What do you think of when you think of horse racing? The glitz and glamour of Royal Ascot? The pomp and ceremony of Epsom? The twinkle of a champagne flute; the frills of a wide-brimmed hat; the haze of blue Royal Enclosure badges?
Well, it’s time to expunge all that from your memory — at least until next year. Because the national hunt racing season is upon us. Characterised by the chilly, frosty winter weather and avid, utterly engrossed audiences, this season is a very, very different set-up to summer flat-racing; but it’s no less gripping, enrapturing or energising for that. And as world-leading bookmaker Fitzdares has found, there are multiple opportunities to support the season in all its mud-splattered, triumphant glory.
But we’re ahead of ourselves. If you’re not wholly familiar with just what, exactly, national hunt racing is: you’re not alone. Unless you’re a horse racing pro (or severely invested amateur), you’ll most likely centre the majority of your racing knowledge in its summer iterations: so allow us to plug those gaps in your knowledge forthwith.
In purely simple terms, national hunt racing sees the best horses in the business jumping their way over various obstacles. The ‘season proper’ begins in October — just imagine watching a scintillating race while surrounded by autumn leaves and the gently wafting scents of woodsmoke — and finishes up in April, when the flat-racing season kicks off. (That said, jumps racing is run all year round — but if you’re looking for quality, you’ll want to prioritise the autumn and winter months).
National hunt racing is the chance of a lifetime for a young horse. Younger horses might start off in a ‘bumper’ race (the colloquial term for a National Hunt Flat Race), to gain invaluable experience on the racecourse before embarking on a novice hurdling career. If the word ‘hurdle’ has made you think of school Sports Days, you’ve got the right idea; though in national hunt racing, hurdles are much smaller than fences. Horses will hold their ‘novice’ status for a full season, and many then go on to jump full fences; before most likely spending another season in novice chase company before progressing to open season.
These horses are utterly unique; which is one of the many reasons why we, as well as Fitzdares, are so excited for the season to begin. These horses run for much longer than ‘Flat’ horses; they return season after season, as opposed to their ‘Flat’ contemporaries. The result? National hunt horses tend to capture the public interest (and their hearts; Tiger Roll, winner of the Grand National in 2018 and 2019, being a prime example).
Of course, you may have been reading so far with one word hovering on the peripheries of your consciousness (or just as likely reverberating around your brain): Cheltenham. The Cheltenham Festival takes place in March each year (following six previous meetings throughout the season); and it’s commonly considered to be the ‘Olympics’ of jumps racing. It’s where the ‘Championship’ races of the season take place; which is understandable, given the phenomenal quality and immense prestige the Festival has garnered over the years.
Fitzdares loves, respects and reveres Cheltenham as much as the next jumps-racing expert; but in its typical loyal, steadfast fashion, the bookmaker has opted, this year, to show its support to the other prestigious races of the season. Cheltenham’s (deserved) status is such that it can often cast other, less well-known shows into shadow. Shows like The Tingle Creek; the King George Chase; the Christmas Hurdle; the Long Walk Hurdle; the Ascot Chase; Clarence House Chase; and others.
The bookmaker has gone into more detail in its ‘mockumentary’ on the subject; but this year, it’s looking to support the season as a whole – and it’s doing so with an offer that you’ll most certainly want to take advantage of…
Fitzdares is offering money back if your horse finishes second to the rag of the field (a horse priced at 20/1 or greater) on every jump race in the UK and Ireland, with the exception of Cheltenham. In so doing, the bookmaker hopes to support the races that don’t always receive the attention, focus and acclaim they thoroughly deserve.
So whether you’re a national hunt racing enthusiast or entirely new to the national hunt racing game; this is the year to support the season as a whole. Go to Cheltenham, by all means; you’ll have a wonderful time if you do. But don’t forget about the other races of the season. They’re making history, too; and if you think national hunt racing could be the activity for you, you’ll want to be a part of it.
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