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Blog - GAMBLING

Imagine if the fastest, most-talented horses at a track were allowed to constantly race against the slower ones. Like if California Chrome ran against a horse who was winless from 50 starts. There wouldn't be any competition; the races wouldn't be thought provoking and there would be an overwhelming favorite in every race.  

The Thoroughbred racing game works in a very structured, methodical way, and the variance of class levels is what makes the sport competitive – and bettable.

Let’s take a basic look at the various “class” levels as well as alternative meanings for the term.

10. Maiden

Maiden races are restricted to horses who have yet to win a race.

All horses begin their careers as maidens, but there are various class levels they can race at, ranging from maiden special weight, which usually offers a substantial purse, down to lower level maiden claiming races in which each horse can be claimed (purchased) for as little as $5,000, and purses are often low.

MAIDEN SPECIAL WEIGHT RACE AT KEENELAND

Keeneland Maiden

Photo by Eclipse Sportswire

9. What’s Next?

Once a horse breaks their maiden, a trainer must put together a game plan. In extreme cases, if a young horse has shown overwhelming potential, they may try a stakes race, but in all likelihood, they will be placed in an allowance, or conditioned claiming race.

8. For Sale!

Claiming means “for sale”. Claiming races make up roughly 70% of the day-to-day races in the United States, but they are written in a variety of ways. Claiming prices range from $100,000 on the high-end down to the “basement” level of $4,000 (or even less).

With the blessing of the owner, a trainer will assess a horse’s value and enter them accordingly. If another owner/trainer thinks the horse is worth the money, they may enter a “claim”. If more than one claim is entered, a random “shake” will determine who gets the horse.

Horses are grouped by both price tag and eligibility. A general knowledge of the condition system employed by every racetrack will help the wagering public spot the contenders in a race, and separate them from the horses that may be in a little too tough.

For example, the vast majority of the time, an open claiming race for horses who have won multiple times in their career, with a $7,500 price tag, is much stronger than a conditioned claiming race, for “non-winners of two races lifetime (nw2)” at the same level.

7. Allowance

In an allowance race, the horses entered are not eligible to be claimed. They are written to exclude winners at each level. For example, after winning a maiden race, a promising horse can advance to the allowance “non-winners of a race other than maiden, claiming, or starter”. These races are designated by the symbol ‘nw1x’. Allowance conditions generally ascend to the “non-winners of four other than” level. With each step up in an allowance race, the horses available for that condition decrease, but the level of competition, as well as the purses increase.

Additionally, many high-level allowance races are written as an optional claiming race. An optional claimer generally combines two conditions into one race in an attempt to bulk up field size and increase the competitiveness of a race. In these events, a horse that has already cleared the condition can be entered for the claiming price (eligible to be bought) and still compete. These races are in contrast to a general claimer where every horse is in for a price tag.

ALLOWANCE/OPTIONAL CLAIMING RACE AT GULFSTREAM

AOCGPInside

Photo by Eclipse Sportswire

6. Stakes/Handicaps

Stakes races are for the highest class of race horse. The very best compete in “graded” events - Grade 1 down to Grade 3. The Kentucky Derby is an example of a Grade 1 stakes.

There are also non-graded stakes, which are either new and haven’t had enough history to be graded or are not quite graded-stakes quality; restricted stakes, which are written for horses who were foaled or bred in the state in which the event is being held; and overnight stakes, which are written on shorter notice and are often a glorified allowance race with a higher purse.

In a “handicap,” the racing secretary assigns weights based on a horse’s recent accomplishments. The “highweight” in such an event will be forced to spot weight to his/her competition.

5. Restrictions

Races can be “restricted” by the age or breeding/foaling state of the horse, meaning horses must fit a certain criteria in order to be eligible to race. For example, an older horse cannot run in a race restricted to 3-year-olds, and a horse who was bred in Kentucky cannot run in race restricted to Illinois-bred horses.

Male horses cannot compete in races restricted to fillies (and mares), but on occasion, most frequently in 2-year-old races or stakes, female horses will dip their toes in against their male counterparts (Rags to Riches winning the Belmont Stakes, Zenyatta winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Ria Antonia not winning the Preakness, for example).

Restricted races are often not as deep in talent as open races run at the same class level. For example, a $25,000 claiming race restricted to 3-year-olds probably won’t be as strong as one that allows older horses, and a maiden special weight race for Florida-breds tends to be much weaker than a non-restricted event.

In any race, horses can be “handicapped” by the weight they are assigned to carry by age or recency of winning. For example, in a race for 3-year-olds and up, older horses might be forced to carry 122 pounds, while the 3-year-olds get in at 117.

CLAIMING CROWN STAKES ARE RESTRICTED TO HORSES WHO RACED FOR A 'TAG'

Claiming Crown Inside

Photo by Eclipse Sportswire

4. Evaluating Class

Having a handle on the class ladder is critical in the handicapping process. There are certainly “key” races (once run, evaluated stronger than their actual class level) at every level.  It is important to remember that an open $25,000 claiming race may be tougher than a first-level allowance.

Think about it. Horses who are running for that price most likely broke through that allowance condition long ago, and they probably have multiple wins on their résumés.

3. Cream of the Crop

Based on their day-to-day quality, it also is important to have a feel for quality of the tracks and race meets. Higher-level races run at higher-level tracks are often stronger than those written under the same conditions at lesser venues. Claiming levels tend to be more equal.

For example a first-level allowance race at Keeneland Race Course is going to be stronger than a first-level allowance race at Turfway Park. Claiming races at various levels tend to be more equal, regardless of the track they are run at.

2. Classy

In my humble opinion, only a very small percentage of horses actually have class. Some have the talent, but not the heart. Others have heart, but not the talent. A horse that combines the two has “class”. This type of horse thrives on competition, does not like to get beat and has the physical ability to compete at a high level.

Horses who need to have things their own way may show class on paper, but they’re usually the kind you can bet against under the right circumstances.

Extreme talent + a big heart + versatility + maturity + the will to overcome = class.

CHAMPION ZENYATTA WAS THE EPITOME OF CLASS

Zen 10

Photo by Eclipse Sportswire

1. Know Your Horses

Examining and handicapping horses based on race conditions alone is NOT the answer. You MUST compare strength of field.

How many horses were in the race?

In most cases, a horse defeating four rivals is not nearly as impressive as besting 10 others.

How have the horses who ran in a particular race fared since against equal to, greater than or lesser than opponents?

Know your class levels, but more importantly – KNOW YOUR HORSES!

 

 

Image Description

Joe Kristufek

The face of ABR's "Racing 101", Joe Kristufek is a self-proclaimed horse racing "ambassador," and fan development has been his passion since the moment he took his first job in the industry.

Kristufek is the morning-line maker for Arlington Park and Kentucky Downs and he serves as the handicapper and racing writer for the Daily Herald newspaper. 

Kristufek has developed and executed several horse racing-related, fan-education projects both online and onsite and he is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters. 

He has co-owned five horses in partnership and is the process of developing an ownership group of his own. Kristufek is also becoming an increasing presence on the tournament scene. 

Kristufek was the on-air talent for Hawthorne's between-race presentation and replay shows in the 1990s, and served as a on-air host and content coordinator for The Racing Network in 2000-2001. He was the owner, producer and host of popular horse racing magazine show Horsin' Around TV, airing 85 episodes from 2003-2005 on Fox Sports Chicago and Comcast SportsNet Chicago.

A beer and indie/alternative music snob, Joe is a Chicago Bulls season ticket holder and there aren't too many people who can keep up with him on a billards table. 

 

Image Description

Joe Kristufek

The face of ABR's "Racing 101", Joe Kristufek is a self-proclaimed horse racing "ambassador," and fan development has been his passion since the moment he took his first job in the industry.

Kristufek is the morning-line maker for Arlington Park and Kentucky Downs and he serves as the handicapper and racing writer for the Daily Herald newspaper. 

Kristufek has developed and executed several horse racing-related, fan-education projects both online and onsite and he is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters. 

He has co-owned five horses in partnership and is the process of developing an ownership group of his own. Kristufek is also becoming an increasing presence on the tournament scene. 

Kristufek was the on-air talent for Hawthorne's between-race presentation and replay shows in the 1990s, and served as a on-air host and content coordinator for The Racing Network in 2000-2001. He was the owner, producer and host of popular horse racing magazine show Horsin' Around TV, airing 85 episodes from 2003-2005 on Fox Sports Chicago and Comcast SportsNet Chicago.

A beer and indie/alternative music snob, Joe is a Chicago Bulls season ticket holder and there aren't too many people who can keep up with him on a billards table. 

 

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