What’s the difference between Group 1, Group 2 and Group 3 races?

In Great Britain, Ireland and elsewhere in Europe, Flat racing features many different levels, or classes, of competition. Group 1, Group 2 and Group 3 races, collectively known as Group races – or Pattern races, since their status is reviewed annually by the European Pattern Committee, which was formed in 1971 – represent the highest levels of competition.

At the very highest level, Group 1 race represent a pure test of class and, as such, are run without penalties or allowances other than a sex allowance, which fillies and mares receive when racing against colts and geldings. In Britain, Group 1 races include the so-called ‘Classics’, namely the 1,000 Guineas, 2,000 Guineas, Oaks, Derby and St. Leger, which, of course, are contested exclusively by three-year-olds. Nevertheless, the British Flat racing calendar also includes numerous other races of major international importance, catering for different age groups, over different distances, throughout the racing year.

Immediately below the championship standard of Group 1, but still significant internationally, Group 2 races in the calendar include the Dante Stakes,Great Voltigeur Stakes and Lonsdale Cup, all at York, the Lancashire Oaks at Hayock and no fewer than seven races at Royal Ascot. Another step down from the top tier, Group 3 races are mainly of domestic importance and, in Britain, include the likes of the Craven Stakes at Newmarket, Chester Vase and Cumberland Lodge Stakes at Ascot, to name but three. Group 2 and Group 3 races differ from Group 1 races insofar that weight penalties may be given to certain horses based on success in previous Pattern contests within a certain timeframe.