What does class mean in horse racing?

Horse racing is designed to produce competitive races and the way it does that is through what’s known as the class ladder.
Class refers to the level of competition a horse has been facing, with higher class races bringing together faster, more-competitive horses and lower class races pitting slower or mentally immature horses against similar horses.

Races for lower-class horses have smaller purses to encourage the owner and trainer of a fast horse to enter races offering more money to the top finishers. Many of these lower level races are “claiming” races, which means anyone with a racing license can buy your horse for the price stipulated in the race’s conditions. The owner of a fast horse is unlikely to enter such a race, fearing he might lose it.

The best horses are generally entered in allowance and stakes races, where they are not at risk of being claimed or sold.
The purse – or prize money – of a race generally gives a good indication of whether it’s for high-class or lower-class horses. A low-level claiming race, for instance, might have a purse of $10,000 while a top-level stakes race could have a purse of $1 million or more.

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