There are many different types of horse racing, what is popular depends greatly on what country you are in. The two main “types” of Thoroughbred races are flat races, and steeplechases. Steeplechases (also known as National Hunt racing) often involve longer distances and have a series of “obstacles”.
For the most part we will here discuss the classes and types of flat Thoroughbred horse races. Rules have been set out so that really fast horses do not race against really slow ones. This would be too easy and eliminate many many horses from racing altogether if their owners never had a shot at seeing them win. So good horses race against good horse of fairly equal class. These rules then form the differences in the classes of race.
When a horse is new to the race track it has not been proven and is still a mystery, its timed work outs may hint at its quality, but until it races, it cannot be truly ranked up against other horses. Until a horse has actually won a race it is called a Maiden. The very first race most horses enter is a “Maiden Special Weight”, although this is not a required starting place. Depending on how the horse does the trainer then selects tougher, or easier, races for the horse in the future.
One notch below Maiden Special Weight is Maiden Claiming. This is for horses who have not only not won a race but are “for sale”. Claiming races have a set price tag on every horse. Trainers who are willing to take a lesser price for a horse will receive lesser weight on their horse. Ever claiming race has its own price, the higher the price, the greater the expected value of the horse is. Thus horses of fairly equal quality are kept together and a really good horse is unlikely to be put in a claiming race to get an easy win, since the owner would risk it being “Claimed” by somebody wanting to purchase it out from under them.
Once a horse has won its first race it can not ever enter a “Maiden” race again, it can only compete against other winners. Most races, be they for maidens or not, will have some requirements which may include age and/or gender.
As we just covered above claiming races are the bottom level of racing, the only thing is now these horses have won a race. Note: A Maiden can enter these races and are not restricted to only entering races for maidens, but in doing so they are not generally up against proven winners so may be more of a “wild card”. The claiming horses are the lower class of horses. From here we move up into horses that are not “for sale” to any random buyer.
Thoroughbred horse racing, photo by author
In these races horses are given “Allowances” or weight benefits, to help keep the field equal. As such you might see a race for “non-winners of two races this year”, as a typical allowance race.
In these races, the racing secretary assigns more weight to horses who have accomplished more, thus lowering their chances of winning. Preference is always given to having the better horses in a race, so when too many horses are entered, those with the most weight assigned are the ones who will race.
These are the bigger races, with the faster horses, and the larger purses (prize money). There are several “types” or Stakes race. The Local Stakes race being as it says, a race for local horses. Usually this means the horse was bred in that state or province.
Then there are the Graded Stakes. These are the races where horses can come from anywhere to attend, but sometimes have to meet further qualifications to narrow down the field. Graded Stakes are referred to as I, II, or III, Grade I being the best.
In the UK these are called Group races, being referred to as Group 1, 2, or 3. Group 1 being the best.
LISTED or CLASS
This is a term used in the United Kingdom, races use to be referred to as A, B, C, and so on to H, with A races being the top, and H races being the bottom. Now, A, B and C, are the Group 1, 2, and 3, we mentioned above in Stakes Races, and the other letters also being replaced with numbers 4, 5, 6, and 7. A class 7 race would be for the bottom level of horse. Note: F and G were both replaced with the number 6.
As mentioned earlier this is a longer race that includes fences or jumps. In the United Kingdom, where they are more common, they are called National Hunt Races. They are called Hurdles if the fences are over 3.5 feet high, and called Chases, if the fences are over 4.5 feet high. For newer horses they run flat races called “Bumpers” which involve a little more aggressiveness than regular flat races would. Overall Steeplechase races are very risky to the horses and riders.
Another Factor – DISTANCE
Every race, regardless of type will have its own distance. This can be a shorter race for younger horses of only a few furlongs, or a longer race for more seasoned horses of 2 miles or more. Most flat races are between 6 furlongs and 1 mile and a half. While most steeplechases are over 2 miles.