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In jumps racing in Britain there are four types of race: hurdle, chase, bumper and cross country. Obstacles are jumped in hurdles and chases. A bumper is a flat race for horses bred for National Hunt racing and a cross country race features a variety of obstacles including hurdles. These are smaller than the fences jumped in steeplechases and are more forgiving. A horse can brush through a hurdle and not fall or be slowed down.
There are fewer fallers in hurdle races than chases and hurdles can be moved on a track while fences are fixed. Fixed brush hurdles are also made from a different material than conventional hurdles.
A hurdle race is generally the first type of race with obstacles that a young horse will contest. When an inexperienced National Hunt horse is schooled the first obstacles are hurdles. Horses who are successful over hurdles often graduate to chases in which fences are jumped. A hurdle is three and a half feet high while fences are a foot higher and bigger.
Horses that have run on the flat or not run at all can be difficult to assess when they run over hurdles for the first time. Running at speed on the flat is totally different to running and jumping and form does not always translate from one type of race to another.
The most prestigious hurdle race in the sport is the Champion Hurdle. This is the championship race for the discipline which is run over two miles and eight hurdles on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival in March.
The very best hurdlers might not graduate to fences and focus on winning races over the smaller obstacles. It takes an exceptional horse to win races over hurdles and then fences.