When it comes to the world of horse racing, there are all sorts of terms that can seem like a foreign language to the uninitiated. It doesn’t take much for those without much info about horse racing to feel totally lost, as soon as those who know the industry in an intimate way start taking about.
One such example is the ‘pattern race’, which can seem like a confusing way to talk about horse racing when there is no discernible pattern to be found in how the horses compete. That is because it isn’t actually about a ‘pattern’ as you might understand the word.
Instead, a pattern race simply refers to a race that is of a sufficient status to mean that it is at the top tier of racing. This is the case regardless of whether it is being run on the flat or over jumps.
If it is a race that boasts prestige and value then it will be a pattern race, though the way that the patterns work are different in National Hunt races to what they are in flat racing racing. Even the bodies responsible for the patterns differ, in spite of the fact that they are ostensibly part of the same sport, in the sense that they both involve horses racing.
The History Of The Pattern
At the upper echelons of horse racing around the world, the top trainers and owners will want to send their best horses to compete in the most prestigious races. Every country that boasts a top-level of horse racing will host races that those horses will be sent to compete in, so there was a desire in the 1970s to stop these races from clashing with each other. As a result, the major European nations worked together in order to compete a template, which would be used to specific where and when top races would be staged.
Rather than risk a dilution of the field sizes for racing and the quality of the participants, it was felt that establishing a pattern of when the races would be held would ensure that each country would have the best version of its race. The framework became known as the Pattern, with other countries around the world copying the system that had been introduced in Europe. As a result, the best races from the various countries that boast top-level racing are known as Pattern races, with each country’s Pattern being slightly different.
Pattern On The Flat
When it comes to flat racing, the upper echelon of the events that take place are those that fit into the bracket of ‘Groups’. Group status is only given to flat races that are not handicap events, as has been the case since 1971. That was when the European Pattern Committee was established, regulating what are known as ‘black races’ in France, Germany, Britain and Ireland. At the time of the European Pattern Committee’s introduction, races were structured according to an order of importance of the race.
Major international races were at the top of the list, with minor international races coming in next. After that were the major domestic races. Group 1 races in the United Kingdom include all five of the Classics, alongside the likes of the Eclipse Stakes the Queen Elizabeth Stakes and the King George VI Stakes. Group 2 brings in races such as the Great Voltiguer Stakes, whilst Group 3 is for races like the Craven Stakes, which is considered to be an event of national importance but isn’t seen as being all that key to the world of international racing.
Pattern In Jump Racing
When it comes to jump racing, things work slightly differently. The National Hunt Pattern Committee was actually introduced in the United Kingdom in 1969 and only covers Britain. It performs a similar job to the European Pattern Committee, with the big difference being that it comes under the control of the British Horseracing Authority.
It is often not thought of as being older than its European equivalent on account of the fact that it was revised by the Jockey Club in 1989, which created the basis of the system that is currently used.
The overhaul in 1989 was when the Grades were introduced to jump racing. The Pattern when it comes to the National Hunt is for Grade 1, Grade 2 and Premier Handicap (formerly Grade 3) events. It is not the same as the European Pattern Committee for the main reason that it includes races that are run under handicaps.
The likes of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, along with the other Graded races that take place at Prestbury Park, are run under the Pattern. Perhaps the most famous race to tick that particular box is the Grand National, which is a Premier Handicap event that takes place at Aintree every April.
The key thing to know about the Pattern, regardless of whether you’re talking about the National Hunt Pattern or the European Pattern, is that the races that feature as part of the pattern are under constant review. Handicappers from around the world work to agree to yearly performance figures, which allow them to average them alongside previous years so as to see whether the races fall into the same bracket as they have previously. The three-year average has to come within a set parameter, else the race might lose its status.
The way that a race moves from being one type of race into being part of the Pattern is by first become a Listed race. In racing, that is a stepping stone from handicap races to becoming a Group event, given the fact that the weights carried are similar to what the Group events would have them. In 2018, there were 36 Group 1 races, 40 in Group 2 and 73 in Group 3. Over jumps, there were 40 Grade 1 events, 67 Grade 2s and 40 Grade 3s (Premier Handicaps). The number of races in each category can change on a regular basis, with the specific races also up for grabs.
When it comes to Pattern races, the idea the BHA have is that they should always be level-weight contests. That would allow it to be determined which horse is the best, but conditions incorporate allowances to be made for fillies and mares when they’re competing against colts and geldings, with the weight-for-age scale used. Similarly, horses that have won a race at that level recently are made to carry extra weight as a penalty. None of this distracts from what is trying to be achieved by the Pattern, but it’s worth pointing out.