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The first steeplechases took place in Ireland where horses jumped obstacles and raced from steeple to steeple. In the modern era steeplechases or chases are races that are run over fences.
In National Hunt racing there are two types of obstacle: hurdles and fences. Hurdles are smaller than fences and require a different action to jump. Hurdle races are generally shorter than chases and fewer obstacles are jumped.
Inexperienced horses in the United Kingdom compete in novice chases, handicap chases and conditions chases. The most prestigious steeplechase in the world is the Cheltenham Gold Cup, which takes place at the Cheltenham Festival in March.
A chase is a race in which horses jump fences as opposed to hurdles. This type of race is run over distances from two miles to four miles and three furlongs.
There are a variety of fences in a chase: plain fences, open ditches and a water jump. There are usually no more than two open ditches in any circuit and just one water jump, which on many tracks is positioned in front of the stands. The fences are at least four and a half feet in height and the core material is birch and spruce. Only flat races start from stalls and hurdles and chases begin when the starter lifts the tape.
Chasers are usually older than hurdlers but they can graduate from to National Hunt flat races to hurdles and ultimately to chases. Young horses gain experience in hurdle races and then move on to chases.
Chases are held on 40 racecourses in the UK. The most famous chases are the Cheltenham Gold Cup and Grand National. Amateur steeplechasing is known as point-to-pointing because races take place from two points on the track.
As with distances or other forms of racing, some horses are better at steeplechases than others. When looking at runners in a particular race, the form guide is something to take into account for a steeplechase as with any other form of horse racing.