Understanding Horse Race Names & Racing Terminology

Confused Man Looking at Phone Against Yellow Background

For someone new to the world of horse racing, one of the hardest things to make sense of is race names. Often lengthy and featuring lots of unfamiliar terms, for many upcoming races, you might think that title may as well be in a foreign language. If this sounds like your experience then you have come to the right place. In this guide we will provide you with a comprehensive list of the terms you will likely find in a race title accompanied by a beginner-friendly definition of what they mean.

A race name will feature up to three main aspects (although some have none). First of all, and this applies to most events, you will have a sponsor. All kinds of businesses sponsor horse races from huge bookmakers to much smaller, local firms, so you will find all sorts of names here. Secondly, you may find there is some mention of the type of horse involved in the race. A fillies & mares race for example tells us that only female horses are eligible to compete. Lastly, there is the type of race as, for example, it is a steeplechase, a flat or a hurdles event.

We will start by looking at the two most important areas, these being the type of horse involved and the type of race.

Type Of Horse

Portrait of Chestnut Horse with Horse in Background

Here are the key race name terms that help punters quickly identify what horses are eligible to compete in a particular race. This do not just related to either age and/or gender but also previous experience of the horse.


Uncastrated male horses aged under four. When older than this they are simply known as a ‘horse’ (marked as an ‘h’ on the racecard). The word ‘colt’ rarely features as part of the official name of the race, but you may see it included in brackets just to the side. This is partly because most races are mixed-sex, except those reserved for fillies and/or mares.


The female equivalent of a colt. A young female horse aged under four.


A two year old horse of either sex.


A female horse aged four years and above.


In a maiden race, all competing horses will be without a previous win. This applies per racing ‘code’ so it means a flat runner that has never won a flat race before or a hurdles runner that has never won over hurdles before. In an event when a former flat winner is now competing over hurdles, they would still be eligible for a maiden hurdles event until they claim their first win over the small obstacles.

When a horse secures victory for the first time, you will often see it referred to as ‘breaking their maiden’.


For flat races, novice events are restricted to horses that have won no more than two flat races previously. It is not unusual in novice races for those that have won once or twice before to run with additional weight as a penalty for their previous success. There may be an extra rule in place for a novice event stipulating that entries have no more than a certain number of starts. If they have exceeded this number, they will not be able to compete even if they are still without a win.

In jumps (National Hunt) racing the situation is a little different. A novice runner is one that that has not won a steeplechase or hurdle race before the end of the previous season. If a horse swapped to steeplechase racing for the 2020/21 season but failed to win, they would be eligible to compete in novice races in 2021/22. Should they then record their first victory over fences, they can continue to participate in novice steeplechases for the remainder of the season.

When it comes to novice classification in jump racing, hurdles and steeplechases are treated as being two separate disciplines. Being a former hurdles winner in an earlier season would not prevent a horse from being a novice chaser and vice-versa.

Type of Race

Horses Racing Against Blurred Background

Every horse race will fall under one of the four main codes: flat, hurdles, steeplechase (usually referred to as just ‘chase’) and National Hunt flat. National Hunt flat races differ from standard flat races as they are designed for runners looking to establish a career in national hunt (jumps) racing. They also tend to take place during jump race meetings.

Both types of flat racing contain no obstacles of any kind so there is no jumping required. Hurdles races are run over, you guessed it, hurdles, which are reasonably short (minimum 3ft 6in) and do not require a great leap. It is still possible for horses to clatter into them of course but this happens more frequently in steeplechases. In chases, horses jump over what are known as fences. BHA rules stipulate fences must be a minimum of 4ft 7in and they do vary in height across courses with some being tougher (or stiffer) than others.

Whether a flat event, hurdle or chase, each comes with their own variations, meaning not all races within the same code operate in the same way.

Auction Races

The clue is in the name for this one. Any race featuring the word ‘auction’ means that the competing horses will be subject to bids from any interested parties. Auction races typically feature lower-ability horses so horses tend not to go for too much money. Race conditions will determine the price limits.

Beginners Chase

Similar to a novice chase but here all competing horses must be without a steeplechase win. Even if they only recorded one earlier in the same season, they will be excluded from all beginner chases. There is also the infrequently seen graduation chase which is limited to horses with no more than two chase wins.


Another name for National Hunt flat racing. Unlike normal flat races, these are run under the rules of jump racing. They typically feature as the last race at a National Hunt meet and are contested over 13 to 20 furlongs.

Claiming Race

In a claimer, each horse can be purchased post-race for a price specified at the time of entry. The specified price dictates how much weight a horse carries for the race. The higher the price, the more weight they will run with. Should more than one individual or party wish to ‘claim’ a horse, lots will be drawn to determine the winning claim.

Classified Stakes

To feature in these races, a horse must fall within a set handicap range, for example, 0 – 65. All horses carry the same weight though regardless of their rating. This gives lower class horses, usually limited to handicap events, the opportunity to compete on even terms.


In a handicap race, all horses are allocated a specific weight based on their official rating. The top-rated horse in the race will carry ‘top weight’ and the other weights will be issued based on this. If a horse has an official rating five lower than top-weight, this means they will race with 5lbs less (assuming there are no extra allowances in place, for instance, due to having an amateur jockey). This is designed to balance the field out but ratings are not a perfect system so you will still see strong favourites and extremely fancied outsiders.

Handicaps are what form the vast bulk of your daily, lower-class racing and ratings will many ratings will be adjusted on a race-by-race basis.

Introductory Hurdle

Hurdles races for juvenile horses that have not competed in more than one hurdles contest previously.

Sellers Race

In a selling race, the race winner will be put up for auction straight after their victory in the winner’s enclosure and sold to the highest bidder.


This is a word you may see at the very end of a race name. It is used for races that hold listed or pattern (group/graded) status, with such races being the highest quality the sport can offer. As such, stake races typically pay a good amount of prize money and they will feature talented runners. Flat racing also includes conditions stake races, which are not quite at listed/pattern level but is not a handicap, classified stake, maiden, selling or claiming event.

Type of Jockey

Jockey on Horse Number 19

Although most race name terminology relates to the type of horse or the type of race, select races are tailored for certain jockeys. If there is no mention of the three terms below, the race will feature in professional jockeys. For flat racing, this means exclusively flat jockeys but in many National Hunt races, amateur riders are allowed to compete alongside professionals.

Apprentice/Conditional Race

An apprentice race will be a flat race (handicap or non-handicap) open to jockeys that are not yet fully qualified. In such races, it can be specified that the jockey has not ridden more than a certain number of winners before. A conditions race is exactly the same thing only National Hunt racing prefers to use this term rather than the term ‘apprentice’.

Amateur Race

In an amateur race, all the jockeys competing will not be licenced professionals. Some will be starting off hoping to turn pro at some point while others simply enjoy riding as a side hobby.


Betfred Hexham Racecard

The final thing that tends to form part of the race name is the sponsorship. This can take many different forms, sometimes it will simply be the name of a website or a company, but it is not limited to this. In other cases, racecourses will sponsor the race themselves and use it to promote another race day. Alternatively, they may allow members of the public to buy the slot, enabling them to send out a fairly expensive public message. One race at Newton Abbott we spotted was named ‘Get Well Soon Big Jim Handicap Chase’. Here friends and family of Jim would have simply paid the sponsorship fee to have this as the race title.

Additional Information

By the side of each race name, most racecards will provide you with some extra letters and numbers. This is not part of the race name but it is very useful to know what this information means. Fortunately, this part is very straightforward and tends to follow the same format.

2:30 Happy 60th Birthday Maggie Harrison Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle (GBB Race) Cl4 (4yo+) 2m

What this is telling us is that this is a Class 4 race, open to horses aged four years and above (mares in this case) and ran over a distance of two miles.

4:11 Ferry Ales Lincoln Red Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase (GBB Race) (Class 3) (0-135, 5yo+) 2m1f

In this example, this is a Class 3 contest open to horses aged five and above that have an official rating between 0 and 135. It is a touch longer than the previous race in distance, coming in at two miles and one furlong.

Some races, often the most prestigious ones, do not tell you all the key information from the title. Take the Cazoo Oaks for example. To the uninformed, this merely tells you that the race is sponsored by Cazoo and its name is the Oaks. The Oaks is, however, restricted to fillies, despite not saying this in the race name.

4:30 Cazoo Oaks (Group 1) (British Champions Series) (Fillies) (Class 1) (3yo)

Here, next to the race name in brackets we are also informed of the Group classification. This is something you will see provided for all Class 1 events whether a flat or jump race. Note that for jumps racing they use a classification system based on Grades rather than Groups. Additionally, we are told that this race is part of the British Champions Series, one of 35 leading flat races in Britain. Other names might feature here instead though, most commonly ‘GBB Race’, something that indicates a contest is part of the Great British Bonus prize scheme.

You may also see a symbol such as ITV after a race name, this simply means the race is being broadcast live on ITV for example.