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.