New cross-country horse race series for Europe

November 10, 2009

Jumps a bank at Ireland's Punchestown, which is part of The Crystal Cup series.

Six European countries have joined forces to host a new cross-country steeplechase challenge in 2010. The horses will race over cross-country courses of hedges, walls, ditches, banks and rails.

The Crystal Cup will involve a total of 10 races in France, Belgium, Italy, the Czech Republic, Ireland and Great Britain, with combined prize money of more than €700,000.

All the courses are different but take racing back to the roots of how steeplechasing began with a selection of natural and man-made obstacles incorporating banks, ditches, hedges, water and timber rails.

The most successful stable, accumulating the highest number of points throughout the series, will receive the Crystal Cup and €10,000, to be shared between the trainer and stable staff.

The schedule for the 10 participating races starts in Pau, Western France, in February, with the Grande Cross worth €75,000.

The series features four further races in France at Fontainebleau, Compiégne, Lion D'Angers and Craon and travels to Punchestown in Ireland for the La Touche Cup in April, Waregem in Belgium for the €100,000 ING grote Steeple Chase van Vlaanderen in August, to Merano in Italy for the Grand Cross in September and to the Czech Republic for the world famous Velka Pardubika in October. The race features 31 obstacles and usually takes 9-10 minutes to finish.

A jump on the Grande Cross steeplechase course in France.
The final race of the series is at Cheltenham's International Meeting in December, on a course designed by three-day-event course designer and British Eventing chief executive Mike Etherington-Smith, who created the cross-country course for the Beijing Olympics last year. He has also been selected to design the course for the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky next year.

The configuration of the Cheltenham course deliberately weaves around the centre of Prestbury Park, with turns to the left and right leading competitors on a variety of routes and directions. One of the main differences between the cross-country course and the steeplechase courses at Cheltenham is the materials used to build the fences. Chase fences are constructed from 'dead' materials whereas the fences on the cross-country course are living, growing trees, shrubs and bushes, which are regularly trimmed for racing.

This multi-national challenge will see steeplechase champion trainers Josef Vana from the Czech Republic, Enda Bolger from Ireland and France's Guillaume Macaire compete head-to-head with their strong teams of horses to produce the first European Crystal Cup Champion.

Points will be awarded to the first six horses to finish in each race, with extra bonus points awarded to horses that have travelled from abroad to take part.