hunt racing. Point to point is the amateur version and can be run on a circular course or on a straight one.

It is interesting to note that horses entered into point to point races must have a certificate from a Master of Foxhounds which states that they have hunted for at least four days during fox hunting season. The jockey also has to get a certificate from the hunt secretary before he is allowed to compete in the race. Most point-to-point races are run over a distance of three miles but this distance can be longer in certain major events. Maiden races for horses between four and seven years of age can be run over two miles and four furlongs. The courses have to have at least two fences with ditches and they must have a minimum number of fences. The average fence is 4 ft. 6 inches high.


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