The Difference between Group and Class Levels in Horse Racing

The names Zenyatta, Red Rum, Winx, and Frankel roll off the tongue when discussing horses that have dominated the horse racing headlines in the modern era, whether on the flat or over hurdles. These were all horses at the pinnacle of their profession, winning Group 1 races for their trainers and owners, and in the process propelling their respective jockeys to celebrity status in horse racing circles.

When you’re studying the ins and outs of thoroughbred racing, the language might be confusing at first. While most amateur and professional handicappers can describe to you that a Grade 1 or Group 1 race is the pinnacle of the sport, it’s far more difficult to distinguish between a Listed Handicap or a Merit Rated Handicap. 

What are the differences between Group Races and Class Levels in Horse Racing? Group Level Racing are the races in which horses race at the elite level, the zenith to which every owner and trainer strives towards. There are three Group Levels, and all horses carry the same weight, bar small allowances in certain races for sex and age, and therefore a horses’ Official Rating does not affect the weight they carry. Class Levels were established to guarantee that horses of similar ability run against each other and are weighted according to their rating by the Handicapper to give each horse a fair opportunity to win the race they have been entered for.

Classification of difference Races

The race classification system enables racing authorities from different areas and nations to coordinate the planning and scheduling of individual events. This is done to try to guarantee that the greatest horses are free to participate in as many races as possible, which is especially crucial in top-level events. 

In Group Races (races where the best of the best participates against each other), whether it is run in the UK, Australia, Dubai, South Africa, or the USA, any horse from any country will be able to run against each other as they will all be judged to be on a par with regard to ability.

Different Classes of Flat Racing in the United Kingdom

Flat racing in the United Kingdom is divided into seven classes, with Pattern and Listed races at the top of the classification system, and low-rated handicappers supporting the classification system at Class 7.

  • Group 1 Races

The highest level of thoroughbred racing is represented by group races, often known as pattern races. These constitute a tiny percentage of all races held each year and are classified into three tiers. Group 1 races are the highest level of competition for horses of different ages.

These garner tremendous attention, have the greatest prize purses, and some are considered worldwide racing events. In these events, horses often carry the same weights, enabling pure talent to come through. Some of these events, like the Melbourne Cup, do, however, apply age and performance weight penalties.

  • Group 2 races

These are the next level down from Group 1 events. These races may still attract top-tier racehorses, and it’s not uncommon for horses to participate in both Group 1 and Group 2 races throughout the course of a season. 

  • Group 3 races 

These races tend to attract the somewhat lower-rated racehorses, although they may also be utilized as trial events for champion racehorses or as stepping stones to higher-classified races. While they tend to draw lower-rated racehorses, excellent horses are known to participate in them as they advance in their careers and strengthen their ratings on their route to Group racing.

Horse Racing Classifications – Handicaps

Handicaps are used to govern the rank and file of horseracing in the flat racing pyramid’s other six classes. Before races, certified handicappers give weights to horses based on a range of factors like age, gender, and previous performance. This is done to increase the competitiveness of each race.

To make handicapping simpler, these races are separated into seven classes, each of which is limited to horses from distinct racing bands. Classes 2-6 are further broken into 14 points racing “bands” that overlap and differentiate between better and poorer quality races in each Class.

Horse Racing Classifications – Classes

Class 1 

Events include the top Flat horses in the UK and are handicapped, whilst Class 7 races are less prominent. What matters most to racing bettors is the competitiveness of the field, not the quality of the race. 

The Official Rating of a horse will be used to decide which class it may compete in. Official Ratings 96+ for Class 1. Classics are included, and they are grouped into Groups 1, 2, and 3 with these races being reserved for the horses with exceptional ability, evidenced by how many races and how much stake money they have won in their career. 

Below these horses are the horses that are still good but of marginally lesser ability. These Classes are detailed below:

Class 2 – Official ratings vary from 86 to 100, 91 to 105, and 96 to 110.

Class 3 – Official ratings for Class 3 vary from 76-90 to 81-95.

Class 4 – Official ratings for Class 4 vary from 66-80 to 71-85.

Class 5 – Official ratings for Class 5 vary from 56-70 to 61-75.

Class 6 – Official ratings for Class 6 vary from 46-60 to 51-65.

Class 7 – Official ratings for Class 7 vary from 0-45.

All Horses Deserve their Moment in the Spotlight

Whether a horse runs in a Maiden Race (a race where all the horses are yet to win a race) a Class Level Race (Class 2 to 7)  or a Group Race (A Graded Race), the owners, trainers, jockeys, and caregivers of the horse, known as a groom, all have the same feeling of excitement when their horse will be running in a race.

It remains your prerogative, a punter, to decide whether that horse could win the race. Placing a bet on that horse and it winning will give you just as much excitement as the owner, trainer, and the jockey and that will be the feeling that will bring you back time after time.


Hi, I'm James, a long time horse racing fan. I was introduced to racing by my granddad. He taught me a little about horses and I was hooked. I have been to most racecourses in the UK .

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