Once you understand the system of horse racing classifications in the UK, you will have another weapon in your arsenal in the eternal quest to pick winners. Regardless of whether factors such as distance, course and going are in a horse’s favour, if it is racing in too high a grade, it will simply be outclassed by faster horses.
The British Horseracing Authority assesses the ability of horses based on its performances. This assessment comes in the form of an official rating; not only does this help create a ratings system; it helps the BHA in its mission to ensure its races are competitive. This is achieved by deciding upon the amount of weight each horse will carry in any given race. A single rating point equates to one pound of weight.
For example, in a race where horse A has a 110 rating and horse B has a 104 rating, horse A would carry 6 pounds more in a handicap race to ensure the horses are ‘equal’. The BHA continually monitors the performance of horses and alters the rating depending on improving or declining performances. Let’s now look at the classifications for Flat and National Hunt races.
Flat Racing Classifications
These races contain the cream of the crop and there are Group 1, 2 and 3 races. Group 1 is the highest classification and includes events like the 1,000 Guineas, 2,000 Guineas, St Leger, Oaks and The Derby. These five races are otherwise known as the ‘Classics’.
In these big events, every horse carries the same weight irrespective of rating which means you get to determine the very best horses in the UK. However, fillies and mares typically get a small weight allowance when they run against geldings and colts.
As you would expect, the prize money for Group races is the highest on the flat calendar. According to the BHA, prize money for Group 1 races in the 2015 season is £200,000 for races featuring 3+ year olds and £150,000 for 2-y.o +.
This is the classification just below the Group race level and these can be handicap or non-handicap races.
These races focus more on the runners’ age and sex rather than their ratings. In these events, fillies and mares will carry less weight than colts and geldings while older horses are also penalised with more weight than younger horses as their greater physical maturity is an advantage.
These races are specifically for horses that have either run at least twice and have at least one win or horses with at least three races. While Classified Stakes are generally restricted to horses with a certain rating, horses above the rating can enter but are forced to carry extra weight.
These events feature horses that have yet to win a race. You’ll normally find two-year-olds in Maidens; once a horse wins one of these races, it receives an official rating. However, there are other types of maiden:
- Maiden Handicap: For horses yet to win a race that have run at least 4 times.
- Rated Maiden: Horses aged 3 years and over that are yet to win with a max rating of 70 and a minimum of 3 runs to their name.
- Auction Maiden: Two-year-old horses that have been sold at a public auction for a sum of money not exceeding a certain amount.
- Median Auction Maiden: These restricted races are for two-year-old stallions whose sire has produced at least two yearlings that have been sold at an auction in the last year. There is a median amount that these sales must not exceed.
Horses competing in a Claiming Stakes race have a max weight they can carry and there is a maximum and minimum claiming price in each race. The horse’s connections get the chance to decide the amount of weight it carries. There is a penalty for every pound under the maximum weight; this penalty means the claim price gets reduced.
For example, in a Claiming Stakes race the max price might be £20,000 and the penalty is set at £1,000 for every pound beneath the max limit the horse runs at. So if the horse runs and wins with 5 pounds less than the max weight, the horse can be claimed (purchased) for £15,000.
The winner of these races gets offered in a public auction.
These are races for two and three-year-old horses that have a maximum of two wins.
These races for strictly for novices that will be sold at a public auction for a maximum value.
Only apprentice jockeys are allowed enter these races. When apprentices enter other races against professionals, they get an ‘allowance’ of 3-10 pounds which is taken off the horse’s weight in the race. This allowance does not exist in Apprentice only races.
Other Race Classifications
There are also races for amateurs only, female amateur jockeys only and male amateur jockeys only.
- Class 1: Horses with a rating of 96-110+
- Class 2: Rating of 86-110; Class 2 races are divided in ‘bands’ of 86-100, 91-105 and 96-110.
- Class 3: Rating of 76-95; again there are ‘bands’ of 76-90 and 81-95.
- Class 4: Rating of 66-85 in bands of 66-80 and 71-85.
- Class 5: Rating of 56-75 with bands of 56-70 and 61-75.
- Class 6: Rating of 46-65 with bands of 46-60 and 51-65.
- Class 7: Rating of 45 or less.
National Hunt Classifications
National Hunt races have 6 classes instead of 7; quite a few of the classifications are the same as in Flat racing but there are some differences.
As is the case with Flat racing, Graded Races in National Hunt events feature the top rated horses but weight allowances are given to mares in all events while there are also allowances for age in certain races. Again, there are three Grades and Grade 1 features world famous events such as the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the King George VI Chase at Kempton. The Aintree Grand National is actually a Grade 3 event.
The next group of races below Graded standard.
The weight carried by each entrant depends on its official rating.
National Hunt Flat (Bumpers)
These are Flat races for horses aged 4-6 who have only run in bumper races or else they have yet to run. These races tend to be two miles in length.
Features horses that have yet to win a chase or hurdle race.
This is a race for horses yet to win a hurdle race before the start of the current season. Winners can run again in the same season but will be hit with a penalty.
Juvenile Novice Hurdle
A hurdle race for horses that started the season as three-year-olds.
Only horses yet to win a chase event before the beginning of the current season can enter; as is the case with Novice Hurdles, winners of a Beginner Chase event can compete in another one that season but will be penalised with extra weight.
For horses that had yet to win a race at the start of the current season.
This is a chase for horses specifically used for the purposes of hunting; this classification is bestowed on them by the Master of Hounds. Only amateur jockeys are allowed ride in these races and allowances are given for age.
A ‘conditional’ jockey is the National Hunt version of a Flat racing Apprentice.
Amateur, Claiming Stakes and Selling Hurdle/Chase races are the same as their Flat racing equivalent.
The 6 Classes
- Class 1: Grade 1, 2 and 3 events and Listed Races.
- Class 2: Handicaps 0-140+ and Open Handicaps.
- Class 3: Handicaps and Novice Handicaps in bands of 0-120 and 0-135.
- Class 4: Handicaps and Novice Handicaps in bands of 0-100 and 0-115.
- Class 5: Handicaps and Novice Handicaps in bands of 0-85 and 0-95.
- Class 6: Hunter’s Steeplechases and National Hunt Flat Races.
If you take the time to review the past performance of a horse across the classes, you might reveal some interesting data. For instance, you can see if a horse is likely to be an improver by checking out its rating as it races in each class.
It could enjoy a good rating at Class 4 but find Class 3 or Class 2 too hot to handle which results in a tumble down the ratings. Shrewd punters can quickly determine if a horse is a class above the rest and place their bets before the bookies are wise to what’s happening.
Some Historical Ratings
You can click on the link to the BHA website and find out more about the top rated horses in the past. In 2014/15 for example, you can see that in Jump races, Faugheen had the highest rating of 2 mile hurdlers with 174. The extraordinary Kauto Star had a rating of 190 in 2.5 mile chasers in 2009/10 season, one of the highest ratings on record.