Australian Horse Racing Classes Explained

What are you really gambling with? Set a deposit limit.

For free and confidential support call 1800 858 858 or visit

Confused about horse racing classes? Read on to learn how horses are graded in Australia – and how you can use this information to make smarter betting decisions.

Understanding the Australian Horse Racing Class System

In Australia, horses are classified into 13 levels of racing, with Class 1 being the lowest and Group 1 being the highest. The classification system is designed to ensure that horses of similar ability compete against each other, providing a fair and competitive racing industry.

When a horse first starts racing, it is usually placed in Class 1 and then – as the horse gains more experience and starts winning races, it can move up to higher classes. Horses can also be demoted to lower classes if they consistently perform poorly.

The Importance of Horse Racing Classes

Understanding horse racing classes is crucial for Aussie punters as it helps them to determine a horse’s chance of winning a race. Horses that compete in higher classes are usually more talented and experienced, making it harder for horses in lower classes to beat them. Therefore, punters usually are wary of horses moving up a class and vice versa (horses being demoted a class).

For example, if a Class 1 horse is racing against a Group 1 horse, it is highly unlikely that the Class 1 horse will win. The Group 1 horse is likely to be more experienced, have better form, and be carrying less weight than the Class 1 horse. However, if two horses in the same class are racing against each other, the race is likely to be more competitive, and the outcome is harder to predict.

Factors that Determine Racing Classes

In Australia, several factors determine which racing class a horse is assigned to, including a horse’s win/loss record and the rating it receives from the handicapper. The handicapper assesses a horse’s past performance and assigns a rating, which determines the horse’s handicap weight in its next race.

In addition to these factors, the age and gender of the horse can also affect its racing class. For example, two-year-old horses usually race in separate classes to older horses, while fillies and mares may have their own separate classes.

It’s important to note that the racing class system is not set in stone and can vary between different racing jurisdictions. However, in Australia, the 13-class system is widely used and provides a fair and competitive environment for all horses and jockeys.

The Different Racing Class Levels

Let’s take a look at the various horse racing class levels in Australia and what they entail.


Race Type Description
Maiden Races Maiden races are the first level of horse racing. This level is reserved for horses that have never won a race before. The aim of this level is to help new horses gain racing experience and confidence. Maiden races usually have a small prize pool compared to higher racing levels.
Class 1, 2, and 3 Races Horses move up to Class 1 after winning their first race. Class 1 races are for horses that have won no more than two races in their career. Class 2 is for horses that have won between 3 and 5 races, while Class 3 is for horses that have won between 6 and 9 races.
Benchmark Races Benchmark races replaced the old Rating-based races in 2017. These races are for horses that have won two or more races but do not qualify for higher racing levels. The Benchmark rating depends on a horse’s recent race performance in the last two years.
Open Handicap Races Open Handicap races are for horses that are considered the cream of the crop. Horses that compete at this level have a very high rating and often win huge prize pools. Open Handicap races are also known as weight-for-age races as all horses carry the same weight regardless of their age.
Group and Listed Races Group and Listed races are the highest level of horse racing. Horses that compete at this level have a top rating.


How Horses Move Up and Down in Class

Class Movement Criteria Description
Winning a Race Horses that win a race are automatically moved up to the next class level. For instance, a horse that wins a Maiden race moves up to Class 1. A horse that wins a Class 3 race moves up to Class 4, and so on.
Consistent Performance Horses that consistently perform well in a particular class can move up to the next level even if they have not won a race. Consistent performance may attract the attention of the handicapper, who may adjust the horse’s rating and handicap weight, moving it up to a higher class.
Changes in Handicap Weight Changes in handicap weight can also affect a horse’s class. If a horse’s handicap weight becomes too heavy or too light, the horse may be moved up or down a class as a result.
Trainer and Owner Decisions Lastly, a trainer or owner’s decision can also impact a horse’s class. A trainer or owner may decide to race their horse in a lower class if they think the horse cannot compete at a higher level.

The Role of Handicapping in Horse Racing

Handicapping is a process of assigning a weight to horses to equalize their chances of winning a race. Handicapping ensures that all horses in a race have a fair chance of winning regardless of their class or past performances.

The Purpose of Handicapping

The primary purpose of handicapping is to ensure that every horse has an equal chance of winning a race. Handicapping reduces the advantage that high-rated horses may have over lower-rated horses, making horse racing more competitive and exciting.

How Handicap Weights are Determined

Handicap weights are determined by the handicapper based on a horse’s past performance and rating. A horse with a higher rating will carry a heavier weight compared to a horse with a lower rating.

The Impact of Handicapping on Race Outcomes

Handicapping can have a significant impact on race outcomes. Horses that carry a heavy weight may tire faster, giving lighter horses an advantage. Handicapping also makes it more challenging for high-rated horses to win races, which can lead to exciting upsets and unexpected results.

Further Reading:



Written By:

Ben Leighton

Ben Leighton

Ben has been an avid horse racing, AFL, NRL, NBA and EPL fan for as long as he can remember. Born and bred in Melbourne, Ben loves nothing more than getting along to the footy to cheer on his beloved North Melbourne Kangaroos and getting trackside for as many Flemington and Caulfield horse racing meets at possible. Ben is our head writer at Betting Sites Australia.

Our Top Bookies

What are you really gambling with? Set a deposit limit.

For free and confidential support call 1800 858 858 or visit