What is a stakes race?

Historically, the term ‘sweepstakes’, or ‘stakes’ for short, was used to describe a horse race in which all, or at least the vast majority, of the prize money comprises entry fees, declaration fees and forfeits paid by owners. Nowadays, this description is somewhat outdated and the term ‘stakes race’ more commonly refers to a horse race classified in the upper echelon of Flat racing or, in other words, a Listed or Group race.

Group One races, which include the five British ‘Classic’ races – the 2,000 Guineas Stakes, 1,000 Guineas Stakes, Oaks Stakes, Derby Stakes and St. Leger Stakes – represent the highest level of Flat racing, followed by Group Two, Group Three and Listed races. These races are intended to attract elite horses and, notwithstanding weight-for-age and weight-for-sex allowances, are contested off level weights. Based on the three-year average of the official ratings of the first four horses home, the status of a Group or Listed race may be upgraded, or downgraded, periodically.For example, in 2020, the Valiant Stakes at Ascot was upgraded to Group Three from Listed status by the European Pattern Committee.

Rather confusingly, in Britain, the term ‘classified stakes race’ is used to describe a race, below Listed level, in which all the runners carry the same weight, regardless of their official handicap rating. Similarly, the term ‘condition stakes race’ is used to describe a race that cannot otherwise be categorised as a handicap, classified stakes, maiden, selling or claiming race.