with Horse and Hound

Why We Cover the Hunt Races

NormanMy answer to the question is threefold: first, the very notion of the point-to-point race originated with foxhunters; second, many of our great field hunters have come from the ranks of the timber horses, and conversely many of the best steeplechase horses have their start in the hunting field; and third, most of the steeplechase jockeys are foxhunters as well.

As Catherine Austen reminds us in Thoroughbred Owner & Breeder, “Hunt racing has its roots firmly lodged in the hunting field. Point-to-pointing started when two hunting men, Edmund Blake and Cornelius O’Callaghan, challenged each other to a race in 1752 for four-and-a-half miles across country from Buttevant Church to Donraile Church in County Cork. They jumped everything in their path, and by keeping the steeple of Donraile Church in sight (steeple-chasing), the two men kept to the planned route along the banks of the Awbeg River. The same line can still be taken while hunting with the Duhallow Foxhounds now.

“Amateur jump racing evolved from there….”

McDynamo, Lonesome Glory, Private Attack, and many more great steeplechase horses loved to hunt. Buck Jakes was still hunting in his twenties. And it’s not just the horses that love to hunt; so do the steeplechase jockeys.

Paul Carberry is a race rider and whipper-in to the Ward Union Staghounds in Ireland. Carberry wrote the following letter in 2009 to then Minister for the Environment explaining how the two sports go hand-in-hand.

“Every Friday in winter I miss racing in order to hunt with the Ward Union. Why? I need to keep my eye in.

“I get up on a racehorse each Friday, November to February, and we’re off, hounds out front. Way ahead there’s a wild Irish red deer stag, and he’s out there jumping and towing us across huge hedges, cavernous drains, deep ditches, and through the beautiful lush green Irish countryside.

“So, when it comes to the Grand National and I am coming to Becher’s Brook, I see the tension in the English jockey’s shoulders. I sense his fear. He doesn’t realise it but he is holding his horse just a ‘gnat’s tight’ and we’re seven strides out, galloping 40 miles an hour, to a deadly drop. Suddenly you are there. The moment of truth, and in my head I know I jumped bigger following the stag the previous month.

“I kick on, I hear the brush of the top of the fence and we’re headed down and down, and the horse lands, I adjust my balance and I feel his lungs fill, his head comes up and we are galloping on. Out of the corner of my goggles I see a flailing body, the English jockey is gone and I look around and there are just a few of us in contention now, Barry [Geraghty], Ruby [Walsh], and this year, coming on behind me, is Puppy [Robert Power], all regulars hunting with the Ward Union.

“How come all the big jump races are being won consistently by Irish jockeys? It all starts with brave kids hunting bold ponies. Hunting is what gives us our bottle.” [By kind permission, Thoroughbred Owner & Breeder.]

So, FHL covers hunt races because foxhunting and steeplechasing are one and indivisible. (Note, however, that we report solely on the hunt races; the sanctioned races are more than well-covered by the Clancy brothers of ST Publishing and other bloodstock journals.)

Posted April 4, 2014