What is a Pattern race?

In Britain, a Pattern race is a thoroughbred horse race in the upper echelons of the sport, in terms of prestige and value, although the Pattern is different for Flat and National Hunt racing. For Flat racing, the European Pattern Race system – which, as the name suggests, covers not only Britain and Ireland, but France, Germany and Italy – was introduced in 1971. For the first time, Pattern races were arranged, by importance, as Group One, Group Two and Group Three races. In Britain, Group One includes the five ‘Classic’ races and other major international races, such as the Eclipse Stakes and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, Group Two includes international races of lesser importance, such as the Great Voltigeur Stakes, and Group Three includes races mainly of domestic importance, such as the Craven Stakes.

By contrast, the National Hunt Pattern, which was introduced in 1969, covers Britain alone. In 1989, under the auspices of the Jockey Club, the National Hunt Pattern was completely overhauled to create the series of Grade 1, Grade 2 and Grade 3 races that form the basis of the current Pattern. Unlike the European Pattern Race system, which creates a seasonal structure for non-handicap races, the National Hunt Pattern includes several important handicap races, not least the Grand National, itself, at Grade 3 level.

Both Pattern systems are under constant review and both Group and Graded races can be upgraded, or downgraded, from one season to the next, as necessary.

What is a Stakes Race?

Traditionally, a ‘stakes race’ was any horse race in which some, or all, of the prize money was contributed by the owners of the horses involved. However, nowadays, all owners contribute to prize money through entry fees – calculated as a percentage of the total prize money added to stakes – so, more often than not, the term ‘stakes race’ is used to describe a Listed or Pattern race. Listed and Pattern races are the most prestigious, and valuable, types of horse races, contested by the best horses, who carry the same weight, subject to certain conditions, such as age and gender.

The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) also uses the term ‘conditions stakes race’ to describe a flat race that is below Listed or Pattern status, but is not a handicap, classified stakes, maiden, selling or claiming race.