To the casual horse racing punter, there are probably more race types than you might think. Naturally, horses are comfortable not only at different distances, but they also need to be separated in terms of ability and category.
Here’s a look at everything you can expect in terms of British racing types.
On the flat or over hurdles, a maiden is a horse which has never a won a race. Maiden races therefore contain horses which strictly haven’t won, though a winner on the flat can enter a maiden over hurdles and vice-versa.
Maidens take place from Class 6 right up to Class 3, with most being Classes 4 and 5. Those taking part can be debutants, or may have raced numerous times before without luck.
Novice chases and hurdles have been on the calendar for years, but on the flat they have become particularly popular over the past few years.
Maidens may also race in novice events, though they remain open to those horses who’ve won either one or two races before, often therefore carrying a weight penalty. As well as those having won more than twice, horses become ineligible for novices once they’ve run a certain number of times.
A few Class 2 novice races take place on the flat, while many are at a lower level. Over the jumps, novice races such as the Arkle Trophy are at the very top level, Grade 1.
The term beginners chase is also used over jumps, races for those who’ve not won before over fences, while introductory hurdle events are for those who have not run in more than one hurdle race.
Known simply as ‘sellers’, most of these events are weighted based on conditions, but some are in fact handicaps (see below).
The main factor in these races, as the name suggests, is that the winner is offered for sale or ‘auction’ in the winner’s enclosure after the race.
Selling races, traditionally, were thought of as being at the bottom of the pile and run at Class 6 level, though some are Class 5 events.
Very few horses have been bought out of selling races and then gone on to earn significant prize money.
Known as ‘claimers’, these races can be staged over hurdles or on the flat. Every horse taking part in a claimer can be bought out of its current yard after the race, each for the price registered at the point of entry.
While some owners may ideally want to keep hold of their horses, they cannot simply put a huge price on them. The price they decide on also helps to decide the weight they will carry in the race itself. The higher the price, the more weight that is to be carried.
If more than one buyer claims a certain horse, good old lots are drawn to decide the winning claim, although this system clearly needs to be updated.
The majority of races in Britain are handicaps. On the flat, those from Class 2 downwards may be handicaps but over the jumps many Listed and graded races, such as the Grand National which is a Grade 3, are also handicap events.
After having won or having run three times, horses can be allotted an official rating by the handicappers. This mark helps to assign weights in handicap races meaning, in theory, all horses have a similar chance of winning.
Some maiden and claiming handicaps exist, while when early season three-year-olds take on the older horses they are still given a weight allowance despite having a handicap mark, but generally the idea is for those rated the same to carry even weights.
In a 0-95 handicap race, only those rated up to 95 may run. If the best horse in the race is rated 93 and is carrying 9st 7lbs, then a horse rated 91 would carry 9st 5lbs and so on.
Restricted handicaps also exist. For example, a ‘nursery handicap’ is for two-year-olds only. Some handicaps are only for three-year-olds and others are for older horses only. In the second half of the flat season, most handicaps tend to be mixed however and it is up to the punter to decide on whether they believe a horse’s handicap mark is right, and whether it is “well handicapped” should they believe improvement is coming.
These are flat races only, and are linked to handicaps. A horse’s eligibility is decided by its handicap mark, though the weight it carries in the race is not.
A classified stakes race, often run at Class 4 or Class 5 level, may be for those rated 0-70 for example. Some of those involved may be rated 70, 68, 67 etc, but all will carry the same weight.
On the flat, many events are actually called ‘Conditions Stakes’ or something similar, however the term is even more broad. Conditions events, otherwise known as ‘weight-for-age’ races or ‘allowance’ races, are simply non-handicap events in which the weights carried are determined by age, sex and any penalties accrued for winning.
In that sense, Group 1 races such as the July Cup at Newmarket or the major Grade 1 races over the jumps, are essentially conditions races.
Weights in these events are allocated by using the standard weight-for-age scale. The gender and age of the runners is taken into consideration and penalties are added for some which in theory levels the playing field for some of the less successful runners in the line-up.
These are particularly popular events on the flat and often hugely competitive. Auction races tend to be for horses from the lower end of the scale in terms of sales.
Race conditions are according to price limits, so if your horse was too expensive it will not be allowed into a certain auction race.
One of the most popular you’ll see in this sphere is the ‘Median Auction’ race. This time, the median price of a sire’s progeny in the sales ring is the value determining who can run. No matter their own ability, if the median price for the offspring of a horse’s sire is within the right limit, they will be entitled to run.
Some hugely valuable sales races also exist on the flat, up at Class 2 level, but are limited to horses from a particular sale or auction. If they were bought as yearlings from a certain designated sale, they may run and their racing weight will be determined by their own price tag at said auction.
Apprentice / Conditional / Amateur Races
Naturally, these titles pertain to the jockeys and not the animals. In terms of the difference between ‘apprentice’ races and ‘conditional’ events, the former relates to the flat and the latter to National Hunt races.
Both titles mean the jockey is not yet fully qualified, and will have a ‘claim’. When you see a jockey’s name and a 7, 5 or 3 in brackets beside it, that is their claim and it is how much of the advertised weight is taken off the horse owing to the rider’s inexperience.
Amateur races also exist, chiefly over jumps. Amateur jockeys are those who are simply not licenced professionals, but are very experienced and are often much sought-after by trainers at events such as the Cheltenham Festival.
It’s so often the way these races are described, but ‘bumper’ is just a colloquial title.
The real title of these events is ‘National Hunt Flat Race’ and, as the name would suggest, they are run under the auspices of ‘jumps’ racing but the competitors do not actually tackle any obstacles.
They were designed for the later-maturing National Hunt types in order to offer them racecourse experience before going over fences.
Only those aged seven and under can compete, with many bumpers being held at low levels but some going right up to graded company, including the Grade 1 Champion Bumper at Cheltenham.
Hunter Chase races, of course staged over fences, are restricted to horses who are certificated as having taken part in hunting. They are also only for amateur jockeys.
Once a horse has run in a Hunter Chase in any given season, it may not run in another chase that same campaign for a licenced trainer.
In Britain, all races are given a ‘class’ rating. Class 7 is the lowest, though races at that level are rare as are Class 6 events. Then as the horses are rated higher they take part in Class 5, 4 and 3 races.
Class 2 events, such as all major handicaps on the flat like the Ebor, the Northumberland Plate and the Lincoln, are big races in their own right but are not at the highest level.
Class 1 races are also known as pattern events. Class 1, in ascending order, takes in Listed races, Group/Grade 3’s, Group/Grade 2’s and at the very top, Group/Grade 1’s. ‘Group’ is used as a title in flat racing, while ‘Grade’ is used over the jumps.
You’ll hear trainers talking about getting their horse some “black type”. Black type means being placed in a pattern race, so named because the achievement would be printed in bold in a sales catalogue. Being placed in a pattern race makes a horse so much more valuable at stud, particularly the mares.