When you hear of horse racing, the first race that comes to mind is likely the Kentucky Derby. However, horses must start out at a much lower level of competition before they are able to contend on the biggest stages. For these horses, there are five types of races that they compete in. Here’s a brief summary of each type of race, starting from the lowest level.
1. Maiden Races
A horse that has never won a race is referred to as a maiden. As a result, maiden races consist of horses without a win. When a horse wins its first race, this occasion is known as “breaking his maiden”. Maiden races are held over a variety of distances and under conditions with eligibility based on the sex or age of the horse. However, maiden horses do not have to begin their careers in maiden races; it’s just usually the case. Maiden races consist of two types – (1) maiden special weight races consist of horses with good potential looking to breakout and move on to high-level competitions; (2) maiden claiming races consist of horses that have failed in maiden special weight races or horses with low potential.
2. Claiming Races
In North America, about half of all races are claiming races – the horses you’ll most often see at tracks. In a claiming race, all horses are up for sale prior to the race, with the selling price more or less the same amongst horses. The type of race provides an idea of the quality of the horse. Handicap races and graded stakes races attract the best horses; maiden races, usually the most inexperienced. If someone buys or claims a horse before a claiming race, he will become the new owner of the horse regardless of the outcome of the race.
3. Allowance Races
Up a rung from claiming races are allowance races. Horses are not for sale in allowance races and the purses – the total money for owners to win in each race – are higher than maiden races. Allowance races usually involve horses that have won a race(s) but are not ready for stakes competition. The “allowance” in allowance races comes from the fact that horses in these races must carry a minimum amount of weight or be allowed to carry less weight due to other factors.
4. Stakes Races
Highest prestige and largest purses – the top horses compete in stake races. The purse size may vary considerably between smaller and larger races. The Kentucky Derby falls into the category of stakes races, with purses in the millions. At local stakes races, the best local horses are featured. At graded stakes races, the top local, national, or even global horses are included. However, in local stakes races, competing horses must be bred in specific states, offering added incentives for owners and trainers to breed and race locally.
5. Graded Stakes Races
A graded stakes race must meet the criteria of the American Graded Stakes Committee of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association (TOBA). A specific grade (levels I, II, III) is assigned to the race, which is used to identify the most competitive races – level I represent the top caliber. Grades are assessed every year, with downward and upward adjustments when necessary.