The sport traces its roots to a two-horse race between Irish foxhunters, Mr. Blake and Mr. O’Callaghan, who in 1752 ran a race after a day of fox hunting (and drinking we presume) from the steeples of Buttevant Church to St. Mary’s in Doneraile, County Cork, hence the sport’s name.
- The Washington Jockey Club, it is believed, hosted the first steeplechase race in the United States in Washington, D.C. in 1834.
- The National Fence, is completely portable, travels by tractor trailer truck from one racecourse or meet to the other. The fences, uniform and safe to jump, are made of steel, plastic and foam rubber covered in canvas. Each eight-foot section (there are four or five sections in a typical fence) weighs 400 pounds. Before 1974, when the National Fence was first introduced in the United States, hurdle and brush races were conducted over natural hedges made of packed pine or cedar. The majority of U.S. steeplechase hurdle races are run over the National Fence.
- Timber fences are made of wood and are constructed of boards or posts and rails. The height and stiffness varies depending on the course, with the famed Maryland Hunt Cup, which features some fences nearly five feet tall, heading the list.
- Steeplechase jockeys are relatively normal-sized people. The minimum weight in a steeplechase race is typically in the 135-pound range as compared to the roughly 110-pound level for flat jockeys. For protection from serious injury, steeplechase (or jump) jockeys are required to wear padded vests under their silks and approved safety helmets.
- All steeplechase horses are actually Thoroughbreds whose lineage must be proven with official Jockey Club registration papers. Steeplechasers can begin steeplechase careers at age 3 but most start at age four or older.
- Most steeplechasers competed and some still compete on the flat. The ideal steeplechaser has speed, stamina, smarts, scope and enough athletic ability to run and jump at the same time steeplechase hurdle races are run over the National Fence.
- Steeplechase trainers are based throughout the Eastern half of the United States, with most concentrated in the Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia area and the Carolinas. Almost all trainers are based on private farms, where horses enjoy the outdoors while also exercising and working toward their next racing date.
- Steeplechase horses last. It is not unusual to see ‘chasers compete until age 10 and beyond. NINEPINS won the 1999 Grand National at age 12 while MAKE A CHAMP, at age 14 is the oldest horse to win the storied Maryland Hunt Cup since 1930.
- Steeplechase horses typically run six to 10 times in a year. The season features no racing in December through mid-March and could include a light summer schedule assuring horses of lengthy vacations. Most down time is spent outdoors in fields with the horses acting like – well horses. A steeplechase horse in the off-season is often dirty, hairy and happy!
- After their steeplechase careers end, ‘chasers often become foxhunters, show horses or simply pleasure rides for their owners or trainers. Five-time U.S.. champion and career earnings leader LONESOME GLORY retired at the end of the 1999 season at age 11, and began a career as a full-time foxhunter.