Understanding Graded Stakes Races
There are four types of races in North America that classify thoroughbred racing including Stakes Races, Allowance Races, Claiming Races, and Maiden Races. Most beginners at the track are only familiar with the bigger stakes races at their local track. To understand how your winning horse becomes a competitor in a major stakes race, or better yet the Kentucky Derby, the horse starts out at a much lower level.
Below you’ll find easy information on Stakes Races, Allowance Races, Claiming races, and Maiden Races. Understanding race classes will help you become a fearless lady at the track and bet like the big boys no matter what kind of race is on the card!
Stakes Races (Highest Race Level)
The cream of the crop is what you’ll find competing in a Stakes Race. Owners must pay an entry fee that in conjunction with a contribution from the track makes up the winnings awarded to the first, second, third and fourth place finisher.
Stakes Races are run at small local tracks all the way up to Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby and Santa Anita Park for the prestigious Breeders’ Cup World Championship. Stakes Races have the highest purses and usually draw the most fans to the track.
Stakes Races are broken down into Local Stakes Races and Graded Stakes Races. The difference between the two is simple. Local thoroughbreds run Local Stakes Races. The Local Stakes Race will have restrictions. Restrictions may include such rules as the horse must be locally bred within the state or have competed at that local track prior to the Local Stakes Race.
On the flip side, top thoroughbreds without restrictions will run a Graded Stakes Race. The Graded Stakes Race is the top race for a thoroughbreds and will not have restrictions besides age and sex of a horse. Graded Stakes are broken down into class levels labeled Grade 1 (GI), Grade 2 (G11), and Grade 3 (GIII). The Graded Stakes Races are assigned a grade by the Graded Stakes Committee, which regulates the races are equally ranked in the correct grade level regardless of the track it’s run on.
Allowance Races (Second Highest Race)
An Allowance Race will award higher purses and the horses are not for sale. Allowance Races are a little tricky to understand for the beginner at the track. These races have set conditions such as weight allowances if a horse hasn’t won a race lately or if he or she hasn’t brought in a certain dollar amount of purse money in. Allowance Races label non-winners as NW1X, NW2X, NW3X, and NW4X, meaning the horse is a “non-winner” for one time, two times, etc. If you are a beginner at the track and want to bet on an Allowance Race, ask someone to explain the program information to you, or simply bet on your favorite jockey!
Claiming Races (Just above a Maiden Race)
Claiming Races are run the most in North America. These races are what you’ll find at your local track. Every horse that runs in a Claiming Race is given a price tag. An interested buyer puts in a request prior to the race to buy the horse regardless if the horse even crosses the finish line. The original owner is awarded any purse money won and the new owner takes home a new horse!
An “optional claimer” is a Claiming Race that enables the original owner of a horse to prohibit a potential buyer from taking home their horse. These optional claimer races usually host a higher level of horse and hold the highest price tag for the claimed thoroughbred.
Maiden Races (Thoroughbred Beginners)
Maiden Races are for horses that have never won a race before. A horse can “break his or her maiden” in a maiden race or a higher-class race, such as a Stakes or Allowance Race, but beginners usually start at the Maiden Race level. “Broke his Maiden” is a term used when a horse wins his first race.
Maiden Races are broken down into Maiden Special Weight Races and Maiden Claiming Races. Maiden Special Weight usually features high quality thoroughbreds that will move up quickly. Maiden Claiming will host horses that may have not run so great in a Maiden Special Weight. These horses will have “claiming tags” with quality information.
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