sport

Can flat horses compete in National Hunt events?

Horse racing
Written by Nigel Simpkins

The difference between flat horse racing events and national hunt steeplechases is startling. Usually, the runners in the former are younger and bred for speed, which means they don’t have the same level of stamina. The latter, on the other hand, is a staying competition that’s excellent for nags with a strong will to win.

They are often separated due to the differences, but can they compete together? There isn’t a race that combines both, so jump and flat horses have to switch codes. However, it’s not unusual for flat runners to turn into competent steeplechasers.

National Hunt Flat Races  

Not all national hunt entrants start as jumpers. Some begin on the flat thanks to national hunt flat races that are competed over a shorter distance. Fakir D’oudairies, for instance, is a Cheltenham contestant that has a fantastic chance of winning the Ryanair Chase, with the 2021 Cheltenham Festival odds ranking him at 8/1.  

The two joint-favourites, Allaho and Min, are 5/1 and aren’t much further ahead in the betting. However, Fakir D’oudairies’ first ever competitive race was in a one-mile-and-a-half NHF event at Lyon Parilly back in April 2018. And he’s only one example of a runner who started life avoiding steeplechases, only to go on to take on some of the best jump horses in the world at Cheltenham.  

He might not win, but he has an incredible chance of placing in the top three, something that trainer Joseph O’Brien believes is realistic. Speaking to Betfair, he said that Fakir D’oudairies is the yard’s main chance in a Grade 1 all week.  

Flexible Trainers  

It’s just about the horse. The trainer has a significant say in the process. After all, they mould them into the type of runner they want and pick and choose the events based on what they see in training. In Joseph O’Brien, Fakir D’oudairies has an incredibly flexible trainer who understands how to win both codes.  

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>🗣️ “He’s home safe and sound. We were delighted with his performance and it was a special day.”<br><br>Joseph O&#39;Brien is in no rush to firm up future plans for his Pertemps St Leger hero Galileo Chrome. 🏇🏆</p>&mdash; Timeform (@Timeform) <a href=”https://twitter.com/Timeform/status/1305607502243885056?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>September 14, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src=”https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>

Not only does O’Brien have multiple mounts saddling up throughout the Cheltenham Festival, but he made his name riding and training successful flat horses. The best example is Galileo Chrome, the winner of the 2020 St Leger. O’Brien also has victories to his name overseas, most noticeably claiming the Melbourne Cup twice as a trainer.  

With racing lovers like Joseph O’Brien at the helm, not to mention the powerful and bottomless connections and resources his father has, it’s not uncommon for flat horses to swap turf for obstacles.  

Experience  

Of course, nothing beats experience. And for flat horses to rise to the task of the national hunt season, they need as much hands-on practice as they can get to master the art of hurdling or chasing. You can see this throughout Fakir D’oudairies’ career.  

It took four races over hurdles for him to chalk up the first win of his career, which was swiftly followed by his second victory at Cheltenham the same year. However, his connections had to wait for another three races before he won again, and he hasn’t won since, although he has placed second quite often. He’s a progressive type, and will only get better the more runs he has under his belt.  

What should you take from this? That former flat horses can compete over jumps. Joseph O’Brien’s Fakir D’oudairies proves this beyond any doubt.