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Horse Racing Stakes Races – What You Need to Know
Horse Racing Stakes Races - What You Need to Know


In the world of horse racing, stakes races stand out as some of the most prestigious and high-stakes events. These races are the pinnacle of competition in the sport, attracting top-notch horses, skilled jockeys and fervent spectators. But what exactly defines a stakes race in horse racing?

Definition and Significance:

Stakes races are a category of horse races distinguished by the level of competition and the purse, which is the prize money awarded to the winners. These races are often considered the most important and competitive events in the racing calendar. The term “stakes” refers to the prize money put up by the race organizers, usually funded by nomination fees paid by horse owners.

Grading and Classification:

Stakes races are categorized into different levels based on their prestige, purse size and competitiveness. The three primary classifications in the United States are:

Grade I:

These are the highest echelon of stakes races. Grade I races feature the largest purses and attract the best horses, trainers, and jockeys. Examples include the Kentucky Derby, Belmont Stakes, and Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Grade II:

Races in this category are also prestigious but typically offer a slightly lower purse than Grade I events. They still attract top-quality competition but may not have the same level of significance as Grade I races.

Grade III:

These races are a step below Grade II in terms of purse size and prestige. While they don’t offer as much prize money as higher grades, they remain competitive and significant in the racing world.

Horse Racing Stakes Races - What You Need to Know

Types of Stakes Races:

Stakes races encompass various distances, surfaces (such as turf or dirt), and conditions. They can include:

  1. Classics: These are races restricted to three-year-old horses, such as the Triple Crown races in the United States – the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes.
  2. Handicap Races: Horses in these races carry varying weights assigned by the handicapper to create a more competitive field.
  3. Allowance Races: These events are for horses that haven’t won a certain number of races or haven’t reached a specific earnings threshold.

Importance in Horse Racing:

Stakes races hold immense importance in the horse racing world for several reasons:

  1. Prestige: Winning a Grade I stakes race signifies excellence and can significantly boost a horse’s reputation and value for breeding purposes.
  2. Competition: These races attract the best horses and top talent, providing thrilling and fiercely competitive contests.
  3. Economic Impact: Stakes races generate considerable attention and betting, contributing significantly to the horse racing industry’s economic vitality.
  4. Tradition and Legacy: Many stakes races have rich histories, often spanning decades, and carry profound cultural significance in the sport.


Stakes races stand as the pinnacle of achievement in horse racing, embodying the sport’s competitive spirit, prestige, and tradition. These events captivate audiences worldwide, showcasing the talent of equine athletes and the dedication of trainers, jockeys, and owners. Whether it’s the illustrious classics or the fiercely contested Grade I events, stakes races continue to be the highlight of the horse racing calendar, captivating enthusiasts and cementing their place in the annals of sporting greatness.

Every summer the Alameda County Fair live horse racing brings in thousands of fans and a few stakes races. Watch the calendar for the 2024 stakes.

Horse Racing Stakes Races - What You Need to Know