Steeplechase horse racing is one of the oldest organized sports in the world and the annual 4 mile chase held at Aintree near Liverpool England, known better as the English Grand National, is one of the most watched and bet on sporting events on Earth.
Steeplechasing’s origins lie in rural Ireland during the 1700’s, where two fox hunters probably having had far too much to drink on a morning’s hunt decided to wager a ‘my horse is faster and better than your’s and I will prove this to you by racing you to the next town’s church steeple.’ Following this friendly race, the sport was born. To this day, the highest structure in a rural Irish town is the church steeple, hence where the name “steeplechasing” comes from as it was the easiest object to find on the horizon. My recent 10 day trip to Ireland to ride for a point to point trainer’s yard and go racing with the barn I was working for was yet another opportunity I couldn’t pass up while abroad.
Point to pointing, or as the Irish say it ‘pint ta pinting,’ is the most basic and pure form of the sport. Limited to amateur riders, the horses are very much thoroughbred race horses as you would see at any other track or steeplechase race meeting around the world, but under Irish racing rules, the horses must also be registered with a fox hunt in Ireland which keeps point to pointing very much grounded in it’s traditional roots.
I was lucky enough to land in trainer Paurick O’Connor’s yard riding alongside his younger brother, Derek, who is a living legend and 7 times amateur champion jockey. It was 10 days filled with riding out on many sets in the morning but was a fabulous opportunity to school some of the horses over the chase fences and go racing on the two Sunday’s I was in the country.
The first sunday of October 3rd, we went racing at Castle Geogehan where Derek O’Connor took his older brother Paurick’s thoroughbred superstar ‘Tyrone Golden Rain’ to the winner circle along with two of his other mounts on the day. Mixed rain and sunshine made for dramatic photos of muddy racing and some spectacular falls in front of my shooting position made it a memorable day at the races.
The second Sunday of October 10th, the point to point calendar moved to Tinahely, in Eastern Ireland. The rolling green hills made for a fabulous backdrop for racing photos. Though the two horses the barn took to the races ran poorly, it was an enjoyable day of pointing in Ireland. If you ever get the chance to come to Ireland between the months of October and May, make sure you seek out one of the local race meetings. The Irish live and breathe their steeplechasing and you will certainly find the real Ireland at these races. Just make sure your bring your wellies.Many thanks go out to Becky Smith, Paurick O’Connor, Derek O’Connor, Grainne O’Connor and many others for a fabulous 10 days.