As we all know by now, horse racing in the United Kingdom and Ireland splits fairly neatly into three sections – Flat turf, Flat All-Weather, and National Hunt, or jumps racing as it is better known. We have that luxury on an almost daily basis, but the rest of the world are not so lucky with races over fences or hurdles seen more as a bit of fun rather than the serious sport we all enjoy and where our horse racing tips can turn a profit.
Although not as well publicised here as it could be, they do race over obstacles in France (more races than Ireland in 2012, but away from Auteuil and Craon, it’s pretty mediocre stuff), Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic, Spain, America, Japan, New Zealand, and Australia, but it has never really grabbed the public’s attention like flat racing has in those Countries.
Reasons for this are open to question but the fact is that the lack of betting at many of the American courses, for example, leads to an ever-diminishing core base of fans with newcomers rarely attracted to a sport seen as nothing more than a novelty. They do have the Maryland Cup which is one of racing’s great spectacles over the four miles, but they race less than once a week and are seen more as charitable money raisers than anything more serious.
In France they have plenty of racing and a very strong breeding industry (just look at the number of French breds successful over here in recent years), but it is basically a betting medium churning out contest after contest for the off-course punters, and very few turning out at the courses in person with some pretty horrendous attendance figures.
Japan is a little different in that it is seen as a second-class citizen in comparison to its richer rival, but they do hold the Nakayama Grand Jump each April which had prize money of £440,000 for the winner in 2018 and as a comparison makes it slightly less than our own Grand National (£500,000), but £30,000 ahead of the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Sadly, it is there because it has been for many years, with the public disinterested and betting turnover on their biggest jumps race approximately 10% or less of the better races on the flat.
Away from the betting, it simply costs a lot more to put on a jumps meeting than it does on the flat with the care of the fences and so on, while warmer and dryer weather elsewhere in the world brings its own issues with regard to safe going that horses can race on without breaking down.
Historically, our National Hunt racing revolves around the dreaded phrase “Fox Hunting” where the original horses came from and it is, to this day, seen as a sport for the gentry and those with plenty of money. With the chances of turning a profit seemingly slimmer than on the flat with lower prize money and little or no breeding potential unless you own a mare (with the majority of the males gelded for obvious reasons), you do need deep pockets, but if it’s your hobby and you can afford it, why not. That’s the negative side, but on the plus side and barring injury, they race for longer with no need to rush off for a career at stud and therein lies the popularity for me – the ability to follow a horse throughout a long and varied career from bumpers to hurdles to chases and perhaps the road that leads to Cheltenham, the very pinnacle of our sport.