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Q&A: National Steeplechase Association’s Guy Torsilieri

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What’s the NSA?

Guy Torsilieri: It’s the governing body of jump racing in North America. Based in Fair Hill, Md., the NSA licenses participants, approves race courses, trains officials, coordinates race entries, enforces rules, compiles an official database, and oversees the national marketing and public relations of the sport. On a broader scale, the NSA is the guiding hand of the sport’s proud legacy. It’s dedicated to preserving steeplechase tradition and history in the 21st century.

What makes a steeplechase horse?

GT: He or she is a thoroughbred who likely started racing on the flats but didn’t succeed. These horses thrive in a different setting, running distances of at least two miles, jumping four-foot fences every eighth of a mile or so. They’re glad to leave the starting gate and dirt behind and run on turf. They’re smart and athletic.

How did steeplechase get started?

GT: The first recorded steeplechase was a match race run in Ireland in 1752—literally a steeplechase from one church to another, a distance of 4.5 miles. In Britain, Queen Elizabeth II is a keen fan. The sport became popular with the foxhunting set in the United States, with families bearing well-known names like du Pont, Mellon, Vanderbilt, Whitney, Widener, Clark and Phipps racing horses over fences.

How widespread is jump racing?

GT: The 34 race meets sanctioned by the NSA are focused in 11 states, including Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania. Nearly 200 sanctioned steeplechase races—worth more than $4.6 million—occur in the U.S. every year, with nearly 500 horses competing.

What do the horses jump over?

GT: The obstacles used in most races are manmade fences known as National Fences, consisting of a steel frame stuffed with plastic brush and a foam-rubber roll, covered with green canvas on the takeoff side. Horses jump the fence in stride, much like human hurdlers in track-and-field events. Jumps are trucked to racetracks up and down the East Coast and are set up on turf courses before the races.

Timbers are wooden post-and-rail obstacles. A few race meets have natural brush fences. And some—including Willowdale—have a water obstacle.

What’s on the horizon for jump racing?

GT: Established in 2015, the NSA’s Promotion and Growth Committee launched the Go Jump Racing campaign, a strategy to attract new horses and owners to jump racing, while continuing to engage current owners. The committee led an advertising campaign featuring flat-racing owners who also participate in jump racing. In addition, the committee launched the Owner-Trainer Symposium and Auction and has conducted surveys of steeplechase participants.

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