Horse racing is full of its own special words and expressions. Sometimes it’s hard to understand. What does ”Group Races” mean? And what is a ”Black Type Pedigree?”
Now you can stop wondering; Gallop Magazine will sort out the big race terminology for you.
Many people are of the opinion that horse racing really is a breeding competition. That all the victories and prize money really are only there in order to select the breeding stock of tomorrow.
Regardless of your thoughts on the subject, the fact remains: everybody wants to know exactly how good their own horse is. How good—or valuable—is the race record of the mare or of the stallion you consider using? And how good is the pedigree of the horse you examine at the sales?
Giving a horse a rating or a ”form” is one solution. Better horse—higher rating. But how are you supposed to rate wins? Is it worth more to win the Derby for 3-year-olds than a race for older horses? Is a race with higher prize money more important than one with a long history? These are all questions that horse racing has been struggling to find answers to for centuries. However, in 1952 the problem became visible in a way never before seen. The first European horses where shipped over to race in the first-ever international race, the Washington D.C. International. The predecessor to what is today’s Breeders Cup World Championships.
For bettors, handicappers and trainers the previous performances of the invited horses were a jungle. Was the Illinois Derby as important as The Epsom Derby?
During the late 1960s the situation became urgent in Europe. Prize money in the big races in France could be 50% higher than in a corresponding race in England. Since weights were determined on money earned, British horses would come in to the races cheaply and get a lower weight than if they had won an equivalent race in France.
When you read about race results, you will sooner or later see the term ”Group Race” or ”Black Type.” But what does it mean?
This is how it works: When a race is ridden, the average rating (form) of first four horses is used to calculate the level of the race. If the race has a high enough level to be included in the international ”Pattern Race Calendar” it will be defined as ”Listed.” If it is of an even higher level it will become a so called ”Group Race.”
Group Races come in three classes: Group 1, Group 2 and Group 3. (abbreviated Gr1, Gr2 and Gr3.)
Group 1 is the highest level. Just to keep things even more confusing, North America has its own system and calls its equivalent races Grade 1, 2 or 3 instead of Group 1, 2 or 3.
These races are also called ”Black Type” because performances in these races are written in bold letters (Black Type) in sales catalogues and stallion marketing.
In 1970 Jean Romanet (father of today’s leading figure in international racing, Louis Romanet), was the manager of France Galop, which is the French racing authority. He presented a system where France, Ireland and UK would nominate 90 races each. The 270 races would be categorized in three categories, or groups, and thus the term ”Group Races” was born. Weights in those races would only be on performances in other group races—regardless of prize money in those races.
Group 1 was the Classic Races*, Group 2 was the Classic Trials and Group 3 was other major races. In 1971 Italy joined the system, and in 1972 Germany followed.
The idea was widely accepted, especially among the sales companies that manage the auctioning of yearling thoroughbreds. In the auction catalogues it is important to be able to quickly identify the individuals with high performing pedi-grees. By tradition, horses who have won or been placed in important races had their names written in bold letters—or ”black type.” The problem was that each country had their own view on what races deserved the sought after typography.
It was easier for a sales company in Ireland to know the importance of a race at an Irish track than one held in France.
The need for a common standard was obvious, and it was about to come in place.
In 1972 the need for more detailed rules led to the creation of the system we have today. The goal was to have complete transparency and to have one body make all the decisions on which race were to have which status. From Listed (L) to Group 3 and Group 2 to the finest races of all—Group 1.
The rules dictate that all horses carry equal weight. Fillies do get a weight allowance, as do 3-year-olds when they race against older horses. The longer the race, the bigger the allowance. The only allowed penalties are that horses that have won Group 2 or Group 1 races may be given extra weight when they race in classes below their own highest level. All races must also be completely open to all horses regardless of what country they come from. A rule that is not very well known is that geldings are not allowed to run in Group 1 races that are only for 2- or 3-year-old horses.
As time went by more and more countries from all over the world joined the “Pattern Race System.” All western European countries subscribe to it, as do UAE, Hong Kong, Japan, Qatar etc. A special committee was also created to supervise and control how the sales companies present the horses on offer. It is known as the ICSC, or International Cataloguing Standards Committee.
Only approved races may be printed in Black Type.
HANDICAPPING OF RACES
The level of each race is calculated based on the average form/rating of the first four horses in the race for the last three runnings. A total of 12 horses are used for the calculation, and it is the “end of season rating” that is used. This is an internationally agreed rating based upon the best performance of a horse during the year. It is set by the committee handicappers at the classification meeting. In order to be eligible for Group race status, the race has to maintain a certain level over three consecutive years. This means that regardless of prize money no race can ”buy” a Group race listing. When the Dubai World Cup—the race with the highest purse in the world—was created, it had wait to get its Group 1 status. If the average rating sinks, the race can be downgraded and if the rating goes up, it can apply for an upgrade. This is one of the reasons that major races all over the world fight to get the best horses. Even if it means a foreign horse takes the local prize money, bringing in the best can also help raise the status of the race and the importance of local horses on the international market.
There are also plenty of pitfalls. If a race changes its surface, distance, location or even date, a new application must be made.
In the early days of Group races the term ”Listed” came into use. Originally a name for races that were ”in the catalogue,” but with slightly more diffuse criteria.
Now, Listed races are as strictly controlled as Group races and could really be referred to as “Group 4” races. However, this might cause problems for some countries with many Listed races that have been accepted because of tradition, but would risk losing their statutes with the new, stricter rules.
The top 10 Group 1 and Grade 1 races in the world in 2016, including rating and 2016 winner.
1) Breeders’ Cup Classic (USA) 125.25
2) Irish Champion Stakes (IRE) 124.75
3) Pacific Classic Stakes (USA) 124.75
4) Cox Plate (AUS) 124.75
5) Champion Stakes (GB) 124.00
6) Breeders’ Cup Turf (USA) 122.25
7) George Ryder Stakes (AUS) 122.00
8) Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (FR) 122.00
9) Dubai Sheema Classic (UAE) 121.50
10) Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (GB) 121.25
The European system is now the norm in many places. Other countries do however have similar systems. In North America, where the Black Type races are called Graded Stakes, the status is awarded by the American Graded Stakes Committee, which has rules that in many ways are similar to the European: The races may not be limiting other than gender and/or age. Whether or not a race is called Grade 1, 2 or 3 depends on the quality of the horses, just as in Europe. The difference is that there are no exact definitions. It is also interesting to note that US Graded Stakes races can be handicaps, which races where each horse carries a weight in relation to its own capacity. That is also the case in Australia, which has a third system. The biggest race in Australia—Melbourne Cup—is a Group 1 race AND a handicap.
“The European system is based on an ability to rate and compare wins, says Björn Eklund, of the European and Mediterranean Horseracing Federation (EMHF).
That is why equal weight is a cornerstone in the system. As such, a handicap with different weights never can be given Black Type status in any country that subscribe to the European system.”
A few years back Arabian horse racing has adopted the same concept. It has a system where Group races have to be approved by the Pattern Race Committee in exactly the same way, and with the same rules, as with Thoroughbreds.
MORE AND MORE countries are joining the system. There is talk about countries in South America having serious plans. However, in some countries with local, less strict systems, new rules would not be popular. Fewer races would be approved and fewer horses would have the sought after lettering in their performance.
But as someone once said. What is easy to win is not valuable.
And it doesn’t get any more difficult than a Group race.