Horse Racing Academy

Types of Horse Races Explained

TYPES OF HORSE RACESIf you are reading this you are either brand new to horse racing or trying to better familiarize yourself with everything going on including types of horse races. Either way, welcome and here at LHR we try to give you the information you need in order to navigate the mind field that is handicapping. The LHR Academy was created to help people that are new to horse racing or just want to learn more about the types of races and classes of horses. Longshot Horse Racing is here to explain types of horses races for you and your friends.

In this installment of the Horse Racing Academy, we are going to talk about the different types of horse races that you may see when looking at any card in North America on almost any day of the week.

At a high level races are broken up into four categories including maiden, claiming, allowance, and stakes. Within each of those categories are variants that can impact the type of race and the quality of field that presents itself for the running of that specific event. Horses will run in multiple variants and categories throughout their careers. Let’s get to it and dive right in.


Maiden Races

First it is important to understand what a “Maiden” is. The term applies to any running horse that is yet to win a race. A horse could finish in second numerous times but until it stands in the winner’s circle for the first time, it is a maiden.  When a horse finally wins that is referred to as a horse “breaking their maiden.”

Within maiden races are different variants. The top of the maiden pyramid is referred to as Maiden Special Weight, which is sometimes listed as MSW or even Md Sp Wt. Horses that are entered in Maiden Special Weight races are horses that are considered, by their connections, to be higher quality runners that will quickly advance to the ranks of winners.

However, there are also Maiden Claiming races within the maiden category. This group are horses that can still develop but the expectations are not nearly as high. In fact, a different trainer/owner can claim the horse and have the move to their stable. Basically, they can buy a horse. More on claiming later. The tiers within Maiden Claiming are price driven. A high quality field is in a Maiden Claiming race for 50,000 or 50k compared to a Maiden Claiming race for 20,000 or 20k.

While not a rule, maiden races are typically run when horses are two or three years old. That is the general times when horses will enter their racing careers. Within these races horses are learning how to break from the gate, if they are tactical style horses, as well as numerous other things. There is the greatest room for error or advancement in a horse’s performance during maiden starts typically at the beginning of a horse’s career. Lets look at claiming races when discussing types of horse races next.

Claiming Races

Claiming races are pretty much what you would expect them to be. These races include horses that can be purchased by connections other than those of the current owners.  Of course, with everything there is always some sort of wrinkle. But let’s get into the concept a little bit.

When you look at almost any program any day at tracks throughout North America, a large portion of the races are either Claiming or Optional Claiming. The purse in these types of race can vary from amounts like 5,000 to six figure claiming prices. The latter are traditionally reserved for larger tracks like Churchill Downs, Keeneland, or Del Mar. The former are more aligned with smaller tracks.

An owner will enter a horse in either one with the intention of possible selling their horse. The big difference is an owner can choose to not sell their horse in the Optional Claiming event and just run for a purse. However, a horse in a straight Claiming race is offering their horse for the price. In either race, a claim must be made before the race begins. Lets look at allowance races when discussing types of horse races next.

Allowance Races

The next level up the ladder of horse racing is commonly referred to as the Allowance race. Unlike Claiming, these races have horses that are not for sale. The name Allowance refers to the fact that there are certain criteria that are required for that specific race.

For example, a NW3X race is one that can be seen on a given racing program. The NW3X refers to the fact that the horses that enter this type of race must not have won three or more races at that level. When you read it think of Non-Winner 3 Times. While this could be for any number of races, they typically exclude the maiden victory and tend to relegated to the allowance level.

Other conditions in these races can include weight allocations or allowances, horses that started at the top levels of claiming, and a multitude of variants within the race types. It is key to look at the type of race and use that to assist in the determination of which horses should or should not excel. Horses can run at higher levels and lack success then drop down to lower levels or purse values and suddenly demolish weaker competition. Lets look at stakes races when discussing types of horse races next.

Stakes Races

This is the rare air where the top notches of horses make their home. When you think of Stakes races do not always think Kentucky Derby, Travers Stakes, or World Championships. Those are graded stakes and we will get into those in a minute. There are also non-graded stakes which are usually named for a person, business, or champion horse. Depending on the race track that can mean different things.

For example, a local track might not qualify for Graded Stakes racing but might hold their local championship in a local stakes race. Some tracks will host restricted stakes that could be limited to horses that race at that track, in that state, were born in that state etc. That race would carry one of the largest purses that the track has to offer and would bring out some of the best horses at that track for that specific race type. Depending on location and specific restrictions, some horses from other tracks might ship in for these races but that is rarer at this level.

Graded Stakes come in at three different levels to include Grade 1, Grade 2, and Grade 3 with Grade 1 being the top if the pyramid. The determination of whether a stakes should be graded or what level the race should be within the grading is determined by the Graded Stakes Committee that reviews each races at the completion of each season and adjusted the level based on criteria to include performance after that race and other determining factors.

Graded Stakes bring out the best of the best due to the value of those purses, the prestige that comes with a win, and the ripple effects that these titles can have on the breeding value or any horse that wins or even runs in these races. The only restrictions that tend to follow these races are the sex of the horse (I.E. the Kentucky Oaks which is only for females) and the age of the horse (I.E. the Belmont Stakes can only be for three-year-olds while the Breeders’ Cup Classic is for three-year-olds and up).

Hopefully this breakdown of types of horse races will help you better understand what is going on, what you are reading, and the horse racing terms that broadcasters may throw out on air. Stay tuned for more editions of the Longshot Horse Racing Academy. Good luck and happy handicapping.


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