Flat Racing Guide: Classification, Conditions & Handicaps Explained

Understand the essential flat racing notions such as classes, groups, conditions, handicaps & types of races to figure out how the sport of the kings works

A horse race held on a flat track with no jumps or other obstacles is called a flat race. They are essentially sprint races held during the warm season, over distances between 5 furlongs and 2 miles. Most racecourses used for flat racing in the UK have natural grass, although all-weather synthetic turf is also present. Flat races are a test of speed; therefore, the ground conditions and the starting position can play a pivotal role in these types of races.

Unlike those used for Jump Racing, the horses used in flat racing are thoroughbreds. They start racing at two, and peak at age 3-4. At that point, most of the really good ones are sent to stud (a business that usually ends up as being more profitable than their actual racing career). In contrast, other horses end up participating in the National Hunt races, where they can continue to race for at least 5-6 more years.

There are 35 racecourses in the United Kingdom that stage Flat racing. Royal Ascot, the Epsom Derby and Glorious Goodwood are the major Flat racing festivals.

The classic A-H letter grouping system has been changed since 2010. Nowadays, Flat races in Great Britain are broadly divided into 7 classes, with the best horses competing in Class 1. All the group races are Conditions Races – also known as Stakes Races – whereas most races held in classes between 2 and 7 are handicap races. We’ll go into further details bellow.


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Quickly navigate to your desired topic:

  1. Flat Racing Class 1 (Mostly Conditions Races)
  2. Major Flat Racing Events
  3. Flat Racing Classes 2-7 (Mostly Handicap Races)
  4. Types of Flat Races Explained


Flat Racing Class 1 (Mostly Conditions Races)

Flat Racing Class 1 (Mostly Conditions Races)

Group races, also known as Pattern races, represent the high society in Flat Racing. Listed races also fall within Class 1, and they are considered a stepping stone for promising thoroughbreds.

Although the weight each horse will carry in Conditions Races is not determined by their Official Rating (a grade set by the British Horseracing Authority), there are minimum requirements for every division, as follows:

  • Group 1 – Races of paramount international importance. Official Rating of 115+ is required.
  • Group 2 – Major international races. Official Rating of 110+ is required.
  • Group 3 – Important domestic races. Official Rating of 105+ is required.
  • Listed races – Less important domestic races. These can be either conditions or handicap events for horses rated 96-110+.

In the group races, horses will carry weights in accordance with the conditions of the race. Although several factors are being taken into account, sex and age are the most important ones. This method is also called weight for age.

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Major Flat Racing Events

Major Flat Racing Events

The top-class horses and jockeys in the UK take part in these five classic races. Only three-year-old horses are allowed. The following Class 1 events are known as the Classics of the British flat racing season:

2000 GuineasApril/MayNewmarket1 mile
1000 GuineasApril/MayNewmarket1 mileFillies only
The OaksMay/JuneEpsom Downs1m 4f 6yFillies only
The Derby1st Sat. in JuneEpsom Downs1m 4f 10y
St LegerSeptemberDoncaster1m 6f 132y

Unlike handicap races, horses that compete in these Conditions Races carry more or less the same weight, regardless of their Official Rating, the only divergence being that fillies and mares generally get a small weight allowance in races in which they compete against colts and geldings.

Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (France), Kentucky Derby (USA), Melbourne Cup (Australia), Pegasus World Cup (USA), Dubai World Cup (UAE), and Breeders' Cup (USA) are the most famous flat horse races held outside Great Britain.

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Flat Racing Classes 2-7 (Mostly Handicap Races)

Flat Racing Classes 2-7 (Mostly Handicap Races)

Handicaps are the most common types of flat races in the UK. The British Horse Racing Authority appoints handicappers that assign an Official Rating to every horse, which is essentially a weight they will have to carry in every handicap event.

The handicappers’ job is to try to make all horses finish the race at the same time, given the individual weight penalty they receive. The official form ratings are reassessed after every race based on the horses’ performance.

These classes are restricted to horses within specific racing bands, as listed below:

  • Class 2 – Heritage Handicaps, Handicaps of rating 86-100, 91-105 and 96-110
  • Class 3 – Handicaps of 76-90, and 81-95
  • Class 4 – Handicaps of rating 66-80, and 71-85
  • Class 5 – Handicaps of rating 56-70, and 61-75
  • Class 6 – Handicaps of rating 46-60, and 51-65
  • Class 7 – Mostly Classified Stakes races for horses rated 0-45.

The highest Rating a flat handicap horse can have in is 110. The only way they can go beyond that limit is by competing in Class 1 races. Also bear in mind that there are some Conditions Races in these lower classes as well, although they are infrequent.

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Types of Flat Races Explained

Types of Flat Races Explained

Although there are several types of horse races between classes 2 and 7, the most important ones are the handicap races. Each of these may come with different factors to consider. And although small-fry flat horse racing may not be the most appealing, we’ve decided to include them in this horse racing betting guide.

Now, you don’t have to remember them all. Just take a quick look, and get familiar with the terms:

  • Handicap – races where horses carry weights according to their Official Rating
  • Heritage Handicap – highest level handicap races with the highest prize money
  • Conditions Stakes – weight for age races
  • Classified Stakes – horses must have raced at least 3 times, or a minimum of 2 times if they obtained a win
  • Novices – two and three-year-old horses who haven’t won more than twice can participate
  • Maiden – entry-level races open to horses which are yet to win a race; horses are given an official rating after starting 3 races or winning their first, thus granting permission to participate in handicap races
  • Rated Maiden – races for low rated horses with a max rating who have run at least 3 times
  • Nursery – handicap races where only two-year-olds are allowed
  • Seller – the winner is offered for public auction after the race ends
  • Claimers – a selling race where the BHA sets a minimum and maximum weight for each horse, then connections adjust the weight knowing that the horse’s price after the race will be reduced if they don’t choose the maximum weight; all horses can be sold.
  • Auction – only horses to have been sold at public auction for a value not exceeding a specified amount can take part in these races
  • Auction Maiden – races between two-year-old horses that were sold at auctions
  • Median Auction Maiden – races for two-year-old stallions with an established median price
  • Apprentice – only apprentice jockeys are allowed to run
  • Amateur – races restricted to amateur jockeys
  • Ladies – only female amateurs and apprentices can participate
  • Gentleman – male amateurs’ races.

Most of these are horse races of little importance. Nevertheless, some of the most experienced punters monitor these events because less known horses, jockeys and trainers are often priced really high. The key is, however, to be able to spot the hidden value.

If you want to learn more about horse racing betting refer to our other guide that explains all the basic stuff like the differences between Flat racing and National Hunt racing, how Starting Price (SP) works, what Best Odds Guaranteed (BOG) means, and some horse racing tips for beginners. You'll even find all the bet types explained: each-way bets, forecast bets, trixie bet, tricast betting etc.

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