It’s not all about the Kentucky Derby, though that’s a great race to watch. There’s a lot of money that exchanges hands at the Kentucky Derby, but that isn’t where the top horses debut. They have to start from the ground up just like any other horse does. By the way, horse racing is divided into not only different race types, but also different types of horses. Harness racing is different from thoroughbred racing, but that’s an article for a different day.
Let’s check out those races, shall we?
First and foremost, you have maiden races. This is actually where it all begins for a horse. Any horse that hasn’t won a race is known as a maiden. In fact, winning that first race is known as “breaking his/her maiden” and it can happen in any type of race. There are different class levels for maiden races.
The top class of the maidens are known as Maiden Special Weight races. These are amazing horses that will win quickly and move on to other races. There’s also maiden claiming races for horses that failed in the maiden special weight company. The lower the claiming tag on a horse, the lower the quality.
So, what about those claiming races anyway? Well, in a claiming race every horse has a price tag. The horse can be bought or “claimed” out of the race for that price. The person who wants to claim the horse puts in the request before the race. Here’s the fun part — no matter what happens to the horse in the race, the new owner gets the horse. Even if the horse is injured after the race — yes, it’s a little weird but it’s true.
Claiming races have their own classes as well based on price. The highest level is the optional claimer — this goes for 75 grand per horse or more. The horses can be entered with an option to be claimed but if the owner doesn’t want to, they don’t have to.
Regular claiming races can go from a grand to a full hundred grand per house, but the high end is usually only at like Belmont or Santa Anita. The low end will be at minor tracks.
There’s allowance races — a step up from claiming races. The horses are not for sale, and you would look silly expecting them to be. There are set conditions and weights to carry with weight allowed off for meeting various other conditions. Typical races are for the horses that didn’t win a certain number of races from the other category. Horses here aren’t necessarily terrible — they just haven’t won. Allowances like having 5 pounds off the assigned weight if the horse hasn’t won since a certain date or brought in a certain amount of money. These races can still be exciting to bet on.
Finally, you have the stakes races. This is where things really get interesting. Stakes races can go for a lot of money — all the way up to the 5 million dollar Breeders’ Cup Classic. The finest horses will be at the finest races, and those stakes races are Graded Stakes. These have no restrictions except for age or sex. The grade assigned to a race is controlled by a committee that ensures that a Grade 1, 2, or 3 race is the same no matter what track is being run. The big tracks will run all three grades but smaller tracks might only have one.
Grade 1 races are ones you probably know of — Preakness, Belmont Stakes, and all eight of the Breeders’ Cup. These are amazing races to watch — they are filled with horses at their prime. Study the horses well here if you’re going to handicap.
We hope this guide was helpful to you, even if you’re going to be betting online. Good luck!