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There are different categories of races in horse racing which apply to both flat and jump racing. In handicaps horses are allocated a weight based on past form. The objective of a handicap is to give every horse an equal chance. Any race that does not have this format is a non-handicap. These races take place on the flat and over jumps and the basic principle is the same for both types of racing.
In flat racing maidens are races for horses who have not run a race in the past – many horses do not win races and are quickly retired. The most successful horses graduate to stakes races or handicaps. The next level in the pyramid is listed races, which are non-handicaps. The very best flat horses run in Group 3, Group 2 and Group 1 races which are also not handicaps. The pinnacle of flat racing are the five Classics – again, non-handicaps.
The equivalent of maidens in jump racing are novice hurdles and novice chases. These are generally non-handicaps. The horses that show potential and ability as novices graduate to conditions races and handicaps.
The structure of a jumps handicap is the same as flat handicaps. The top jumps horses run in Grade 3, Grade 2 and Grade1 races which are mainly non-handicaps. The pinnacle of jumps racing is the championship races at the Cheltenham Festival, which are non-handicaps.
The most prestigious flat races in the world, such as the Kentucky Derby, Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and Dubai World Cup, are non-handicaps – but the Melbourne Cup is a handicap.
The most famous jump race, the Grand National, is a handicap and the most famous flat race, the Derby, is a non-handicap.