Horse Racing Grades Explained

Photo courtesy of Alan Green

If you’re relatively new to betting on horse racing, you’ll be forgiven for not understanding all the terminology that goes with it. There’s a lot to learn and understand from a newbie’s perspective, but it really isn’t as daunting or confusing as what it appears to be.

Perhaps the main area that provides a misperception is the different types of races and grades, but there’s only two to consider and this is where we’ll delve into the differences and explain how the grading system in British horse racing works.

Typically, all UK meetings will either be flat racing or jump racing – which is often referred to as National Hunt Grade – and the differences between the two is relatively obvious. What perhaps isn’t as clear-cut is the different grades and sub-categories that go with it, so let’s take a closer look and bring you up to speed.

Flat Racing

Flat racing does exactly what it says on the tin, and is run over distances between five furlongs and two miles. Each race will be run over a flat surface with no obstacles or jumps to consider, and is open to younger horses aged between two and five. All UK races will be run on grass and the flat season generally runs from late April to the end of October, but winter meetings are becoming more common via artificial surfaces.

In terms of the Grades and banding, the three that are associated to flat racing are the Classics, Class 1 and Classes 2-7. The former contain some of the oldest races in Britain which include the 1000 and 2000 Guineas, the Oaks, the Derby and the St Ledger. The Classics are only open to three-year-olds and provide the highlight of flat racing.

Class 1 races are determined by conditions attached to the race itself, and you’ll also see Class 1 races referred to as Conditions races. There are sub-categories within Class 1 races and the highest level of this is Pattern races, with three groups of racing that are determined via superiority.

Lastly, Classes 2-7 are decided via the British Horseracing Authority and their ranking is based on ability with an official handicap. Horses will have to carry extra weight in the interest of fairness to the rest of the entries, and the handicap level is associated with each Class.

Photo courtesy of Alan Green

National Hunt

As entertaining and enthralling as flat racing is, jump racing is where the UK’s biggest and most popular meetings are contested. British horseracing finest talents will all typically contest in races such as the Grand National, Cheltenham Festival and the King George VI Chase to name but a few.

In terms of Classes, jump/National Hunt racing are all considered either Class 1 or Classes 2-7 with three categories branching off from Class 1. These are Grades 1, 2 and 3 and as you’d come to expect, Grade 1 is the top of the pile. Horses will have to carry weights but their previous performances aren’t brought into consideration, only their age and sex.

Grade 2 is similar to Grade 1 and horses are weighted according to their previous wins, or either by Weight-For-Age (penalties given for previous wins). Extra weight may also have to be carried for those who have consistently won but is not always the case.

Grade 3 differs from the first two somewhat as more emphasis is applied to the handicap rating. You’ll often see Grade 3 races referred to as Valuable Open Handicaps but the same principles are applied to Grade 1 and 2 in terms of quality.

Classes 2-7 sees the horses determined via the overall quality they possess, but it is all done with the handicap in mind. Unsurprisingly, Class 2 is of a higher level than Class 3 and horses can ‘move up’ owing to strong and consistent performances.

Ready to get amongst the action? Check out the latest horse racing results and apply your new-found knowledge ahead of the next meeting.