Understanding the Difference Types of American Races

Wed 5th Aug 2020, 08:00

Runners leaving the gate for an American race
© Photo Healy Racing

Especially if you’re fairly new to the world of horse racing, it can be a bit trickier than you might think to navigate all the different types of racing out there. In addition to the big heavy hitters like the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic there is a whole subset of smaller races with different divisions and classifications. Horses and jockeys alike always have to earn their stripes at a lower level before they’ve developed the skills and credentials to race at the highest echelons of the sport. In fact, in North America, racing is even run according to a specific class system in which horses are required to work their way up the ladder. In order to get a better sense of how it all works, let’s break the different races down into categories.

Maiden Races

Broken down into two additional subcategories, maiden races are always raced by horses that have yet to take their first win. They are further divided into special weight and claiming races. The special weight classification is reserved for those well-bred horses that are expected to quickly take a win and advance to more challenging races. Claiming races, on the other hand, are for horses that didn’t quite make the cut for the special weight category or are simply assumed to be racing at a lower level than their peers.

Claiming Races

Although there is a subset of claiming races associated with maiden status, broadly this type of race can be distinguished by the fact that each horse racing will have a price tag associated with it. A little like trying your luck at a casino, in a claiming race the interested party buys or “claims” the horse before the race. Under this framework, the new buyer assumes ownership of the horse regardless of the outcome of the race. This is also one of the most common formats of racing, accounting for about half of all racing action in North America. So, if you’ve attended many horseracing events, there’s a good chance you’ve seen a claiming race.

Allowance Races

Turf action from Santa Anita
© Photo Healy Racing

Advancing one step up the ladder from claiming races, at an allowance, racehorses are not up for sale and the stakes and potential winnings tend to be much higher. The name of the category, “allowance,” derives from the fact that all horses competing in these races are required to carry a set amount of weight, which may in some circumstances be altered due to certain factors.

Stakes Races

If you’re looking to see the top names in the industry race for glory, stakes races are where you’ll want to find yourself. These are the most prestigious showcases where the most money is on the line. If you’ve ever played online slots referencing horse races, this is likely the kind of event you’ve seen presented. Of course, there is still a lot of variation depending on whether you’re visiting a small track or one of the more prestigious ones. Nevertheless, you’re sure to see some very high-quality horseracing while attending a stakes race event.

The Stakes races are further sub-divided into categories where Grade 1 (or Group 1 in Europe) is the highest grade a horse can race in. Grade 1 races include all the icon races run across the world each year such as the Epsom Derby and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.