When handicapping horse races from anywhere in the world, the class of a horse remains one of the most important handicapping factors. Class is the information we use to compare one horse to another as it pertains to the level of competition each horse has been competing. The information provided below is intended to clarify each classification from the world’s top racing conditions to the lowest.
Handicap – The world’s top horses compete at this level. Usually, handicap races are further classified by another qualifier. In North America, most handicap races are Grade I (highest level) events. In Europe and other parts of the world, they would be Group 1 events. It is possible for handicap races to be Grade II, Grade III or non-graded events, depending on the racing jurisdiction. What makes handicap races unique is each horse is assigned to carry a certain weight, based on past performances and other predetermined criteria.
Stakes – Stakes events typically carry the same secondary classifications as handicap races. However, weights in a stakes race are assigned based on allowance conditions with older horses and males horses carrying more weight than younger horses or fillies and mares. Also, the conditions of a race may have certain weight allowances for horses that have achieved less than others.
Allowance – There are plenty of horses that owners and trainers don’t want to put up for sale in claiming events. Allowance and conditioned allowance races allow horses to run under the prescribed conditions without an attached claiming price.
Optional Claimer – These types of races are usually designated for allowance horses. However, horses that exceed the prescribed allowance conditions can be entered in these races if the trainer is willing to attach a qualifying claiming price, essentially offering the horse for sale.
Maiden Special Weight Allowance – These races are carded for horses that have never won a race. Much of the time, trainers enter their younger and inexperienced horses at this level when they aren’t sure what they have or know exactly what they have and don’t want to risk the horse at a claiming price.
Claiming – Claiming races are designated for horses that are unable to compete at the highest level. Every horse in a claiming race is entered with a stated claiming price based on the conditions of the race. Once the starting gate opens, the horse becomes the future property of whichever owner/trainer put a claim in the claim box. Claim slips are usually required to be submitted by 10 minutes to post time. The purse from the actual race goes to the prior owner.
Maiden Claiming – For the most part, these are the least talented horses at the track. They haven’t yet won a race and its prospects of competing at a higher level are negligible.
Note: Much of this information is also applicable to quarter horse and harness racing.