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Looking at the difference between a stakes race and a claiming race

There are four basic types of races at the track.

March 07, 2009|Ellen Alperstein

Question: How is a thoroughbred stakes race different from a claiming race?

Answer: Running in a stakes race is like playing for the Lakers; running in a claiming race is like playing for the Clippers. One offers the largest purses and the best competition; the other offers the chance to come back when you have a better owner.

There are four basic types of races, but their permutations can be more complicated than crunching stats for every player in your fantasy league. Here's a rudimentary guide in ascending order of, generally, ability and payoff.

1 A maiden race is for horses that have not won. It can feature first-race wonders, bob-tail nags and mostly animals somewhere in between.

2 A claiming race consists of horses for sale at the price listed in the program, ranging from a couple thou to (rarely) $100K. Claims to buy are made before post time, at which point the new owner assumes title, although the previous owner collects any winnings from that race. Reasons for entering or claiming vary -- maybe an owner wants to lop a lackluster performer from his feed bill; maybe the new owner's trainer sees potential his predecessor didn't.

3 An allowance race uses objective conditions to pit horses of similar experience against each other. Conditions might include the jockey's experience, the horse's gender or age or its results running a given distance. Horses deemed to be at a disadvantage per those conditions are allowed to carry less weight.

4 Stakes races often carry the title "handicap," per the featured race today, the Santa Anita Handicap, whose purse is a lofty $1 million. Handicap denotes weight allowances determined not by an actuarial table but a human being (the track's racing secretary) whose goal is to level the playing field and tighten the odds. The closer the competition at such premier races, the bigger the betting handle. In a Western Conference final between the Lakers and the Clippers, wouldn't you be more likely to wager if Kobe, Pau and Lamar were forced to run the court with a set of 55-pound dumbbells strapped to their backs?

-- Ellen Alperstein

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