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.
Although the use of mobile phones has rendered Tic-Tac nigh on obsolete in the modern betting ring, it is, or was, a secret sign language used by floor men, and women, to relay information about price movements to bookmakers. Traditionally, Tic-Tacs could be employed privately by bookmakers or self-employed, subject to authorisation by the National Joint Pitch Council. In either case, they would wear white gloves to make their hand and arm movements more obvious and, typically, stand on a pile of wooden crates so that they could easily be seen across a crowded betting ring.
Of course, the purpose of Tic-Tacs is to provide a service to bookmakers, not the racing public, and one of the tricks of their trade is known as a ‘Twist Card’. Tic-Tac is complex, but not so complex that it cannot be learnt by racegoers, including professional punters, so to add to the level of subtefuge, the ‘Twist Card’ contains different racecard numbers to those on the standard, publicly-available racecard. Thus, while an informed member of the public may be able to determine that a horse is attracting betting support, he or she still does not know which horse it is, at least not until the price shortens on bookmakers’ boards.
In British Flat racing, the highest quality races are assigned Group One, Group Two or Group Three status by the European Pattern Committee. In British National Hunt racing, the grading system is similar, but races are assigned Grade One, Grade Two or Grade Three status by the Jump Pattern Committee, under the auspices of the British Horseracing Authority (BHA).
Under both codes, ‘Listed’ status represents a step below Group Three, or Grade Three, status, in terms of quality and, therefore, a step above handicap races. Like Group or Graded races, Listed races are run off level weights, with penalties for horses that have won at a higher level and allowances for age and gender. Thus, while Listed races are not subject to any minimum requirement, in terms of official handicap rating, they are more highly regarded than handicaps, in which every horse, theoretically, has the same chance of winning. Indeed, Listed races are the lowest level at which horses can earn so-called ‘black type’ in sales catalogues.
Dozens of Listed races, under both codes, are run throughout the year in Britain. Examples include the Windsor Castle Stakes and Chesham Stakes, at Royal Ascot, the Contenders Hurdle at Sandown
and Scottish Triumph Hurdle Trial at Musselburgh, to name but a few.