You may have seen in the paper or heard on the TV or radio races referred to as Grade 1, Class 6, or even more confusingly, Grade 3, Class 1. If you’re confused by this and looking to know what this racing jargon means, you’re in the right place, so read on.

First of all, let us distinguish between flat racing and jump races (the latter also being known as National Hunt), the difference being simple, obvious and hopefully apparent. The former are run on a level track without barriers, hurdles or jumps, whilst the latter, well, they have obstacles. (Well, except the anomalous National Hunt flat races called “bumpers”, just to muddy the waters.)

Let us consider first of all National Hunt racing, aka “jumps”. Pay attention now, because for each category we introduce there is usually a sub category. However, if you’re ok with the grades and classes and want more information on the different types of race, cunningly, we have an article entitled Types of Horse Race that would be ideal for your needs!

National Hunt Grades

At the top of the jump ladder is, unsurprisingly, Class 1. All major races carry Class 1 status and in order to enter the horse must have a high enough handicap rating. Class 1 races are then divided into Grades 1, 2 and 3, with a further category called listed races beneath that.

Grade 1 races are, again unsurprisingly, the crème de la crème, and there are only 30 of these all season. These are the championship races with the best horses and the biggest prizes. Perhaps the most famous of these is the race Kauto Star made his own, the King George VI Chase, traditionally held on Boxing Day, and the Cheltenham Gold Cup, held in March at the famous Cheltenham Festival. The weight carried by horses is decided by their age and sex, with no penalties given for previous victories (known as “Weight-For-Age” races).

Grade 2 races are directly below Grade 1 (surprisingly). The weight a horse carries here is decided either by Weight-For-Age, but there are minor penalties for previous wins, or the handicaps carry a very limited weight range. Next we have Grade 3, Valuable Open Handicaps, where there is more emphasis on the handicap rating and finally the listed races, where the same system is used and where the quality, though slightly lower, is still at the top end of the spectrum.

Next you have Classes 2-7, where the animals are divided simply on their quality according to handicap. Class 3 races are worth more money that Class 4, for example, but in order to race at the higher class the horse needs to be of a particular rating.

Flat Racing Grades

Flat racing has three distinct bands, the Classics, Class 1 and Classes 2-7. The Classics are the pinnacle of the sport and are for three-year-olds only. These are among the oldest races in horse racing and the past winners read like a who’s who of the sport’s legendary steeds. There are five Classics, the 1,000 and 2,000 Guineas, both run at Newmarket, the Epsom Oaks and Epsom Derby (usually just referred to as the Oaks and the Derby and both run at Epsom Downs) and the St. Ledger, contested at Doncaster and the oldest of the five, first run in 1776.

Then there are the Class 1 (or Conditions) races, the highest level of flat racing, where the weight the horses carry is determined by the conditions attached to the particular race. Class 1 races are divided into yet further categories, the highest of which are Pattern races, with three groups of racing within that of descending quality and importance. The listed races are next and finally the Classes 2-7.

This final level of racing sees the British Horseracing Authority rank horses with an official handicap based on ability. This translates into a weight the horse must carry in the interest of balancing the field. Each handicap level correlates with a class, so, for example, Class 2 are Heritage Handicaps of 86-100, 91-105 and 96-110, whilst Class 7 are handicaps of just 46- 50.

This may all sound exceptionally complex but the basics are quite self-explanatory, with the lowest number of classes and grades equating to the best horses and the most prestigious races. Pay a little attention to the race cards and you’ll soon gain a firm grasp on the various categories and sub-categories and, of course, you can always refer back to this guide if in doubt.