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Ins and Outs of Optional Claiming Races

We wanted to cover a type of race that by its nature can be a bit of confusing. When you throw in the possibility of someone claiming your horse in the process, it is an important topic to unpack and, hopefully, explain in case there’s any confusion.

An optional claiming race is both a claiming race, for horses who can be claimed for a specific price, as well as an allowance race, for horses who can’t be claimed…because they fit the allowance conditions laid out in the condition book.

Eligibility is the tricky part, because it is not the same on both sides of the equation.

Until recently, say 20 years ago, this was mostly separate territory. You would have an allowance race, with the conditions based on a horse’s number of wins or on earnings. And then there were the different levels of claiming races.

Now, most of the tracks we compete at rely on this hybrid, mixing the two types of races.


The simple answer is to fill races. Racing secretaries are always looking for bigger and more competitive fields, to drive wagering handle.

Allowance races can be tough to fill, especially when you get into the second and third allowance conditions. Optional Claiming races are like an Allowance race with a special invitation for Claiming horses.

For instance, we are pointing Scholar Athlete for an allowance/optional claiming race on the turf at Tampa Bay Downs later this month, with Scholar Athlete available for the claiming price of $62,500. That doesn’t mean that we arbitrarily exposed him to the claim — he could not be protected in the race and has to run for the tag in order to compete.

This is where things can get murky, so let’s take a look at the conditions and break it down:


From an allowance standpoint, this is a “three other than,” the third allowance condition after a horse breaks his or her maiden.

So let’s break that down just a little bit.

If a horse breaks their maiden, wins four claiming races, then wins a first-level and second level allowance race are they eligible? Yes. Remember, maiden, claiming, starter, or state bred allowance races don’t count against eligibility.

If a horse broke their maiden then wins two stakes races are they eligible? Yes…since they haven’t won four races.

A horse who won a bunch of allowance or stakes races in 2018 but was winless in 2019 — eligible.

A horse who broke their maiden and won three allowance races including a win in 2019 (like Scholar) — not eligible….unless they run for the tag.

Now back to Scholar’s race. Why does he not fall under the allowance provisions?

Because he has seven career wins. This 6-year-old has not been eligible for the third allowance condition since his fourth career win in December 2017. Once you win a first, second or third level allowance, you can’t come back and run in it again, UNLESS you are in for tag…that’s why it’s OPTIONAL for you to run. Of course there are some allowance races with weird or unique conditions…but for the sake for explanation, let’s stick to a traditional allowance with an optional tag.

Racing for a claiming price in this type of race has extended his career as he gets to run against the caliber of horses he’s already beaten. He is competitive at this level—he won a similar race in August at Colonial Downs, he is healthy and trains with the same vigor he did earlier in his career. He is an admirable racehorse, and it has been a joy to let him go out and do his job at ages 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6, winning at least one race in every season.

But we are certainly not entering Scholar Athlete for a claiming price in the hopes that he will be claimed. Quite the opposite, it is simply the best way to allow him to run at a level where he has performed consistently well. That is a potent formula, when you can find a horse’s level of ability and keep them there as long as they remain capable.

At top tracks, you will often see first-level allowance races with an optional 40k tag, second-level allowances with an optional 62.5k tag, and third-level allowance races written with an optional 80k tag. Beyond third-level allowances, fourth-level allowance races are few and far between. We took advantage of one recently with Seven Trumpets at Churchill Downs — he won a “four other than” over the weekend.

These are a few examples and there are many others in our stable or that you may have run across. Know this, we always welcome questions, whether it is an email or if you care to post something on Chatter. Please don’t hesitate to reach out, we’re all learning every day we are exposed to this great game, that is one of the best aspects of horse racing. You can always learn something new.


  1. SWhitenack says:

    This is a big help !!! Sometimes I have trouble explaining to folks just what an “AOC”
    race is and why Scholar Athlete competes in this kind of race.

  2. DSelf says:

    So if a horse like Scholar gets past the first 3 levels and say he wins what is actually next since there’s very few fourth level. Would he have to go strictly in a claiming race. Little confusing for me when not all horses are graded stakes horses. Or geldings that have little options but to race

  3. Erin Birkenhauer says:

    Hi Debbie…once a horse gets past the third-level allowance condition they essentially have to compete in stakes races or go back and compete in the allowances races they already won BUT for the tag.

    There are some unique allowance races that come along. For instance, Scholar was entered in a race at Tampa Bay Downs on 12/29 (we scratched because off the turf), and the way it was written, he did not have to be in for the claiming tag.

    For Three Year Olds And Upward Which Have Never Won Three Races Other Than Maiden, Claiming, Starter, Or State Bred Or Which Have Never Won Four Races Or Optional Claiming Price Of $62,500 Or Which Have Not Won A Race Other Than Maiden, Claiming, Starter or State Bred in 2019.

    Since Scholar won one claiming race in ’19…he is eligible to run for the allowance condition because of this clause… “Or Which Have Not Won A Race Other Than Maiden, Claiming, Starter or State Bred in 2019.”

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