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Learn the Lingo for All Things Steeplechase This Racing Season

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Photos by Jim Graham

Here’s your complete glossary of common verbiage used in the world of steeplechase for upcoming races on and around the Main Line.

Steeplechase was born in 1752, when Cornelius O’Callaghan wagered Edmund Blake that his horse could gallop faster over the four miles of hills, hedges and streams between the steeples of Buttevant Church and St. Leger Church in Doneraile, Ireland. Since then, learning the lingo has always been part of the fun.

APPRENTICE. A jockey without a lot of experience. The National Steeplechase Association gives riders who haven’t won a race a 10-pound weight break. If the jockey has won fewer than 10 races, it’s five pounds.

FURLONG. One eighth of a mile, the standard measure in U.S. racing.

BLINKERS. A cloth hood with eye shades that limits a horse’s field of vision so he can’t be distracted during a race.

PADDOCK. The area where horses are saddled before a race. It’s also a great place for spectators to size up the horseflesh. Paddock time is the appointed time for horses to be in the paddock.

GELDING. A male horse that’s been castrated, usually to make him easier to train.

HANDICAP. The weight horses are assigned to carry, based on their abilities and past performances. The better the horse, the higher the weight.

IRONS. Stirrups.

MAIDEN. A horse that’s never won a race. In steeplechasing, a horse that’s won on the flat—a racetrack—is still a steeplechase maiden.

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MEETING. A slate of races.

NATIONAL FENCE. This portable manmade fence got its name from the National Steeplechase Association, which developed the structure. Standing 52 inches high, it consists of a steel frame stuffed with plastic brush.

NATIONAL STEEPLECHASE ASSOCIATION. The official governing body for steeplechase competitions in the United States, headquartered in Fair Hill, Md.

NOVICE. A horse in the early stages of its steeplechase career. Novice races give horses experience over obstacles before they compete with more seasoned jumpers.

POINT-TO-POINT: A race from one designated point to another, often organized by local groups as a fundraiser.

PURSE. Total money distributed in a race. The winner typically collects 60 percent, with smaller shares paid to the owners of horses who finished from second to fifth place. Trainers and jockeys get a cut, too.

SILKS. The colorful patterned jacket and cap worn by riders, letting spectators know who owns the horse.

SLOPPY. Used to describe a course that’s wet on the top and firmer underneath.

STEEPLECHASE. A race for thoroughbred horses over jumps and other obstacles.

STEEPLECHASE HORSE. All steeplechasers are thoroughbreds and are almost always older than horses on the flats. Most started in flat racing before being trained to jump. Because steeplechase races are more than twice as long as flat races, stamina is essential. Because they can’t be retired to stud, many geldings go on to have successful steeplechase careers after flat racing.

STEEPLECHASE JOCKEY.

Professional jockeys have weight limits, just as they do in flat racing. Weight limits for jump jockeys are traditionally higher than for flat jockeys— about 140 pounds, compared to 110 pounds. Steeplechase riders also tend to be taller than jockeys on the flats. Some well-known jockeys—including Jacinto Vasquez and Jean Cruguet—have ridden in steeplechases, but it’s rare.

STEEPLECHASE START. Horses don’t spring from a gate, as in flat races. Instead, they’re lined up and start from a standstill or a walk.

STEWARDS. The three presiding judges at a race meeting. These officials have the final decision on all matters pertaining to a race and can disqualify horses who interfere with other mounts. They have the power to fine owners, trainers or jockeys who violate the rules.

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TIMBER FENCE. A wooden fence constructed of boards, logs or posts and rails.

WINGS. The panels on either side of a steeplechase fence. They’re designed to guide a horse to a fence, versus skipping the jump by galloping around it.

WITHERS. The highest point of a horse’s shoulder.

Related: Your Complete Guide to This Year’s Races in the Main Line Region