Classification Of Races

Classification Of Races

With over 16,000 horses in training, clearly all horses do not possess the same attributes and ability.

We have two categories of racing – the flats and the jumps, and in order to create fair and competitive racing, the BHA installed the handicap ratings system.

They assess the ability of every single horse based on their performances at a racetrack. The handicap rating system gives a horse an official rating which determines how much weight they carry in a race.

For example, if one horse is rated 100, and the other is rated 95, the horse rated 5 points more than the other will carry an additional 5lbs in weight.

The aim of a handicap race is to give every horse an equal chance of winning.

To provide opportunities for a range of horses, a racing classifications system is also in place.


Starting with the FLAT, we have Group One, Two and Three races. These are the top-level events – for example the equivalent to the Premier League in Football.

Group One races are the highest class of race run in the UK, including the Classics such as the 1,000 Guineas, the 2,000 Guineas, the Derby, the Oaks and the St Leger.

All horses carry the same weight in these top-class races regardless of their official rating. This is to determine who really is the best horse in the race.

There are sometimes some small weight differences – for example the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe in France, 3yo’s competing against older horses and fillies against colts are usually rewarded with a claim.

We also have Listed races, which are contested by horses just below Group class. These can be either handicap or non-handicap events. Usually, some horses who regularly run at group level, make their seasonal reappearance in a Listed event.

Handicaps are the races where the weight carried is determined by the official rating of the horse. Handicaps are grouped into classes, with class one being for the highest rated and class seven for the lowest.

These are designed for the horses that are not deemed good enough to compete at group level, but some can 'rise up the classes' in the ladder.

Class 1 - Listed Handicaps for horses rated 96-110+.

Class 2 - The ratings bands for this class are 86-100, 91-105 and 96-110.

Class 3 - The ratings bands for this class are 76-90 and 81-95

Class 4 - For horses rated 66-80 and 71-85

Class 5 - For horses rated 56-70 and 61-75

Class 6 - For horses rated 46-60 and 51-65.

Class 7 - Generally these are classified stakes races for horses rated 0-45.

We have multiple other forms of racing. A maiden is usually where the majority of horses start their racing careers.

Maidens are races for horses who have never won a race and are predominantly races for two-year-olds. Any horse who wins a maiden is automatically given a rating making them eligible for handicaps.

For those runners who don’t manage to win, three maiden runs are required before a rating is assigned.

A nursery is a handicap for just two-year-olds.

There are also novices, maiden handicaps and claiming stakes, with races also inclusive to Amateurs and Ladies.

National Hunt

Meanwhile, jumps races are races that include obstacles for the horse and jockey to jump.

These can be small ones known as hurdles or large ones known as fences. Jump racing proves the test of stamina and jumping ability and so the horses that take part tend to be older than Flat horses.

They look bigger and more developed than the finer, more elegant Flat horses. Races are held over a variety of distances from 2 to 4½ miles and under certain conditions with eligibility based on the sex, age or ability of the horse. Some races may also be restricted to amateur or less experienced jockeys, known as conditionals.

As with flat racing, NATIONAL HUNT racing is also divided into quality bands which are referred to as classes. Again, Class One is for the highest standard of runners with Class Six being for the lowest.

Class 1 - Grade One, Two and Three and Listed races

Class 2 - Open Handicaps and Handicaps 0-140+

Class 3 - Handicaps 0-135

Class 4 - Handicaps 0-115

Class 5-  Handicaps 0-95

Class 6 - National Hunt Flat Races and Hunter’s Steeplechases

Class One (Graded Races) are the highest class of races. Much like the flat they offer the chance to see the very best runners competing against one another.

Weight allowances for age apply in some races and fillies/mares receive an allowance in even the top events.

There are three Grades: One, Two and Three. All the championship level events are Grade Ones and seek to find the best – for example the Champion Hurdle or the Champion Chase.

Grade Two events include limited range handicaps and races with weight penalties for previous victories, whilst Grade Three races tend to be valuable open handicaps.

Listed Races are just below group class, and tend to be used as a stepping stone for horses returning to the track, or for horses trying to build into group level.

Types Of NH Races

Most horses run in Handicap Hurdles/Chases, where the weight carried is determined by the official rating of the horse. The most famous Handicapped race of them all is the Grand National, where all horses carry different weights depending on their previous performances.

Maiden Hurdle/Chase are for horses who have not previously won a race at all, meanwhile Novice Hurdles are restricted to horses who had not won a hurdle race prior to the start of the current season. A winner of a novice hurdle may run in another such event in the same season but would have to carry a winner’s weight penalty.

A Beginners Chase are for horses who had not won a chase race prior to the start of the current season and are usually progressing from hurdles. A winner of a beginners’ chase may run in another such event in the same season and would also have to carry a winner’s weight penalty.

National Hunt Flat Races, otherwise known as Bumpers, are usually over a trip of two miles. They are restricted to horses between the ages of four and six who have either not previously run at all, or have only ever run in bumpers.

Many national hunt horses gain their first race course experience in these races, before moving onto obstacles.