Horse Racing Betting: Types of races explained

When starting off in horse race betting, educating yourself on the differences between the many types of races is invaluable. Here we tell you about the main types of races in Britain and Ireland, both on the Flat and over the Jumps...

  • Learn all about Flat and National Hunt types of races

  • Age and sex weight allowances explained

  • Work out which type of race will suit your skillset


As the weeks, months and years go by, a punter who is new to betting on horse racing will become more experienced, and with time they will usually become comfortable betting on certain types of races more than others.

So it's important to know from the outset what the different types of horse races are, because there's a massive difference between a Group 1 sprint on the Flat, that takes just over 50 seconds to run, and a long distance Handicap Chase over the Jumps that can take 10 minutes to run.

In Britain and Ireland there are two main codes of racing; Flat and National Hunt (often referred to as Jump) racing, and below is a description of the main types of race that can be found within each code.


Flat Racing

Maiden

A race that is contested by horses that have never previously won a race. A high percentage of maiden races will be for two-year-olds (2yo's) as they will either be having their first run of their career, or have had fewer chances to win a race than older horses.

If a maiden race is for all-colts, or all-fillies, then every runner will carry the same weight. If the race is for colts and fillies then all the colts will carry one weight with the fillies carrying 5lb less (called a sex allowance).

Novice

A race for horses that have won no more than two races (this rule can vary slightly depending on the class of a race win). Similar to a maiden race, novice races are usually contested by 2yo's that are starting out on their racing careers.

The weights for all runners in a novice race works the same as a maiden race with a sex allowance given to fillies, however, the big difference is that if you have previously won a race you will carry a weight penalty, which is usually 6lb per each race won.

Selling

Often called a seller, a selling horse race is one in which all the runners are up for sale immediately after the race. The winner of the race is offered for sale at a compulsory public auction, while all the beaten horses in the race can be bought for a set price that is pre-determined at the entry stage.

Selling races can be contested by all ages, and are usually contested by low quality horses, hence them being offered for sale. In fact, selling races represent the lowest grade of all types of horse races.

Selling races can be either handicaps, where the runners will be allocated a weight depending on their official handicap mark, or non-handicaps, in which case each runner will be allocated weight depending on their age and sex.

Claiming

Often called a claimer, a claiming race is almost the same as a selling race in that it can be a low-quality contest with all the runners offered for sale. The one big difference is that a claiming race is effectively a handicap race, as the weight for each runner is determined by the price placed on the horse by connections. The lower the claiming price, the lower the weight.

The difference between a claiming (handicap) race and an official handicap race is the way that the weights are allocated to each runner. In the former it's determined by the claiming price, in the latter it is determined by an official handicap mark.

Handicap

The most frequently raced, and perhaps the most popular type of race in Britain and Ireland is the handicap race, in which each horse is allocated a weight according to its official handicap mark (which is based on perceived ability and changes from race to race).

A handicap mark is usually given to a horse after three qualifying runs and that mark will determine what class of handicap race a horse can be entered for. There are seven classes of handicap races (1-7), with Class 1 races being the highest in grade.

Class 1 and 2 handicap races are usually contested by horses with a handicap mark in the 91-110 range, and as you go lower down the classes the range of handicap marks for horses that usually enter a race gets lower; Class 4 will generally be for horses rated around the 66-85 mark for example.

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When the weights are allocated, one differential in an official handicap mark equates to 1lb in weight. For example, if a horse with a handicap mark of 65 is allocated a weight of 9st 9lb, then a horse in the same race with a handicap mark of 60 will be allocated a weight of 9st 4lb (5lb less).

While the main handicap races are the type detailed above, there are a few other types of handicap races on the Flat.

These include a nursery (a handicap race for 2yo's only) a maiden (a handicap race for horses that have had at least four runs but have never won a race), and a rated stakes (a handicap race of high value for horses within a 10-14lb weight range).

Classified

A classified race is contested between horses of similar ability based on their official handicap mark, all carrying the same weight. For example, a horse rated 62 could be in the same classified race as a horse rated 65, but instead of the 62-rated horse carrying 3lb less than the 65-rated horse as it would in a handicap, both horses would run carrying the same weight.

These races are for horses that have had at least three runs, or two previous runs if one of them includes a win, and they are designed for horses of similar ability to compete on level terms.

Conditions

As the name suggests, a conditions race is one between horses where the weight allocated to each runner is dictated to by the race conditions. These type of races are generally for horses just below listed and group class, and require a horse to have had at least three previous runs (or two if one of those runs was a wn)

In simple terms, the weight allocated to a horse depends on its age, sex, and win record, all according to the conditions of the race.

Horses aged 3yo will get a weight-for-age allowance from older horses, a filly will get a weight-for-sex allowance from colts and geldings, and a horse with three previous wins will carry a weight penalty for one extra race win if, for example, the conditions of the race state it is for horses with at least two previous wins.

Listed

A listed race is regarded as the class of racing just below group race level, and is similar to a conditions race in that the weight a horse will carry depends on age, sex, and win record.

But unlike a condition race, a horse in a listed race doesn't carry extra weight based on the number of wins it has achieved in any class of race, it will carry additional weight only if it has been successful at listed or group race level.

Listed races are therefore ideal for improving horses that are considered too good for a handicap race, or for horses that aren't quite good enough to win a group race. You will rarely get a multiple group race-winning horse in a listed race because of the weight penalties it will have to carry.

Group

Group races (sometimes referred to as Pattern races) are regarded as the highest quality of Flat racing, and come in the form of Group 1, 2 and 3 races, with the former being for the very best horses in training.

Runners in group races generally run off the same weight, though weight-for-age and weight-for-sex allowances apply, meaning a 3yo will be allocated less weight than a 4yo (usually 11lb), and fillies will be allocated less weight than a colt (usually 3lb).

Group 2 and 3 races are slightly less prestigious than Group 1 races, but to prevent the very best horses dropping down a level to win these races, weight penalties can be applied to keep them competitive.

For example, a winner of a Group 1 race dropping down to a Group 2 race will usually incur a 5lb penalty, while a winner of a Group 2 race remaining in a Group 2 race will usually incur a 3lb penalty, thus encouraging connections to step up to a Group 1 race where it will incur no weight penalty.

Classic

A Classic race is the name given to the very best 3yo races at Group 1 level. In England the five classics are the 1000 and 2000 Guineas, the Epsom Oaks and Derby, and the St Leger.

In three of the five classics the exact same weight is allocated to each of the runners because they are same-sex races; 1000 Guineas (fillies), 2000 Guineas (colts) and the Epsom Oaks (fillies).

However, both the Epsom Derby and St Leger are open to both colts and fillies, so in these races the colts are all allocated the same weight, while any fillies that run in these races (a rarity these days) receive a 3lb sex allowance.


National Hunt (Jump) Racing

National Hunt Flat Race (Bumper)

A National Hunt Flat (NHF) race, sometimes referred to as a Bumper, is a contest raced under National Hunt rules that has no obstacles for the runners to jump. NHF races are designed to give late-maturing jump-bred horses valuable racecourse experience.

They are usually, but not always, restricted to horses between the ages of four and six that have not previously run under any recognised rules of racing except for any other NHF race.

Horses are allocated the same weight, though like Flat racing, weight allowances also apply to National Hunt racing, and in NHF races a 4yo will receive a 10lb weight-for-age allowance against 5yo+ horses, and fillies and mares will receive a 7lb weight-for-sex allowance against colts.

Previous winners of a NHF race will also incur a penalty, this being 7lb for winning one race, or 10lb for winning two or more races.

Maiden Hurdle/Chase

Similar to the Flat, maiden races - whether over hurdles or fences (known as a chase) are for horses that have never previously won a race over the discipline (hurdle or chase) they are due to race over. However, a horse that has won under rules in a National Hunt Flat race - but never over hurdles or fences - will still qualify for a maiden race.

Maiden races over jumps are restricted to horses aged 4yo and above, and weight allowances do apply, usually 10lb age allowance for 4yo's and 7lb sex allowance for fillies or mares.

Juvenile Hurdle

A race contested over hurdles for horses aged either 3yo or 4yo, however the horse must be a 3yo at the start of the current season. Because a current National Hunt season will operate prior to, and from 1 January onward (the date when all racehorses age one year), a 3yo will automatically become a 4yo on New Year's Day.

As all horses in juvenile hurdle races will be of the same age they are allocated the same weight with no age allowance applied. However, a sex allowance of 7lb is given to fillies, while different juvenile races have different weight penalties for previous winners, the most typical being 7lb for one previous win and 10lb for two or more previous wins.

Novice Hurdle/Chase

A novice hurdle or chase is a race for horses that have never won over that discipline prior to the start of the current season (however, horses that won a hurdle or chase after 1 March the season prior, can continue to run in novices races until 30 November of the current season).

As examples, a horse that has won only NHF races will qualify for a novice hurdle race, and a horse that has won many times over hurdles will qualify as a novice chaser providing it has never previously won a chase.

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Horses are allocated the same weight with the usual allowances applying, generally, but not always, 10lb for 4yo and 7lb for fillies and mares. Previous winners of a novice race will usually carry a penalty unless the race conditions specify differently, usually 7lb for one win and 12lb for two or more wins.

Handicap Hurdle/Chase

Similar to the Flat, handicap races in National Hunt racing are the most frequently run races, and arguably the most popular, with each horse allocated a weight according to its official handicap mark (perceived ability).

A handicap mark is usually given to a horse after three qualifying runs and that mark will determine what class of handicap race a horse can be entered for. There are five classes of handicap races (1-5), with Class 1 races being the highest in grade.

Class 1 handicap races are contested by horses of very high ability, and unlike the Flat, you will often get graded winners (equivalent to a group winner on the Flat) competing in Class 1 handicaps, especially in a handicap chase, like the Grand National for example (you would never get a peak-form Group 1 winner on the Flat running in a handicap race).

Class 2 and 3 handicap races are usually contested by horses with a handicap mark in the 121-150+ range, and as you go lower down the classes the range of handicap marks for horses that usually enter a races gets lower; Class 5 will generally be for horses rated 100 and lower.

As with the Flat, there are a few other variations of handicap races over the jumps, such as a maiden handicap hurdle or chase (for horses that have never previously won a race over the discipline they are contesting), a novice handicap hurdle or chase (for horses running in the current season as a novice) and a restricted or listed handicap hurdle or chase (higher value races restricted to a much smaller than standard weight range).

Graded

Graded races in the National Hunt game are the equivalent of the Flat's group races, in that they are contested by the highest quality of horses. However, unlike the Flat, some of the best jumps horses will often fluctuate between graded races and top end handicap races, meaning there isn't really a type of race in-between the graded and handicap classes of race.

Graded races come in the form of Grade 1, 2 and 3 races, with the former being for the very best horses in training.

Runners in Grade 1 races generally run off the same weight, though weight-for-age (novice races only) and weight-for-sex allowances apply, meaning a 4yo will be allocated less weight (usually between 10-12lb) than a 5yo+, and mares will be allocated less weight (usually 7lb) than a colt or gelding.

Grade 2 races are slightly less prestigious than Grade 1 races, but to prevent the very best horses dropping down a level to win these races, weight penalties can be applied to keep them competitive.

For example, a winner of a Grade 1 race dropping down to a Grade 2 race will usually incur a 5lb penalty, while a winner of a Grade 2 race remaining in a Grade 2 race will usually incur a 3lb penalty, thus encouraging connections to step up to a Grade 1 race where it will incur no weight penalty.

Grade 3 races in National Hunt racing are quite rare because the quality of horses racing in them will usually qualify for high value handicap races. In fact, some top end handicap races do get Grade 3 status given to them, the Irish Grand National for example.


Choose which type of race suits you

Some of the above types of races are contested on an almost daily basis, especially maidens, novices and handicaps, while the higher-quality races like valuable handicaps, listed and group/graded races are generally scheduled for terrestrial TV coverage, weekend racing and the big race meetings.

Even an experienced gambler will find learning the skills to bet on every type of race a difficult task. In fact, most experienced gamblers become so by specialising on one, or just a few type of races.

Whether it be trying to unravel a big-field handicap, or preferring to back high class horses with proven form in a group/graded race, what you choose to bet on is entirely up to you. But it's important that you are comfortable assessing the type of race or races that you choose.

Learn what suits you best, and if you find in time that you are making more profit on certain types of races than others, then stick to betting on those races only.


Now read more Betfair Education articles here.


Prices quoted in copy are correct at time of publication but liable to change.