Types & Classification in Horse Racing
Flat Racing is seen by many as horse racing in its purest form, as the requirement for horse to navigate fences and obstacles is removed. It’s a straight sprint to the finish which tests both the speed, stamina and training of the horse, and also the skill and experience of the jockey to get the best out of the horse over a certain length. It’s also arguably an easier watch for us betting lot, as the likelihood of a tumble is slim to nothing.
These races vary in length from five furlongs, which if you’re unfamiliar with horse racing terms and distances is a touch over 1000m, to two miles. One furlong is around 201 metres. These are usually run of grass or artificial turf, and there are different types of flat race based on importance (known as grades) that we will explore further shortly.
Jump Racing is where horses navigate obstacles and fences, and it’s better known in our country as National hunt racing. There’s a confusing bit to come, but I’ll save that for last. Get your head around the two types of jump racing first of all, known as steeplechasing and hurdling. The distinction to be made between the two (and the hunts) is both distance and size of the fences.
Horses start out at the lowest form of national hunt racing, which can cause some confusion. Why? Well, the first national hunt a horse will partake in is jump racing that involves no jumps. It’s to get the horse used to things, before moving on to hurdles which is then fences and then the bigger, strongest and most capable of horses can move on to steeplechasing, when the distances can stretch out and fences can get that little bit higher.
There is also cross country and other versions of horse racing that we could mention, but we want to keep this relevant to the most common type of race we’ll be dealing with when betting.
Classification in horse racing
Classification in horse racing is a way of separating the men from the boys so to speak. Whilst each horse and race comes with its own qualities, attraction and prize fund, the highest classifications generally represent races with the biggest prize funds and are competed for by the most elite of horses. Think Black Caviar, Frankel, Red Rum and so on.
The classification for flat racing is as follows: Group 1 being the pick of the bench, then Group 2, Group 3 and then we have our listed races and handicaps.
The classification for national hunt racing (jump racing, remember) is as follows: Grade 1 which is against the wealthiest of races with the most talented competitors, and then on to Grade 2, Grade 3 and again our listed races and handicaps.
All races are assigned a class from 1 to 7, with all graded and listed races being a class 1 race. All class 1 races will feature a horse with a top, top handicap. Remember, these races are the cream of the crop. Grade 1, 2 and 3 are there used to split these fantastic horses. From here it gets a little bit complicated, so here’s a blow for blow explanation of each grade and why it’s so important to know these.
Grade 1: Again, Grade 1 is the most elite. There are only 30 Grade 1 races in the horse racing season and you’ll tend to see the same names crop up time and time again. We’re talking the likes of Frankel and co again. One of the best known being the Gold Cup and also Boxing Day’s King George Chase. Horse weight will vary and is determined by age and sex.
Grade 2: These are still extremely competitive events but there’s different criteria in that the weight a horse carries is decided by weight for age including penalties for previous wins or handicap which carry a limited weight range.
Grade 3: Grade 3 will generally feature horses that aren’t quite the most elite, but they’re certainly the best of the rest so to speak. More importance is put on handicaps here and also they’re known as Valuable Open Handicaps, where the handicap alone determiners weight added to a horse's load.
All graded races are competed in by top, top horses, so if you are new to betting on horse racing, don’t think you’ll be put to sleep just because you aren’t spectating a grade 1 race.
Class 2-7: Handicap and perceived quality alone decide the division of horses amongst these classes. The higher the class, the more money available each time, but of course the horses need to be of relevant quality and so a class 7 race is generally going to be lesser quality horses racing for smaller amounts of money.
The grades for flat racing differ in that we have Classics, Class 1 and Classes 2 to 7. The Classics are aptly named as these are again the creme-de-la-creme of horse racing. Featuring only three and four year olds, there’s some serious wonga to be won for horse owners competing in this race. Here we’re talking about races such as the Guineas.
Class 1: The load the horse is carrying is determined by the conditions attached to a race. Class 1 races are divided into other categories known as pattern races, of which there are three and lower the number the higher the quality, followed by listed races just like in flat racing, and then class 2-7.
One final thing we should probably explain is what we mean when we talk about ‘the weight a horse must carry’. Well, each horses are given a handicap of course and slotted into the relevant grades, classes, etc. But the weight a horse must carry is a way to balance the field in the interest of fairness and competitive racing. As for the handicap system? Well, we won’t confuse you with that just yet.
Why is type and classification important in horse race betting?
Well it’s quite simple. Horses come through the ranks and step up in class just like an underperforming horse, or horse carrying a bit more weight off the back of an injury may take a step down briefly. It’s important to understand what the typical expectations of a horse in each grade or class is and the effect this may have during chopping and changing. You may be lead by form to believe that Horse A hasn’t finished above 5th in a 10 horse field for nearly a full season now, but if you catch that same horse dropping down to a different grade or a different length, you may see a different potential that you wouldn’t want to overlook when betting.