What are maiden races, and how do they work?

January 5th, 2022

Maiden races are among the most common types of horse races contested in North America. But what exactly is a maiden race?

A maiden race is a race restricted to “maidens,” or horses who have never won a race. A maiden can be an unraced horse heading to post for the first time, or it can be a 0-for-30 veteran who hasn’t found the recipe for reaching the winner’s circle.

Not all maiden races are created equal, and it’s helpful for handicappers to understand the differences. Let’s explore four types of maiden races you’re likely to encounter in North American Thoroughbred racing.

Maiden Special Weight

The highest caliber of maiden race in North America is a maiden special weight, in which all the entrants carry a fixed amount of weight. Aside from age and gender, there aren’t any other restrictions on entering a maiden special weight—so long as a horse is a maiden, they’re eligible. Champions and Kentucky Derby contenders typically debut in maiden special weights.

Maiden Auction

A maiden auction is like a maiden special weight, except it is restricted to horses that brought a final bid below a certain threshold when offered for sale at auction. Churchill Downs, for example, has run maiden auctions for horses that brought a final bid of $45,000 or less at auction.

Since maiden auctions deny eligibility to pricier acquisitions, the caliber of competition typically isn’t as deep as in a maiden special weight. But plenty of good horses are sold for inexpensive prices, so you never know when a future stakes winner will turn up in a maiden auction.

Maiden Claiming

Maiden claimers represent the lower rungs of the maiden ranks. In maiden claimers, each horse is available to be claimed (purchased) for a predetermined amount. On major racing circuits, the amount can be as high as $150,000, and the competition is correspondingly strong. At smaller tracks, the amount can be $5,000 or less.

It’s uncommon to see future elite racehorses participate in maiden claimers, though there are exceptions. 2010 Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner Blind Luck debuted in a $40,000 maiden claimer.

Maiden Optional Claiming

A maiden optional claimer combines a maiden special weight with a maiden claimer. Some runners will be entered with a claiming tag, but others will be unavailable for claiming. You might also see some restrictions on eligibility; Woodbine in Canada has run maiden optional claimers restricted to horses that had previously competed at the class level.


Now that we’ve defined four different types of maiden races, you’ll know what to expect whenever and wherever you find them. Good luck!