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Types Of Horse Races: Your Guide To The Sport Of Horse Racing

The horse racing sport has a rich history and unique culture that draws in millions of fans annually for live and TV-based events.

Horses are a year-round affair, with many people constantly looking for current preakness stakes horse odds to stake their bets. However, the Triple Crown races aren’t the only races that are worth noting!

In fact, there are many different types of horse races out there - more than ever before - for fans of the sport to enjoy.

The Types Of Horse Races

There are a variety of widely recognized horse races that occur around the world. Here are some of the most common and most favored horse races.


Flat Races

As the name suggests, these races are carried out on the flat, level ground over a pre-determined distance; anywhere from the minimum distance of 5 furlongs, all the way to 2 miles and 4 furlongs.

Flat racing is one of the more lucrative horse races and offers a larger money prize for the winner. It also offers an expensive breeding business. There are fewer opportunities for flat races because there aren’t 3 types of disciplines in the sphere.


National Hunt Races

This race lacks global popularity and instead has a main audience in the UK and Ireland.

  • Hurdles Races – these are small obstacles that are easy to knock out of the way.
  • Steeplechase Races - these feature bigger obstacles that are harder to jump.
  • National Hunt Flat Races - there are no obstacles, so they are often seen as a great starting point for younger horses.

Group Races

Similarly graded to National Hunt races, Group Races are top-class races in which only the best horses can compete. They are divided into groups (1 through to 3) with a consideration of their age, gender, and ability.

Group 1 is the most prestigious race. Each horse will have a handicap. Groups 2 and 3 are still important but are slightly below Group 1 in terms of quality. They, too, have handicaps but also feature penalties.


Handicap Race

These are common types of horse races. Almost every horse will compete in a handicap race at some point. Each horse is evaluated by a team and then allocated a rating by the handicapper - with the top rating being 110.

This figure will increase or drop depending on whether they run well and is then used to set the weights. This ensures an equal race.

Maiden Race

This type of claiming race is for top-quality horses who have yet to win; whether that’s because they’re deemed not to be good enough, or because they failed at a higher level.

During these races, a racehorse will “break his maiden” if it wins. An exceptional racehorse may achieve its first win in a more prestigious competition such as an allowance or a stakes race if circumstances align.


Allowance Race

Racehorses that compete in these races must carry around a certain amount of weight, or must have permission to carry around less weight (around 5 pounds of the assigned weight) due to certain factors such as not having won a particular amount of money, or if the horse hasn’t won since a specific date. This “allowance” is the reason behind the name.

Those five pounds can have a significant impact on performance. A horse will run approximately a length slower for each extra pound compared to any competitors, assuming they are of equal talent.

Stakes Races

This is where only the best of the best racehorses compete. These racehorses carry lots of prestige and have the largest purses, although this can vary between smaller and bigger tracks.

Put simply, offers in smaller local stakes races might be a few thousand dollars, whereas purses in widely recognized races like the Kentucky Derby can venture into the millions.

Locally held stake races typically come with their own set of restrictions such as any competing horses needing to be bred within the state. These are known as restricted stakes.

Many of these races will offer significant purses, providing an incentive to both breed and racehorses locally. However, they are not eligible for grading.

Graded Stakes Races

Graded stakes races are the top level. Other than the gender or age of the horses, they don’t have any restrictions.

The Graded Stakes Committee will assign three grades, with Grade 1 being horses of a higher caliber. These figures are reviewed annually depending on the horses that emerge from the races and can be adjusted when needed.


The number of horse races held each year is quite substantial. Horses can gain entry to some of these races depending on their breed, age, and a judgment on their performance. Each race comes with its own set of requirements, so no one race stands out.