How Do I Steeplechase?

Steeplechase 615 X 400
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire


Recently I have been expanding my horse racing boundaries and participating in some “for fun” handicapping competitions. I must say, not only have they been exceptionally entertaining, but they give me a chance to measure my handicapping skills up against many other fans.


My most recent challenge was to try to pick the winners of 4 races from either Arlington or Belmont on the Thursday cards. When I evaluate any racing form the first thing I look at is the distance, class, and racing surface that the race will be held on. To my surprise the first two races at Belmont were both hurdle races. Before I go further with my evaluation of these races, I want to be very clear with what my pre-disposed notion of jump racing is like:


1. Horses fall…a lot

2. Jump racing is primarily raced in Europe

3. I know nothing about jump racing strategy, pace , or pedigree

4. This sport is a war of attrition


To date, item number 1 above has kept me from actively looking into jump racing. There are few things in all of sports that make me cringe more than the sight of watching a galloping horse and jockey fall. My experience (and developed Pavlovian response) with flat racing is that when a horse falls, it is typically for a reason that will not have a positive outcome. Couple this with all of the media coverage of jump races like the Grand National which count falls a published statistic; I want no part of it.


Now that we have gotten that out of the way, I want to get back to my handicapping challenge. Looking at these two races, one of which is a Grade 1 stakes race, I couldn’t help but first notice some distinct differences from flat racing. Top imposts of 156 lbs and a racing distance of 2 ½ miles, are these guys nuts?!?!


Once my hyperventilating subsided, I began to really break down why my mind had just been blown. Having no experience with jump racing, all I could picture in my head was exhausted horses coming down the stretch of the Belmont Stakes knowing they had another mile to race and friggen fences in the way! Ok Matt…calm down…. Not all races are run like you’re being chased by the devil, and when horses pace themselves appropriately, the defining characteristic of the breed show its truest form. Stamina is not only defined by sprinting as far as you can, but also by how long you can sustain any level of activity.


They may not have the short term excitement of a 6 furlong sprint, but that doesn’t mean they can’t show the same aspects that constitute a great horse race. Jump racing is not wrong, it is just different. Yes, when you put stuff in the way of horses galloping at 25 miles per hour, they’re going to get tripped up, and going to fall. But when you aren’t going at full speed, the falls are less violent and injury inducing. Although still not pretty, at least I can have some piece of mind.


Running cross-country in high school, my coach used to always tell complaining teammates, “Every other person in the race faced the same conditions, so quit whining, get back out there and toughen up!” I learned quickly, but the lesson was more than just a proverbial slap in the face. It taught me that on any given day the best athlete may not always win. Those with the mental toughness to push through adversity can overcome physical handicaps and have a distinct advantage over competition that solely relies on talent. And so we circle back to the Lonesome Glory Handicap.


Scanning through the horses, and having no clue about steeplechase strategy, I decided to find the best competitor and use that horse.  My checklist:


1.     Mental toughness: Needed to have finished all of their races competitively

2.     Physical toughness: Needed to finish all of their races…period

3.     Physical Ability: Needed to have won at the top level of competition

4.     Winning trainer and jockey


I landed on the #2 Demonstrative. He’s a multiple G1 winning hurdler in the USA, and seemed to throw a dud his last time out. The form record just said “bumped after 9th, steadied.” But he won four of the previous five races, three of which were grade 1’s.  He met all of my criteria above, and I liked his morning line odds. Also, did I mention he’s by Elusive Quality out of a Quiet American mare? If there’s ever a pedigree that screamed endurance, this is one of them. Why would a horse with a dream pedigree not be flat racing? I decided to not speculate on something to which I have very limited knowledge. Here we go with my Hail Mary.


Demonstrative ended up 4th after trying to rally four wide around the last turn.


Despite being wrong with my pick, this race reminded me of what is so much fun about handicapping. I wasn’t distracted with speed figures, track bias, and pace. I just had the joy of taking an approach to finding a horse that had the characteristics that a winning horse should. Sometimes ignorance truly is bliss. 


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Older Comments about How Do I Steeplechase?...

I'm sure it didn't help with the complaints that one of the horses had to be euthanized. (Sulwaan)
There's not only the stamina aspect involved. Many of these spills occur due to tight quarters over the jump itself and upon landing. Its just part of the game.
when you launch a tiring animal of almost 1000 pounds in the air, near the end some won't have strength to make it over..Where do these goons live in outer space? That is a norm for the jumps.
Twitter was full of people complaining about the Steeplechase races at Belmont today after a couple of horses fell.
Two words: Jonathan Sheppard.
great write up and I love that you chose to step out of you comfort zone and went for a hurdle race in the contest
As a candidate for Steeplechase HOTY last year, Demonstrative was a solid choice in a field where any one of about 5-6 of the entrants stood a good chance of winning. It was a fun experience, and I'd gladly do it again!

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