Jump racing has been advertised as “the first second career for many flat horses,” but what many owners and trainers in flat racing don’t fully understand is how old steeplechase horses are and can be. Just because they have peaked a year earlier and are ending their flat career at the age of 5 or 6, doesn’t mean that they are too old to move on to jump racing.
Horses who run over timber are notoriously known for running into their teenage years and with success. Timber races are races run at a distance of 3 miles or longer at a slower pace than hurdle races and the obstacles that are jumped are solid fences ranging in height depending on the course. Because of the slower pace, horses don’t have to be fast in order to be successful at this type of racing. All you need is a sound, solid horse who has great stamina and is a careful jumper. How does a flat horse go on to have these qualities? Easy. One of the best horses in timber racing right now, Grinding Speed, was a $5,000 claimer before finding his niche jump racing.
However, timber racing isn’t the only kind of jump racing with ageless wonders. Decoy Daddy was a stakes horse who ran until he was 13, Divine Fortune ran against the best in the sport in grade 1 races until he was 12 and won the Eclipse Award as a 10 year old, Mixed Up won an eclipse award at the age of 10, Ninepins won the Grade 1 Turf Writers at the age of 13, and many of the top horses running over hurdles are over the age of 7.
Many horses begin their jump careers over hurdles, and then go on to be timber horses later on in their career. A horse named Be Great, trained by Todd Mckenna, won two races over hurdles before switching to timber. He has won many point to point races and just this year won the Geneseo Hunt Cup, a timber stakes race held in New York.
Other than the misconception about age, size is another big factor that is very misunderstood about steeplechase horses. A horse doesn’t have to be huge to be a successful jumper. Mixed Up, the 2009 Eclipse award winner, was just a smidge over 15 hands. He was small, but mighty. He ran around the Colonial Cup course when the natural fences were still intact, and they were as tall as him! Be Great, who I mentioned earlier, is also just barely 15 hands. Not only did he run and win over hurdles, he also jumped around one of the bigger timber courses in the country in the Geneseo Hunt Cup and won the race to boot! It is really important that people understand size is not the one and only deciding factor of whether or not a horse can make it as a steeplechase horse. A small horse can have just as much success as a large horse, they just have to have the heart to do it!
So the next time an owner or trainer of a flat horse makes the decision that their horse is ready to move on to their second career, I hope they will consider steeplechase racing. What I really hope is those same owners will be interested in continuing to own their once flat horse, as they make the transistion to jump racing. It is a very exciting sport, and not shared with enough people!