Glossary of race types

Please be aware that each category of race has its own variations.


Races restricted to horses that have never won a race under that specific code – that is, on the Flat or over hurdles.


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.

Over Jumps, a novice chaser/hurdler is a horse which has not won a chase/hurdle race respectively before the end of the previous season . More information can be found here.



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.

Restricted handicaps

Handicaps can be limited to a particular group of horses based on other criteria and not merely linked with their handicap rating. For example, age restrictions apply in veterans’ races and a nursery is a Flat handicap limited to two-year-olds.

Race conditions can also restrict a handicap to horses that, for example, have not won since a specified date or that have never won a race above a certain value

Optional Claiming Handicap

This is a hybrid race: a handicap in which the trainer can reduce the weight due to be carried by a horse in exchange for permitting that horse to be claimed at a price according to values set by the BHA. This is a new type of race and is currently being trialled. See here for a full explanation.

Classified Stakes

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.

Conditions races [also known as weight-for-age or allowance races]

Contests in which the weights carried are dictated not by a horse’s handicap mark but according to the race conditions. These allocate weight according to the weight-for-age scale, the gender of the runners and via penalties for those that have won races of a certain value so that they must concede weight to less successful rivals.

Click here to find out how handicap weights are determined


Auction races

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.

Median Auction

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.

Sales race

Valuable races largely limited to horses from a particular auction sale, usually as yearlings. The weight carried is usually influenced by the horse’s price tag; the lower the price, the lower the weight.

Apprentice or Conditional races

Handicaps or non-handicaps restricted to particular categories of jockeys who are not yet fully qualified. Apprentice races take place on the Flat; conditionals races over Jumps. These races can be further limited to jockeys who have not yet ridden a specified number of winners.

Amateur races

Handicaps or non-handicaps restricted to jockeys who are not licenced professionals.  Over Jumps in particular, they often provide a starting point for a highly successful future career; on the Flat, three-times champion jockey Ryan Moore started out as an amateur.

National Hunt Flat races (also known as Bumpers)

Races designed to provide usually late-maturing, Jumps-bred horses with racecourse experience before they embark on a career over hurdles or fences. Restricted to horses that have not previously raced in any type of race except other bumpers (although you can run in a bumper having already run in a point-to-point). Only horses aged seven or younger may race in British bumpers.

Hunter Chase

Restricted both to amateur riders and horses that are currently issued with certificates to show they have been taking part in hunting. These races provide a developmental opportunity for inexperienced riders and horses but also for those in the veteran stage of their careers.

Once a horse has run in a Hunter Chase, a horse under the care of a Licensed trainer may not run in any steeple chase other than a Hunters’ Steeple Chase during that same Season.

Beginners Chase

Conditions races restricted to horses which have never won a steeple chase before.

Graduation Chase

Conditions races restricted to horses which have not won more than two chases.

Introductory Hurdle

Conditions races for juveniles restricted to horses which have not run in more than one hurdle race.

Pattern races

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.

Black type

Group/Graded and Listed contests can be referred to as “black type” races. The phrase refers to the system of printing in bold type within the pedigree charts of sales catalogues the names of those horses that have won or been placed in Group/Graded races. This is designed to highlight quality performers within a horse’s family tree.