What Is An Allowance Race In Horse Racing?
Last updated & tested: 2019-07-24
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An allowance horse race is one where entries are restricted to certain criteria specified in the terms of the contest. It is highly likely, for example, that an allowance race for thoroughbred horses will allot more weight for winners of previous events – perhaps in the same class or grade – than for those who have not finished first before.
That is just one interpretation of an allowance race, however. Previous career earnings or even excluding horses that have won races of a higher level is also possible. Some handicap races will not only specify the minimum weight to be carried, even if a horse’s official rating is below thar compared to the top-weight, but could also allow entries to come over the maximum threshold.
Such horses carry an additional penalty and are alloted extra weight on top of that. Conditions races, which is another way of calling an allowance horse race, are just as common on the Flat as in National Hunt. Whatever the sphere, certain events will be age restricted or the terms can specify a horse has only had a certain number of runs or allowed a certain number of wins in order to be eligible to contest it.
Age bands are very specific on the Flat. The answer to the question what is an allowance race is complicated further if there are weight-for-age terms in it. Juveniles, i.e. two-year-olds pitched into an allowance race for thoroughbred horses, will invariable get weight from their elders on the rare occasions this happens. It is more common with three-year-old horses stepping out of races that are Classics or otherwise age bound trials for such events, in a bid to incentivise such competition and to keep bloodstock and breeding ongoing.
Such generous allowances are a bone of contention in Flat horse racing. Giving younger horses up to a stone (14lb) less in some races than their elders isn’t really making the contest fair. At least handicap races are based on the official assessor’s opinion which, regardless of age, is based on what they have achieved on the track in their careers to date.
Before the handicapper has their say on a horse again, however, you can always quickly turn it out in another race under a penalty. These will be specified in the terms of the allowance race in question. Some conditions will not place any importance whatsoever on what a horse has previously achieved – races run off level weights often do this, but there are contests where in order to be eligible you need to have met certain requirements.
Take the Grand National at Aintree, for example. Although this world famous steeplechase is a handicap and not an allowance horse race, there are still terms to be met. A horse must have had a run in a chase under National Hunt rules that season in order to be eligible to run and then be among the 40 highest on official ratings of those finally declared.
You see how the waters are muddied. Even championship contests like those run at the Cheltenham Festival will give mares and fillies a sex allowance – usually of 7lb on the geldings – despite the boys racing off level weights. Having an allowance race explained to you is actually more complicated than it first appears.
What is an allowance race has also changed over time. The terms of entry for horses competing can change from one year to the next. Conditions can become very specific. The Cross Country Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, for example, used to be run as a handicap, but now the main requirement is that the horse have some prior experience of a Cross Country or bank race as they are called in Ireland.
By the same token, the Foxhunter Chase, is not only for amateur riders only, but the horses must have either finish first or second in two or more hunter chase races, or won two open point-to-point races, or won a point and then finished first or second in a hunter chase. This is very different type of allowance race for thoroughbred horses, then.
It is important not to confuse an allowance race with a jockey who claims an allowance that takes weight off the back of the horse they are riding. An amateur or conditional jockey, either can be known colloquially as a claimer, can take up to 10lb, then 7lb, 5lb and 3lb just for riding – provided they have not been on board certain numbers of previous winners. Trainers and owners will use these jockeys in allowance races and handicap alike, provided the terms allow it.