Types of Horse Races explained

Types of Horse Races:


Races restricted to horses that have never won a race under that specific code


Open to maidens but also to winners of either one or two races. The winners usually have to carry extra weight (a penalty) according to the race conditions. Horses are no longer eligible for some novice events once they have raced more than a specified number of times.


This can be a handicap or a non-handicap. The key element is the winner is offered for auction in the winner’s enclosure post-race. All beaten horses in a seller are available to claim via the same methods outlined for claiming races.


Every horse in a claimer can be bought after the race for a price registered at the time of entry. That price is one of the factors dictating the weight each horse carries; the higher the price, the higher the weight to be carried.

If more than one person puts in a ‘claim’ to secure the horse, lots are drawn to decide the winning claim. A ‘friendly claim’ is one placed by the horse’s existing connections.


Horses are allotted weight according to their handicap rating to enable those of varied ability to race competitively against each other with a realistic chance of success. There are maiden and novice handicaps, combining the principals of a handicap with the restrictions of those race types.


The BHA is to trial a new type of race, known as an optional claiming handicap, in a bid to diversify the race programme and create more opportunities for horses in events that are not based solely on their handicap ratings.

It is hoped that optional claiming handicaps will help stimulate trade in a group of higher-rated horses who do not appeal to foreign buyers or as potential jumpers, namely the ‘twilight zone’ horses who find winning opportunities hard to come by.

Starting on July 18 at Yarmouth, the ten-race trial is pitched at horses rated in the 80s and 90s. These events will be staged over distances from six furlongs to a mile, and each carry a total prize fund of £30,000.


Eligibility for these races is determined by a horse’s handicap mark but the weight carried is not. For example, the race might be designed for horses rated 0-65 but all carry the same weight whether their handicap rating is 65 or not. These races provide an opportunity for horses of similar ability to compete on level terms.


Confined to horses from the less expensive end of the sales spectrum. The race conditions dictate that price limit. The price is based on the sales price of the individual horse and weight allowances may be granted for horses purchased at various increments below the stated value.


Also confined to horses from the less expensive end of the spectrum. In this case, the median price of a sire’s offspring at the sales is the value that determines which horses can run. Horses by a sire who generated a median price of not more than the value in the race conditions at the sales are eligible to run, with the exception in some cases of individuals bought for more than twice the amount stated in the race conditions.


Theses races are confined by the jockey type. Either an apprentice (ie a professional jockey just starting out on their career who have not ridden out their claim) or an amateur (a jockey without a professional license) will ride with allowances given to those with lower numbers of winners.


Every racing country runs elite races for their very best horses. In the 1970s, the major European racing nations cooperated to produce a template to specify when and where those elite races should be staged in Europe.

The idea was to avoid similar races clashing in the calendar, resulting in a dilution in quality and field size for each, and to certify the continuing quality of those races. This framework became known as the Pattern and has been copied throughout the world.

The highest level of contest is known as Group 1 or Grade 1; Group 2 and Group 3 races are the next two levels below in this hierarchy.

The continuing status of these races depends on handicappers from around the globe agreeing on their yearly performance figures. The average figure for the first four horses in each year’s renewal is then in turn averaged with those from the previous two years. That three-year average must fall within certain parameters in order for the race to retain its status. In rare cases, there can be exceptions to this strict process of upgrades and downgrades.

The International Federation of Horseracing Authorities agrees on the standing of each race based on those figures and taking into account the history of the race.

British Group 1s include races like the Derby, the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot or the Nunthorpe Stakes on the Flat. Over Jumps, races like the Champion Hurdle and Cheltenham Gold Cup are included.

In 2018 Britain staged 36 Group 1 races on the Flat, 40 Group 2 races and 73 Group 3 races. Over Jumps in Britain, there are 40 Grade 1, 67 Grade 2 and 40 Grade 3 races. The premise of Group races is that they should be level-weights contests to determine which horse is best, but the conditions always incorporate allowances for fillies/mares competing against colts/geldings and the weight-for-age scale. Horses that have recently won at that grade or higher are usually also required to carry a penalty.

Listed races are the stepping-stone between handicap races and the Pattern, with the weights carried determined in a similar way to Group races.

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