The Purpose is Parity; An Explanation of Race Types

Spring is here and we can’t help but get excited about our two-year-olds making their first starts this summer!

Most people are familiar with races like the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic, but how does a horse get to start in those races? In North American flat racing a classification system determines what qualifies a horse to start in a certain race. There are four main categories of race and each category is further divided by the application of ‘Conditions’, which include gender, age and previous performance:


Stakes Race

Stakes races are the highest caliber of competition and consist of Graded Stakes and Listed Stakes. Graded Stakes races are designated Grade 1, Grade 2 or Grade 3. Listed Stakes races are a step below Grade 3 races in terms of caliber and quality of competition. Stakes races place no restrictions on entrants other than age and sex. The TOBA Graded Stakes Committee meets annually to “evaluate and affirm the quality of these races” and the result of this review is the upgrading and downgrading of races each year.

Due to the global nature of the Thoroughbred breeding and sales, stakes races must meet International Cataloging Standards criteria in order to be considered black type. Black type refers to the typeface used in a pedigree  and allows buyers to assess the quality of a pedigree with confidence.

There will be 109 Grade I stakes races run in America in 2016.

Allowance Race

Weight allowances for specific conditions are the defining characteristic of Allowance races. Conditions may include date since last win, earnings, or how many races a horse has won. In a Starter Allowance runners must have previously run in a claiming race at a specified price. Each horse in an Allowance race is assigned weight based on how they meet these criteria and some will carry less weight than others (i.e. they can have a lighter jockey). In theory this weight allowance, e.g. 5lbs, balances out the talents of the competing horses and evens the field making for a more interesting wagering opportunity.

Claiming Race

The majority of the races run in the USA are claiming races, where every horse may be bought for a set price. Claiming prices range from less than $10,000 to more than $75,000 and typically the higher the claiming price, the higher the prize money. The potential buyer must place the claim before the race starts and they will own the horse after the race, regardless of where in the race the horse finishes.

As the horses meet their grooms immediately after the race a racetrack official clips a tag onto any horse that has been claimed. The funds have been transferred through the horseman’s bookkeeper at the racetrack and the sale is effective immediately – the trainer representing the new owner will take the horse back to his barn and cool him out after the race.

An owner can enter his horse into any Claiming race in which it meets the conditions. However, if a horse runs against lesser competition for a better chance at the prize money the owner risks having the horse claimed for less than his true value.

Optional claiming races are a hybrid of allowance race and claiming race. If a horse has run through all his allowance conditions (e.g. he has won too many races) but would not be competitive in stakes races he can run in the optional claiming race, provided he runs for the claiming price specified. A horse in the same race that still has allowance conditions does not run for a claiming price and is not for sale.

Jess’s Dream breaking his maiden at Saratoga Race Course.

Maiden Race

Maiden races are exclusively for horses that have never won a race. Once a horse has won a maiden race he must move into one of the other categories described above. The majority of the Stonestreet Stable horses will start in Maiden Special Weight races and hopefully prove their ability justifies moving onto Allowance and Stakes competition.