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Reader Report: High Hope Steeplechase

“Every equestrian should see a steeplechase race at least once in their lives.” Noelle Maxwell reports on last week’s High Hope Steeplechase from the Kentucky Horse Park and makes a case for why steeplechasing should go on YOUR horsey bucket list.

All photos by Noelle Maxwell

The High Hope Steeplechase, held at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, KY, celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. The first meet was held in 1967, at Mr. Doug Davis’s High Hope Farm in Lexington. Initially, the High Hope Steeplechase held four races: the “Jay Trump,” the “Hamburg,” the “Shawnee,” and the “Lane’s End.” The meet was moved to the Kentucky Horse Park in 1974. From the beginning the meet has also been a major donor to local charities; this year they supported the University of Kentucky Children’s Hospital, the Norton Children’s Cancer Institute, Central Kentucky Riding for Hope, New Vocations, and the Kentucky Horse Park Foundation, among others.

If you’ve never seen a steeplechase race before, High Hope is a great introduction to the sport (even in the rain)! The website includes a helpful glossary of terms, there are several ticket package options, and the program looks like a work of art. The basic tickets get you a parking spot right on the rail where you can catch all the action, and they’re very reasonably priced. While I only watched the main races, there are plenty of other things to see while you’re there including pony races, sidesaddle races, and a parade of hounds. Most of the races on the card are novice hurdle races run over hedges rather than solid fences; “novice” races are for horses just starting their steeplechase careers, they’re restricted to horses who haven’t broken their maiden over jumps yet.

The highlight of the card is the Jay Trump novice timber race, run at three miles. The winner of this year’s Jay Trump was Formidable Heart, an eight-year-old gelding. Rudyard K and Handsome Hoyt finished second and third, respectively, and the remaining finishers in order were: Long House Saint (IRE), Pincer Movement (IRE), It’s Nothing, and Last Farewell.

Visitors to the Kentucky Horse park have probably seen “Jay Trump Drive,” which runs through the park. The race (and the road) are named for a horse, of course. Jay Trump was foaled in 1957 and won the Maryland Hunt Cup in 1963 and 1964. In 1964 he won Maryland’s timber racing “triple crown,” by sweeping the Hunt Cup, My Lady’s Manor, and the U.S. Grand National. His biggest accomplishment was becoming the second horse ever to win Great Britain’s Grand National at Aintree, in 1965. He came back to the United States and won the Maryland Hunt Cup for a third time in 1966, and afterwards was retired to his owner’s farm. He died at age 31 and is buried at the finish line of the steeplechase course at the Kentucky Horse Park.

The High Hope races are something everyone should see at least once in their lives. If you’re at all interested in steeplechasing (or, like me, if 99% of what you know about it comes from reading every Dick Francis mystery you can get your hands on), it is totally worth it. I feel like steeplechasing is flat racing’s cooler cousin; it’s a little more exciting to watch (and that is not a knock at flat racing), the races are run over longer distances (the two maiden races were both 2 1/8 miles), and it’s not something you see every day. If this isn’t on your horsey bucket list, it should be — seriously, it is way different from flat racing. Every equestrian should see a steeplechase race at least once in their lives.

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