There are several levels of competition in thoroughbred horse racing and this is an introduction for the new handicapper.  When picking your horses, the level of the competition is an important factor and many handicappers will look at the level of competition a horse has been in prior races.  Sometimes this can be a big tool in picking a winner.  The purses at each subsequent level of competition get larger.

Maiden Race

The first level of class is of course the maiden race, which is for horses that have never won a race.  This is usually two or three year old horses, and once a horse has “broken its maiden” status by winning, they must move to one of the other levels described below.

Claiming Race

The second level of competition would be a claiming race.  These races are common and whatever category of claiming race a horse has been entered, they can be claimed for that price.  Owners and trainers are aware their horse can be purchased for the claiming price of that race before the race begins.  This generally keeps competition fair as owners and trainers will not enter a horse of superior quality against lesser horses, as they know they could possibly lose their horse.

Allowance Race

The next level of class is an allowance race.  There are many different allowance conditions which are described in the Daily Racing Form or track program that make the eligibility for each race.  Horses in an allowance race cannot be claimed and are usually preparing for bigger races, such as the next two levels of competition; a handicap or stakes race.

Handicap Race

The handicap race is the next level of competition.  This is a race where the weight of each horse is assigned by the racing secretary after evaluating past performances.  The horses with the best past performances will be assigned higher weights, thus giving the other horses a better chance at winning.  Many circumstances and statistics are considered when assigning weights in different types of handicap races.

Stakes Race

Stakes racing is the next level of competition and the highest class of race.  The best horses are usually entered in stakes races and owners typically pay an entrance fee to have their horse run in these races.  The highest purses are won at this level of competition.

Every race with a dedicated page here at is a Stakes race, which as mentioned, is the highest level of race for thoroughbred horses.  A good number of these races will have ‘Stakes’ at the end of their race name such as the Belmont Stakes or Preakness Stakes.  Check out the horse races page to learn more about betting on any of these specific stakes races.