In handicap races, the weight carried by each horse is determined by its official handicap rating, as assigned by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA). The race conditions for a ‘Class 6’ handicap on the Flat, for example, might specify that the race is open to horses officially rated 46-65, but horses rated 45 and below are also eligible. In such a race, a horse rated 65 would carry top weight, say, 9st 7lb, a horse rated 64 would carry 9st 6lb, and so on.
At the bottom of the handicap, a horse rated 46 would be required to carry 19lb less than a horse rated 65 or, in this example, 8st 2lb, which would be the minimum weight applicable. Thus, if a horse rated 45 was entered for the race, its rating would merit carrying 8st 1lb, or 1lb lower than the minimum weight applicable. Such a horse can compete, but must carry 1lb more than its ‘true’ handicap mark, and is said to be racing from ‘1lb out of the handicap’.
If a horse is running from out of the handicap, its name will be listed in the ‘Long Handicap’ section of the racecard, along with the weight it would be carrying if allowed to run off its correct mark. Of course, it is not unknown for horses to win from out of the handicap but, win or lose, they are competing on disadvantageous terms, in the eyes of the official handicapper and should be treated with caution.
As the same suggests, jump racing is the discipline of horse racing that involves jumping obstacles of one form or another. Jump, or National Hunt, races can be divided in hurdle races, steeplechases and, rather confusingly, National Hunt Flat races, which involve no obstacles at all. Hurdles are the smaller type of obstacle, standing a minium of 3’1″ high and consisting of lightweight, brushwood panels driven into the ground. Unlike hurdles, which are often knocked flat during a race, steeplechase fences are tallest, more rigid obstacles. They must be a minimum of 4’6″ high, but in the case of ‘The Chair’, which is the tallest fence on the Grand National course, can reach 5’3″ in height.
Jump races are typically run over distances between 2 miles and 4 miles 2½ furlongs, the latter being the distance of the world famous Grand National, run at Aintree Racecourse in April each year. Nowadays, jump racing takes place all year round, almost without interruption, but for National Hunt purists, the season ‘proper’ still starts in mid-October and ends in late April or early May. Aside from the Grand National, the highlight of the National Hunt season is undoubtedly the Cheltenham Festival, staged annually in March; the four-day Festival features the Champion Hurdle, Queen Mother Champion Chase, Stayers’ Hurdle and Cheltenham Gold Cup, which are ‘championship’ races in their respective disciplines.
A ‘Pattern’ race is a horse race that is assigned Group One, Group Two or Group Three status, on the Flat, or Grade One, Grade Two or Grade Three status, in National Hunt racing. In both cases, these races represent the highest tiers, in terms of quality, prestige and value, but are ranked by two different bodies, with the power to upgrade or downgrade races from one season to the next.
On the Flat, ‘Group’ status, which is only awarded to non-handicap races of sufficient calibre, is assigned by the European Pattern Committee. The European Pattern Race system, which regulates so-called ‘black type’ races in France and Germany as well as in Britain and Ireland, was introduced in 1971. At that time, Pattern races were structured, in order of importance, as major international races, minor international races and major domestic races.
In National Hunt racing, the Jump Pattern Committee performs a similar function to the European Pattern Committee, but operates under the auspices of the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) and, as such, covers Britain alone. The National Hunt Pattern actually pre-dates the European Pattern Race system by two years, but was revised by the forerunner of the BHA, the Jockey Club, in 1989, to create the basis of the current system. The National Hunt Pattern includes several high-profile handicap races, not least the Grand National.
A maiden race is a race for, well, maidens or, in other words, a race in which none of the participants has won a race in its selected discipline. The key phrase here is ‘in its selected discipline’, because a horse that has won a race in one discipline may still be eligible to run in maiden races in another. A horse that has won on the Flat, including under National Hunt Rules, for example, remains eligible for maiden races over hurdles, or fences for that matter, until such a time as it wins a race over one type of obstacle or the other.
Maiden races are run under both codes of horse racing – that is, Flat and National Hunt – and, by their very nature, are typically contested by young, inexperienced horses at the start of their careers. Of course, it is possible that moderate horses run many times before winning a race and some never do, so they could remain eligible to run in maiden races for most, or all, of their careers. That said, eligibility is often based on age and/or sex, so not all maidens are qualified to run in all maiden races.