Horse racing is one of the worlds most ancient sports, with the premise of identifying which of two or more horses is the fastest over a set distance. The most popular type of racing involves thoroughbred racehorses competing against each other in either Flat races or over jumps (National Hunt racing – NH). Of the two disciplines, flat racing is by far the more popular worldwide with races carrying much higher pots of prize money than most of those over jumps. In terms of prestige, the Epsom Derby is one of the worlds most famous races but as times change there are other big worldwide races that offer huge amounts of prize money such as the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, the Melbourne Cup and the Dubai World Cup. In 2017 the inaugural running of the Pegasus World Cup carried a huge sum of $16 million with $7 million going to the winner. Over jumps, there is no race bigger than Aintree’s Grand National and in regards to prize money, it carried a total purse of £1 million with £517,000 going to the winner.
To try and break races down further the more prestigious races in the UK tend to be classed as pattern races with Group/Grade 1 races being the highest. Group/Grade 2 races are then the next level down with Group/Grade 3 races supporting these. The fourth tier are then referred to as Listed races and the majority of all the grades listed above are run as conditions races. This means that runners will tend to carry the same weights unless they have gained a penalty for winning a similar kind of contest. Details of this are normally published in the conditions of each race.
Further to this most other races are run as handicaps. In this scenario, horses are allotted “handicap” ratings that are awarded to them in regards to how they have performed in previous races. A horse is unable to run in a handicap until it has been given a handicap rating. Some of the bigger races are still run as (heritage) handicaps such as the Grand National and Hennessy Gold Cup over jumps and the Cambridgeshire and Cesareswitch on the flat. These will generally be open handicaps open to all horses. However, to ensure all horses are given a shot at winning races most handicaps will have a limited ceiling in regards to a horses rating.
On top of Group, Listed and Handicap races there are also other events such as Conditions races (races in which horses meet the required criteria to race. ie: not won more than once, or not won at a higher grade), Maidens (races for horses who have not won at all), Claimers (races for which all horses can be claimed for a set/agreed sum according to race value), Selling races (races where the winning horse is then auctioned). The purpose is to give as many horses a chance of winning a race as possible.