Stakes & Handicap

Graded stakes and handicap races are the highest level of racing and offer the best purse money. Consequently, the best horses usually compete in stakes competition. The owner must pay nomination fees and entry fees in order to run their horse. An example of an early nomination fee is the Kentucky Derby, when horses are nominated to all three Triple Crown races in mid-January, although the races are run in the Spring. Normally, nominations are due a few weeks before the race is scheduled to run. The owner also has to pay a fee to enter and run the horse as well. These fees are usually paid back in the purse in the form of "added" money. Added meaning in addition to the announced purse. The nominations generally include more horses than will run in the race. A horse may not be entered, even though they have paid to nominate, if the owner or trainer thinks the race will be too difficult to win, the horse is injured, or is entered in another race. If a stake is overfilled (more horses entered than are allowed to run), the conditions of the race will determine who gets to race. With handicap races, preference is given to those horses that have been assigned the most weight. The Racing Secretary assigns weights to horses in a handicap race, with the horses who have accomplished the most according to their past performances carrying the highest weight, while the least competitive horses will carry a lower weight. Assigning different weights is an attempt to level the playing field between competitors. There are also weight breaks for younger horses or for a filly racing against colts. Like any type of race, a stakes or handicap race will also contains age conditions like "two-year-olds" or "three and up."


101 - Meet The Players Learn about the people and animals that make up this fascinating sport of kings.
102 - How To Wager Start here for the basics on how to place a bet.
103 - Types of Races Should you bet on a Stakes, Maiden or Claiming?
104 - Beginner Tips Get a start on some of the main points to consider when betting.
105 - Reading The Daily Racing Form or Program Three tutorials on how to read the racing program
106 - Money Management Manage your risk and enjoy the day.

Allowance Races

Allowance races are exactly like their name implies. Allowances are made or "conditions are set" in order for the horse to be eligible in that race. Examples of allowance races are: Non-Winners of 2 races other than maiden or claiming or Non-Winners of 3 races other than maiden or claiming. A horse that has never won two races might have a hard time winning a race against horses that have won three. There are often other conditions like "of a race since September 20, 2001". Sometimes there are monetary conditions, such as "Non-Winners of $11,000 lifetime" or "Non-Winners of $20,000 twice since June 1, 2002." A good handicapper will make note of these conditions and which horses in today's race fit them best. Some horses entered in the race may be competitive against Non-winners of three, but not against the Non-Winners of $20,000 twice. It depends on the trainer and owner, but often a horse will be run through all of their conditions before they are ever entered in a stakes race. (Two year olds are a common exception to this rule, due to the fact that their conditioned allowance races do not often get enough entrants when entries are taken for the race; ultimately leading to two year olds going from a maiden win straight into a stakes race.) Some feel that it is important to season a horse by going this route. Others feel that it is better to go after the better purses in stakes level racing. Some horses can't make the cut and go from the allowance to the claiming ranks and back over their careers.

Maiden Races

The term "maiden" refers to a horse that has never won a race. There are two types of maiden races: maiden special weight and maiden claiming. The maiden special weight race, also called a maiden allowance, is the highest quality. A horse cannot be claimed out of a maiden special weight race. As a general rule, the maiden special weight races have the best youngest horses on the racetrack and also often some of the best bred horses. The purses are also better than in a maiden claiming race. In maiden claiming races, all the horses are for sale at the price stated in the program. Claiming prices vary from track to track, and can range from $5,000 to $150,000.

Claiming Races

A claiming race means that the horses may be purchased by a licensed owner for the claiming price listed for that race. Every track has certain claiming guidelines, but generally there are certain rules that apply. As well as being licensed, the person making the claim also must have enough money in their horsemens' bookkeeper account to pay for the horse, and they must have a trainer to pick up the horse after the race. To make the actual claim, the owner or his authorized agent will fill out a "claim slip" with the relevant information (date, race, horse name, owner name, etc.) and deposit the slip in the claim box. There is usually a deadline to drop your claim, generally 15 minutes to post. In the event of more than one owner drops a claim on the same horse, the racing official in charge of claims, the claims clerk, will conduct a "shake" to determine who will become the new owner. The shake involves putting numbered pills, one representing each owner, in the pill bottle and pulling out a winning number. The horse is then picked up by its new owner/trainer after the race.

As mentioned when discussing a horse's class, not all horses are good enough to be top competitors in stakes level races. Claiming races are the great equalizer; basically the owner is setting the market value of the horse. If the horse is entered for a price that other trainers think is a good value, it is likely to be claimed. Conversely, if he is entered for too much, the horse often ends up being a long shot and having a slim chance of winning. Depending on the track, a horse may be entered anywhere from $5,000 to as high as $150,000. There is also another type of race called the optional claiming/allowance; a type of hybrid race that combines claiming horses with those still eligible for allowance conditions. In this case, the horses may be eligible to be claimed or they may be running for allowance conditions, and therefore are not eligible to be claimed. This type of race helps the Racing Secretary have a fuller field of horses and gives trainers a couple of options when their desired race does not fill when entries are taken.

Starter Allowance/Handicap Races

Similar to an allowance race, a horse entered in a starter allowance race cannot be claimed. The horse, however, must have run at or below a certain claiming level (for example "$8,000 or less") during a designated time period (for example "in 2002-2003"). A starter allowance can bring together a wide range of claiming and allowance horses. If the race is a handicap, then the Racing Secretary assigns weight to each horse similar to a stakes handicap.  


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