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The Secret Lives of Flat Races

While flat racing sounds like a straight forward sport at first - horses running on a flat track, no jumps - there is a number of different sub-types of races. Half of all races are Handicaps, the other half is made up by Stake races. The list below will help to make the variety of races more transparent.

Types Of Flat Races

Race Type Description
Group Group Races include horses classified as Group 1, 2, or 3. It is the highest class of race
Listed Listed Races are considered just below Group class in quality
Rated Stakes Handicap races with valuable stakes in a 10 to 14lb weight range
Conditions Stakes Races for horses below class A standard
Classified Stakes Races open to horses with at least three previous starts, or two previous starts with at least one win
Handicap In the Handicap race the horses are weighed down according to their ability to even the chances at the win. The strongest contenders will carry additional excess weight to give the weaker horses a shot at first place
Nursery Handicap races for two year old horses
Maiden Races for horses who have never won a race
Maiden Handicap Handicap race for 'maidens' who have run at least 4 times
Rated Maiden Maiden race for horses with a max rating who have run at least 3 times
Novice Race for two-year-olds who have not won more than twice
Auction Maiden For two-year-olds who were sold at specified auctions
Median Auction Maiden For two-year-old stallions with an established median price for their yearlings at specified auctions
Selling Race for low class, low performance horses; the winner is offered for auction, though every horse running in the race can be 'claimed' after the running
Claiming A handicap race in which the weight allocated to the horse determined the 'claiming' price it may be sold for after the race. The lower the weight, the lower the price.
Apprentice A race for apprentice jockeys only
Amateur For amateur jockeys only. A heavy weights race
Lady For female amateur and apprentice jockeys
Gentlemen For male amateurs only

Timeform Ratings

Timeform ratings are a comprehensive way of relaying information to bettors, fans and other interested parties on the horse racing circuit. The Timeform Rating system was developed by Phil Bull and is considered an assessment of the horse's overall form; as opposed to a 'timerating' which merely relays the performance of a horse in one single race, which may inaccurately represent the horse's capabilities. To arrive at the Timeform, the horse's performance is measured against a standard performance.

It sounds so simple. Doesn't it?

It is in fact hideously complicated.

In order to arrive at an accurate estimate of the horse's form, all factors which led the horse to display the performance recorded are considered into the equation. The quality and surface of the track, the wind, and the horse's age and weight; all these variables are carefully measured and appropriated.

The set standard time varies from track to track and is derived from mathematical comparisons of records of performances on the track in question dating back to 1933. As an example: To calculate the standard time for Newmarket racecourse it is necessary to compile a statistical analysis of over 4,000 individual race times. However, it can be done - by those with a proper head for numbers. Moving on.

Measuring a horse's performance against the standard time is done in 60 second intervals to assure accuracy. I.e. Blue Makeup runs five furlongs in 54 seconds, the standard time is 60 seconds per five furlongs, Blue Makeup gets a time difference of -2. The time difference is equated through actual time minus the standard time.

To work out the impact of age and weight of each horse, the mathematical maniacs in charge use a table detailing week-by-week time allowances for maturing two-, three-, and four-year-olds over all distances from five furlongs upwards. It works similar to the table used by the handicappers.

Ground conditions, jockey's weight and experience and wind are also calculated in an equally precise manner to arrive at the much anticipated Timeform, which will then determine the horse's options in the racing world.

Timeform ratings for three-year-olds and over are as follows:

140+ Outstanding
130-135 Above Average Group 1 winner
125-129 Average Group 1 Winner
115-120 Average Group 2 Winner
110-115 Average Group 3 Winner
100-105 Average Listed Race Winner

With a rough idea of how these numbers are established you can develop a deeper appreciation for outstanding records, such as the unbeaten Timeform of 212 of Irish-trained Arkle in recorded in the 1970s. It will also help you read your race cards and come to a better informed decision whom to back in the next race.

The better the horse's Timeform, the better the class of race a horse can enter and is likely to succeed in. Knowing this you will understand the following section even better.

Classification Of Flat Races

As of 1st January 2010 all flat races in Great Britain are classified in a new system dividing them into Class 1 to Class 7.

Class 1 Includes races of horses in Group1, 2, and 3; as well as Listed races. Class 1 also encompasses Listed Handicap races with a rating of 96-110 [<= this means: no horses with a handicap rating of over 110 may enter the race; all horses with a rating below 96 may enter but will be weighed down]. Class 1 races attract a purse minimum ranging from £27,000 to £16,000 for 2-y-o horses, and £40,000 to £200,000 for 3-y-o+ horses.
Class 2 This includes Heritage Handicaps, min value £75,000; Handicaps of 0-105, 0-110 and Open for all, Conditions Stakes, Handicaps (86-100, 91-105 and 96-110), Open Nursery Handicaps, and Classified Stakes 0-95 - all valued min £35,000; and Novices' and Maidens' races, valued £12,000 -13,000 for 2-y-o and £16,000-17,500 for 3-y-o.
Class 3 Incorporates Conditions Stakes, Handicaps (76-90, 81-95), Classified Stakes (0-85, 0-90), Nursery Handicaps (0-90, 0-95), and Novices' and Maidens' Races - all valued from £9,200 to £10,000 for 2-y-o and from £10,500 to £11,000 for 3-y-o.
Class 4 Hosts Handicaps (66-80, 71-85), Classified Stakes (0-80), Nursery Handicaps (0-80, 0-85), Novices, Novice Auction and Median Novice Auction; Maidens, Maidens Auction, Median Auction Maiden, Rating Related Maiden,; and Claiming and Selling Races valued from £5,400 to £6,500 for 2-y-o and from £6,500 to £7,500 for 3-y-o.
Class 5 Hold races for Handicaps (56-70, 51-65), Nursery Handicaps and Classified Stakes (0-70, 0-75); Novice, Novice Auction and Median Novice Auction; Maiden Auction, Median Maiden Auction and Rating Related Maiden Races; as well as Claiming and Selling races £3,600 to £4,500 for 2-y-o and from £3,600 to £4,500 for 3-y-o.
Class 6 Sees Handicaps (46-60, 51-65), Nursery Handicaps and Classified Stakes (0-60, 0-65); Novice Auction and Median Novice Auction; Maiden Auction, Median Maiden Auction and Rating Related Maiden Races; as well as Claiming and Selling races valued from £2,600 to £3,000 for 2- and 3-y-o.
Class 7 Makes room for Handicap races 45-50 and has no minimum value

The Rule of thumb is: The higher the class, the higher the quality of horses, the higher the stakes and the winnings to be had.