Overview of Conditions
Level: Beginner
By Jessica Chapel, Hello Race Fans Contributing Editor

Simply put, conditions are the type of race that is being run. Race conditions, also referred to as the “class” of a race, fall into five broad, and sometimes overlapping, categories:

Maiden: for horses which have never won a race.

Claiming: for horses which are entered for sale at a set price.

Allowance: for horses which have won at least one race and may not be ready for stakes competition.

Stakes: in which horses run for a purse supplemented by nomination, entry, or starter fees.

Handicap: in which horses are assigned weights based on past performances.

All races may be restricted by age, sex, or state breeding programs. In claiming and allowance races, additional restrictions may take the form of “nonwinners” or “classified” conditions that must be met in order a horse to be eligible for entry. In maiden, claiming, allowance, and stakes races, weight assignments may be based on age, sex, or nonwinners conditions.

Let’s take a look at a few examples of conditions in each category.

Maiden races offer some of the most straightforward conditions a handicapper will encounter. A maiden race will be either a special weight — so called because weights are arbitrarily assigned based on age — or a claiming race, in which each starter is entered for sale at a set price.

A maiden special weight:

Maiden Special Weight

A maiden claiming race:

Maiden Claiming

In a claiming race, every horse is for sale, always at a price established by the conditions of the race. Claiming prices can range from the low ($5,000) to the high ($150,000), and are used to draw fields in which the horses entered are of similar value, quality, and ability.

A claiming race:


Restricted claiming races limit starters to horses that have not won a certain number of races lifetime or within a set period.

A restricted claiming race:

Claiming Restricted Lifetime

Conditions for allowance races can be some of the most cryptic on a card. Without the price-sorting mechanism of claiming races, racing secretaries must rely on restrictions such as “Nonwinners of a race other than maiden or claiming,” or “Nonwinners twice other” to attract evenly-matched fields. Classified conditions are used with similar intent. Often written for older horses, classified allowances stipulate that starters have not won a race or a specified amount of money in a set period of time. In general, the more wins and higher earnings allowed within a shorter period, the stronger the field. The variations on nonwinners and classified conditions are many.

A nonwinners allowance:

Allowance N1X

A classified allowance:

Allowance Restricted

Another variation on the allowance race is the optional claiming race, which combines elements of allowance and claiming conditions. Horses entered in an allowance-optional claimer must either meet the allowance conditions or run for a price.

An allowance-optional claimer:

Allowance Optional Claiming

Starter allowances also occasionally appear on racecards. These races are restricted to horses that have been running in claiming company at a specified level.

A starter allowance:

Starter Allowance

In stakes races, owners usually pay a nomination, entry, or start fee to run a horse. All fees are added to the purse (added money). Stakes can be run under weight-for-age or handicap conditions, and may be restricted by conditions other than age or sex. The most common restriction is that for “state-breds,” horses bred in the state in which the race is scheduled.

A restricted stakes:

Restricted Stakes

A common type of ungraded stakes race is the “overnight stakes,” so called because the nominations for the stakes are usually taken within a week or less before the race is run. Unlike most stakes races, overnight stakes do not usually require a nomination, entry, or start fee; overnight stakes often attract quality horses which have been competing in allowance races.

An overnight stakes:

Overnight Stakes

The top tier of racing at any track are the graded stakes. These races, which are assessed and graded annually by the North American Graded Stakes Committee, draw the best horses in competition, often for generous purses. Stakes can be Grade 3 (the lowest grade, and the most common), Grade 2, or Grade 1 (the highest grade).

A graded stakes:

Graded Stakes

In handicaps, horses are assigned weight by a racing secretary or track handicapper based on past performances. The best horse will carry the highest weight, the least competitive horse the lowest. Handicaps can be ungraded or graded stakes.

A graded handicap:

Graded Handicap

Starter handicaps are also carded by some racetracks. Like starter allowances, these races are for horses that have been running in claiming company.

A starter handicap:

Starter Handicap

No overview of race conditions can cover every permutation: Racing secretaries are a creative lot. To get a sense of what conditions are possible on your local circuit, skim the condition books (example) issued by racetracks before and during a meet. Condition books list all the races that may be carded on any given raceday, and are often made available on a racetrack’s web site.

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  • Thanks, Jessica.
    With your help, I will be a good handicapper.

  • I’ve noticed that a horse called Big Business has been winning a lot of races on the New York circuit lately, the most recent being at the Big A last Saturday. But I’m a bit confused as to how he could have been eligible for this race.

    According to the BRIS chart, the race was an Allowance Optional Claimer for horses who have not won a race other than a maiden, claimer, starter or restricted race OR have never won 2 races OR are being entered for an optional claiming price of $25,000. Big Business did not have a claiming price next to his name for this event. His recent wins suggest to me that he shouldn’t have been eligible.

    After winning a claiming race at Belmont on September 20 he went on to win an Allowance race at the same track 9 days later. He stepped out again at Belmont on October 24, this time in an Allowance Optional Claimer for horses with less than 2 wins other than maiden, claiming, starter or restricted, again with no optional claiming price next to his name. He won this race and then went on to win a Starter Optional Claimer at Aqueduct before his narrow defeat by Last Gunfighter.

    Amazingly he turned up again on Saturday in a race with the conditions I stated earlier and promptly destroyed the opposition yet again.

    Can you please explain to me how the horse was eligible to run in last Saturday’s race. I would have thought that he would surely have graduated from that class by now.

  • Thanks for the question Phil, we’ll look into it!

  • We’re still researching this. It’s a great question!

  • Thanks Dana. Looking forward to your answer.


  • Thanks for the question, Phil, and for pointing out Big Business’s recent races, which are a great primer in how a savvy trainer can make the most of the condition book and his stock.

    Big Business, who had previously only won a maiden race in 2011, began his winning streak this year in a claiming race (C), and then entered and won an allowance restricted to New York statebred winners of one other than X (SNW1 X, the X being the other than conditions). His next race was an allowance restricted to New York statebred winners of two (SNW2 X). Out of statebred (restricted) conditions, Big Business was entered in a starter-optional claiming race (NW1 X), which he was eligible for because he had previously only won in maiden, claiming, or restricted races. His last race was an allowance-optional claiming event (also NW1 X), which looks very similar to the race before, but is the closest Big Business has come to open conditions. Note the first line — “For Three Year Olds And Upward Which Have Never Won A Race Other Than Maiden, Claiming, Starter, Or Restricted …” — every other race Big Business has won has been a maiden, claiming, starter, or restricted, which meant he was eligible to enter, without a claiming price, and despite having won more than once. It’s really an example of superb management — by moving Big Business through statebred conditions, then a starter race, Jacobson has been able to preserve the horse’s allowances and position him to enjoy a class advantage in almost every field he’s faced this fall, without risk of losing him to a claim.

  • Thanks for that explanation, Jessica. You really have cleared up the mystery for me.

    I’m based in Melbourne, Australia. I only became interested in American racing early this year. I follow the New York circuit very closely. Your system of racing is very different to what we have down here.

    Until now I’d never understood what was meant by a “restricted” race. In Australia the word “restricted” is a generic term to cover pretty much any race other than open class.

    I didn’t realize that your State-bred races were actually exempt from penalty under the conditions of most Allowance races. I’ve become familiar with the expression “other than maiden, claiming, starter or restricted” without really knowing what “restricted” actually means.

    I’m now much the wiser for your explanation and I really appreciate the effort you and Dana have gone to in answering my question.

    Thanks so much
    Pittsburg Phil

  • We’re glad to be of help PP, but Jessica did all the work on answering this one :)

  • What’s the difference between starter allowance and starter handicap, and what about starter optional claiming? Also, are Grade 1 and Grade 2 races higher than Grade 3 races?

  • What’s the difference between starter allowance and starter handicap, and what about starter optional claiming?

  • HELO,



  • Hi C. Curzio, I did a few searches at Equibase and it appears that the horses you mention are from the late 50’s and early 60’s. I don’t have any memories of this era but I bet if you joined the Thoroughbred Racing in New York group on Facebook that you could find some people to reminisce with! Here’s the link, and thanks for stopping by!


  • Hello All,

    Just to from about 1962 until 1968. The starter hdcps. , a horse had to run at the time for $ 5,000 or less to get eligible. These races were non- claiming events and horses that would win consistently got assigned weight. I recall a horse that Pancho Martin had claimed from Tommy Gullo for $ 5000, and this made him eligible for these races. Swing Rex was his name by Bod Ruler out of mare called Snark by Harmonica. He was bad legged but won 5 in a row and Tommy Trotter the racing secretary assigned him about 135 lbs, when he finally got beat by a Neck by a Tommy Gullo horse called Awesome. He had a lt of heart, The Bold Ruler blood showed and Cordero rode him. He was bred by Wheatley Stables but his bad legs got him put out of their stables , as they never had claimers. Anyway, on Grass there was a horse called Grey Lord 2nd , big grey horse who was a runner on turf. He had a winning streak going in Starter HDCPs that were bon grass, won about 6 races for EW ,King, guy who had dark Mirage. Finally Trotter put 136 pounds on him , going mile and 1/8 ,finally got beat and Turcotte rode him in NY, big grey who came from behind, way behind, couldn’t find him with search warrant in the first 4-5 furlongs but the last part he flew home, At Saratoga he came few ticks off the track record, ran 47 change for 1 and 1/8 mile.

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