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A novice in any walk of life is someone with little experience who is embarking on a new activity. The same definition applies in horse racing.
When a horse begins a racing career there is no experience of running in a proper race so the horse is considered a novice. Horses are schooled at home to jump obstacles and enter the stalls but there is no substitute to taking part in a race.
Novices generally race against other horses with a limited amount of experience. The best trained horses are prepared for the new experience while other horses cannot cope. With racing, a horse graduates from being a novice to a more seasoned race horse who is familiar with racing on the track.
In National Hunt and flat racing there are different types of races which are framed based on the experience of the horses taking part, and their record. Generally young horses race in novice events and as they get older and more experienced, compete in handicaps and conditions races. However, an older horse that has not run in a race is still eligible for novice races.
On the flat novice races are for horses aged two who have not won more than two races. Maidens are for horses of any age who have not won a race. In jumps racing novice chases and hurdles are for horses who have not won a race at the start of the current season. The best horses graduate to handicaps and open races.
Novice events in both codes can be difficult to assess from a betting point of view. By their very nature the runners will not have a great deal of proven and collateral form and at the start of the season many of the horses will be taking part in a race for the first time. There is also more betting on handicaps and open races.