Understanding Race Types

For the uninitiated, racing terminology can look like a foreign language. There’s a large vocabulary to get your head around and deciphering it isn’t always that easy. We thought we’d lend a hand, starting with the different types of races.

Here is a guide to the main types of races in both Flat and Jumps racing.

Flat Racing

Classic races

There are five Classic races in flat racing, they are The Derby, The Oaks, 2000 Guineas, 1000 Guineas and St Leger. These races are the most prestigious in Britain and have been running for centuries. All five races are only open to three-year-olds, with the Derby, 2000 Guineas and St Ledger ruling that geldings cannot run as well. A colt or filly who has proved they are capable of competing at the very top level will be targeted at these races by their trainer.

Group races

Group races are the top-end of the flat races across the world. There are three types of Group races, Group 3, Group 2 and Group 1, with the latter being the highest quality races and therefore usually having the most prize money on offer. All of the Classic races stated above are Group 1 races. 

Group races are run off of level weights, this means that if a horse has a much lower mark than the rest then it tends to be a tougher task for them. However, if a filly or mare is competing against a colt or gelding then they will receive a weight allowance, which means they will carry less weight. There is also a wage allowance which means a three-year-old running against a horse that is four years old or older will also receive a weight allowance. Allowances are used to try and make things fair by considering all factors.

Listed races

A Listed race is essentially the ‘bottom end’ of the Group races as they are all named ‘Class 1’ races. Listed races can still offer some good prize money and can be a good way to identify whether a horse has the ability to move up into group races, or to drop into handicaps. 


Handicap races are the most common races on the flat. Handicaps are a way to make the race a ‘level playing field’ so it can be a good opportunity for any horse to accumulate a number of wins.

Each horse has their own official rating which is based on their previous runs. This is important because, in handicap races, each horse will carry a different amount of weight depending on what their official rating is. A handicapper is responsible for increasing or decreasing a horse’s overall mark based on their previous runs.

Official ratings are updated on Tuesdays. Therefore, if a horse has won a race well on a Thursday, the owners and trainer may try to run them again before Tuesday when their official rating will, probably, increase.

There are sometimes requirements for handicap races. For example, the lowest class race in Britain is a Class 7, then Class 6, and so on up to Class 1. Of course, higher-rated horses are more likely to win lower-level races and so some races only allow horses in a certain rating region, for example, 45 to 60, to run. If a horse only just squeezes into a bracket – sticking with the same example, they are 60 rated, then they will be carrying the top weight. They are then given a weight, and for every one rating lower another horse is they will carry a pound less. For example, if the top weight horse, rated 60, is carrying 9st 10lbs then another horse rated 50, will carry 9st. This is to try and balance a race so that every horse has a fair chance.

Handicaps tend to go up to a rating of 90, at which point horses rated higher than that will need to try their luck in a Listed or Group race. If they are uncompetitive in those races then the handicapper may drop them to a rating where they can return to handicap races.

Jumps Racing

National Hunt Flat races

Also known as bumpers, National Hunt flat races have no obstacles and are simply a test of stamina. National Hunt horses tend to start their careers in bumpers as they allow them to become familiar with racing and understand what they need to do.

Trainers have the option to either run their horses a few times in bumper races before sending them over hurdles/fences, or they can continue to run them in the flat races and, if good enough, target the Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival.

Juvenile Hurdles

Juvenile hurdles are hurdle races for three-year-olds only. Juvenile hurdlers can often progress into good quality racehorses as they have had lots of experience jumping whilst young. 

Novice Hurdles

Horses who have not yet won a hurdle race can compete in novice hurdle races. Horses will go novice hurdling first as this allows them to compete with others without a win under their belt, may this be due to their inexperience or their ability. If a horse wins a novice hurdle race then they are still able to compete in novice races but only until the end of that season, however, they will carry a weight penalty.


Some horses are better suited to jumping over hurdles than the bigger obstacles (fences). Horses who have a smaller scope tend to be ‘slicker’ and are able to jump over the hurdles quicker as they do not spend too much time in the air. These horses are likely to stay hurdling and can run in open hurdle company or progress into the graded races. Horses can go into novice chasing at any time so some horses may stay over hurdles for a few years before progressing onto fences once they have grown and are more experienced.  

Novice Chasing

Novice chasing is the same as novice hurdling, but with fences. They compete with others who are yet to win a race over fences and can only be a novice chaser for a season. Like hurdling, running in a novice chase after winning one will result in a weight penalty. 


Chasing is a division for horses who race over fences. 

One type of chasing race is a point-to-point race. These races are like bumpers but where competitors jump fences. Usually, horses who win their opening point-to-point race often progress into fairly useful chasers.

A horse who goes chasing can switch back to hurdling at any point, and then back to chasing if their trainer desires, they will have two handicap ratings 

Graded and Listed Jumps races

The exact same applies here as it does for Group and Listed races on the flat. However, over the jumps they use the word ‘Grade’ instead of ‘Group’, so the highest quality race is a Grade 1.


Handicaps also work in the same way as they do on the flat. The main difference you will notice is that all jump horses will have a higher official rating, but the same rules still apply for handicaps. Therefore, a horse with a rating of 150 will carry 5lbs more than a horse with a rating of 145. Mares also receive a weight allowance against the geldings; age allowances are also in play.