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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 November, 2003, 11:59 GMT
Guide to National Hunt
By Sophie Brown

Action from the 2000 Cheltenham Gold Cup
Jump racing can be spectacular to watch
National Hunt is the official name for jump racing.

Although jumps meetings are held year-round, the season proper starts in mid-October with the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby the first big race.

The first major meeting comes halfway through November, when Cheltenham stages its Open meeting, featuring the Paddy Power Pink Gold Cup.

The Cheltenham Festival in mid-March is the focus of the season, before the action tails off after the Grand National in April.

Jump races can be broadly divided into steeplechases and hurdle races.

In steeplechases, which are run over distances from 2-4 miles, horses have to jump fixed fences, which are at least 4ft high.

Hurdle races, run over distances from 2-3m, involve smaller, less rigid obstacles, at least 3ft high, which often collapse when hit by a jumping horse.

National Hunt has a much less glamorous reputation than Flat racing.

The prize money on offer is considerably less and because the most important part of the season stretches across the winter months, warm rather than fashionable outfits are the order of the day for spectators.

But many would argue its relatively small financial rewards and lack of airs and graces make it more of a true sport.

Attendances have been rising over recent years but so have costs and the threat of tracks turning more to all-weather racing - which is cheaper to stage and much less likely to be abandoned because of bad weather - is growing.

Meanwhile, the long-running Office of Fair Trading investigation into how racing is regulated could also threaten the future of jump racing.

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