Why are hurdles and other jumping horse races so much more prevalent in England?

…while here in the states, we seem to favor entirely a flat track?

Just curious–while we do have steeplechase here in the States, and it is timed, it’s run by a single horse at a time and also involves a certain amount of agility work–i.e., the obstacles are set up in an arena, and the horse and rider have to do more than just turn left to get from one to the next. And yes, we’ve also got oddball things like [del]chariot[/del] harness racing. And, on the other side of the pond, they do have flat track races–the Epsom Derby is the richest single event over there, I think, but a lot of the big race meetings seem to involve predominantly, if not entirely, races where a bunch of horses all run together, around an oval, jumping things along the way.

My guess is that English races came from the fox hunting tradition, which involves jumping over things along the way; for whatever reason, America never picked up on this particular English sport (perhaps a shortage of fox-hunting toffs on the boats over). And, in general, with no real tradition of common lands or other situations that’d allow you to do other than trot down the road with your horse, when we got together to see whose horse could go fastest, all we were concerned with was how fast it could do so over fairly flat terrain, perhaps while turning left every so often.

All just WAGs, but I’m curious. Me, I’d be all for horse racing grand prixes, over actual terrain, but I imagine that’s difficult for a variety of reasons. :slight_smile:

Not entirely true: The Saratoga NY meet has steeplechases as part of the card on most days and has one day devoted to them (though not in every race even then). I think there are tracks in the south that have all steeeplechase meets.

I would suspect it was less popular in the US for a number of reasons. US racing is very oriented toward betting, and bettors don’t like things to make things complicated. Going over jumps adds a complication to the race that bettors don’t like (one reason why harness tracks favor pacers ofver trotters is that trotters are more likelty to go off gait and have to be pulled up).

What you’re describing is show jumping. It’s an equestrian event along the same lines as dressage; a contest of ability and control rather than speed. A show jumping course will have a time limit, but as long as you’re under that limit there’s no added benefit to being faster. (In the first round, at least. Tie-breaker rounds may be run against the clock.)

You may want to investigate cross-country. It’s run over a longer course, with sturdier jumps and obstacles, and is timed. It’s run against the clock, one horse at a time.

Well the blanket term for the steeplechases/hurdles you mention is “national hunt” racing, so the OP has pretty much nailed it. It springs from our history of hunting with horses.

That said, I’d suggest that flat racing and national hunt are pretty much equally popular. We are a very horsey nation. (not me though, I think horses are beautiful creatures but the sport bores me senseless)

It could also be that a tradition of breeding jumpers in the USA never really developed. I believe the saying is, “Horses for courses” - horses meant to run on flat surfaces don’t tend to do well in steeplechasing, and vice versa.

Another possible explanation: jumpers tend to be older horses, and in the USA, there is a mindset of “race 'em and then breed 'em.” Most older horses that race are geldings; the best example I can come up with is John Henry, who won the 1984 Arlington Million at age 9.

As for betting, IIRC, the only time there has been betting on a steeplechase race in the USA - and even then, I am not entirely sure it was allowed - was when the Breeders Cup Steeplechase was held at Belmont Park.

Speaking of England vs USA, here’s another one: why do most English tracks have grass and run clockwise, while in the USA, most races are counter-clockwise and on dirt (or some artificial dirt-like surface)? I think the direction has something to do with driving on the left/right side, but that doesn’t explain the surface difference.

That’s partly a function of climate; turf courses don’t do well in North American winters nor during summer storms.

Thanks for all the replies.

RealityChuck: Have no fear, they love to bet on the horses in England as well. Keep in mind that this is a nation in which one may legally place a bet on anything you can convince a bookie to offer you odds on; they’re not missing out on the opportunity to bet on horses just because there are some jumpy bits in the middle.

Robot Arm: Cross-country actually sounds quite interesting. I shall tuck it away for such time as my income enables me to join the horsey set. :slight_smile:

That Don Guy: You’re not kidding about the age thing. Hearing the ages of the horses in the recent Grand National and earlier Cheltenham meeting sorta blew my mind, coming from the states where the horses tend to be 2-3 years old tops.

FWIW, while I personally think it’d be more interesting to watch a race w/ jumpy bits, I’m not necessarily too disappointed that this isn’t popular here in the states–the added complication of jumps,with a whole field of horses trying to get the advantage, introduces some serious safety issues that probably aren’t worth the added entertainment value for some schmuck who likes to watch horses do horsey things.

Not true. Virtually all of the Saratoga steeplechase races allow betting, and have since at least 1934 (when the oldest steeplechase horse in my book of all-time champions (Jungle King) went off at 7-2 odds at Saratoga.)

More recently, I see that betting was allowed at the Fair Hill steeplechase course in Maryland - and not only for the Breeders’ Cup Steeplechase (held there in 1986-1989 and 1991.)

Link to Breeders’ Cup Steeplechase info.

Also, Keeneland used to host the Royal Chase steeplechase, and also took bets on that (at least in 2007.)

And to add to the conversation, I think one of the reasons steeplechasing isn’t as popular here is that Americans don’t have much of a stomach for seeing horses fall as often as they do over the hurdles.

EDIT: Speaking of which, it looks like jump races might be coming to the currently-shuttered Suffolk Downs race track just outside Boston.

There’s quite a bit of it on YouTube, including a 6-hour video of the complete Cross Country portion of the 3-day Event at the 2012 Olympics. The first rider starts at about 7:20.

Just to point out that of the fifty nine racecourses in GB, twenty race clockwise whereas thirty seven race counter-clockwise.

Of the remaining two, Windsor is laid out in a figure of eight configuration while at Fontwell the steeplechases are run over a figure of eight and the hurdles races are run round the outside of the track counter-clockwise.