What is a bumper in horse racing?

When we talk about ‘bumpers’ in horse racing, we’re referring to a race officially known as a National Hunt Flat Race. Designed for horses who have not previously ran on the Flat, bumpers are for horses specifically bred for jump racing.


No horse that is older than seven years old or that has run under any recognised Rules of Racing is eligible to run in a bumper, and none of the runners are allowed to have run more than four times beforehand.


Where does the name come from?


Bumper horse racing is one of the oldest and oddest traditions of the sport! Although experienced and professional jockeys now run in bumpers, historically they were reserved for the inexperienced amateurs and conditional riders.


The term ‘bumper’ came to refer to the uncoordinated horses and jockeys who often bumped into each other when racing. Some people also think that the nickname came from the tendency of new jockeys to bump up and down in the saddles rather than stay solid.


Why do horses run in bumper horse races?


Bumpers are all about gaining experience! At this stage of their career, the horses may be considered too slow to win a flat race under flat racing rules, or too weak to go over obstacles.


Bumper races also give horses the opportunity to race at speeds they haven’t before. Think of bumper races as a training ground for future jumpers! Several high-profile horses have taken this route and gone on to be successes in both racing codes, like the 2019 winner of the Championship Bumpers, Envoi Allen.


How does a bumper race work?


Although bumper races are run under the rules of Jump racing, they are a flat race without jumps or obstacles. Bumpers do not use starting stalls and are instead started from behind elasticated tapes which stretch across the racecourse. They typically last between 1 mile 4 furlongs and 2 miles 1 furlong, which gives young, untried horses fantastic racecourse experience without the stress of having to negotiate obstacles.


The lack of fences and hurdles can mean that the horses run faster, but often horses may be slower due to their inexperience. It can be notoriously difficult to predict the winner of a bumper race!


How should I bet on a bumper horse race?


It can be tricky to bet on bumpers, especially in the early season, because of the unpredictable nature of the inexperienced horses – they have little previous form to analyse.


If you do fancy a flutter, try studying the breeding of the horses, which will highlight which sires and mares tend to do well in bumper races. You could also research which National Hunt trainers have gained the most bumper victories in the past couple of years.


Where can I watch a bumper race?


There are plenty of bumpers throughout the racing calendar, and you will normally see bumpers run as the last race of the day – something to look forward to! There are some fantastic horse racing events at Newbury Racecourse this year, so why not come along and join us?