What Is Class?

You don’t have to be involved in horse racing before very long until you start to hear the word “class” being talked about everywhere that you go.

“The horse wasn’t up to the class of the others”

“It’s a classy horse and we expect it to run well in this race”

But what actually is class?

There have only been a few published attempts to try and define it, and the reason for that is because it is ultimately…ephemeral!

Class is something that is not measurable, it is a feeling or opinion on how good a horse is. There are some horses that will just never be as good as others, these are of a lower class.

This causes a bit of a conundrum for us as bettors, particularly if you use systems or ratings. In order to analyse a race completely we need to find a way to measure this thing that is unmeasurable.

There have been a few published attempts in the UK on providing a way to measure this and they are okay. One such example is Stuart Eaton’s book appropriately named Class. The opinions on this book are varied, usually based on how experienced the reader is in their own handicapping. Unfortunately it all comes down to how to do we quantify something that is an opinion.

Right now I’m going to show you how I go about doing this. Is it the only way? No. Will everyone agree with it? Almost certainly not. Does it work for me? Yes.

In order to measure this opinion we need to realise that there is a key element in understanding it…

Class is a comparison of a horses inate ability compared to the other runners in the race.

Notice here that I am totally ignoring the official class levels, they are not relevant to us at the moment. In fact you don’t need to use them at all if you measure your own class levels because they are often not an accurate representation of the class of horse actually taking part in the race.

In order to compare a horses inate ability, I believe that we need to do this from as many angles as possible. Here are just a few…

  • Form class
  • Speed class
  • Earnings class
  • Pace class

What I’m doing is building up a picture of the horse from various different angles in direct comparison with the other runners in the race. This starts to give us a picture of what we can expect the class of a horse to be. Once we know the class of each horse in the race, we can get an idea of the true class of the race.

While this is a good start, unfortunately I have not found it to be good enough. We also need to compare this to the same class measurements of the horses best races to determine what level of class the horse is likely to be able to perform well at.

Let me explain.

We know that class is something which is ultimately going to be impossible to measure. What we need to do as bettors, is to get as close as possible and we do this by monitoring whether our measurements improve our profits. But our measurements are meaningless unless we have something to compare them to. In order to make them meaningful we compare them to the races that a horse performed well in.

Now we have something tangible that we can use in our betting. We have a variety of different class measurements, none of which are that accurate independently but which come together to build us a good picture of a horses ability from a variety of viewpoints. Then we take these measurements and compare them to the races where the horse has performed well in order to understand the range of measurements under which the horse is likely to do well again. The final step is to then compare this with the other runners in the race to determine which of these runners is likely to be a better class horse than the others.

Leave a comment below with your thoughts.

Michael Wilding

Michael started the Race Advisor in 2009 to help bettors become long-term profitable. After writing hundreds of articles I started to build software that contained my personal ratings. The Race Advisor has more factors for UK horse racing than any other site, and we pride ourselves on creating tools and strategies that are unique, and allow you to make a long-term profit without the need for tipsters. You can also check out my personal blog or my personal Instagram account.


  1. Good morning, Michael. I could not agree more re the comments of class and the need to understand it, interpret it and especially to use the findings as part of horse selection. It is fundamental to my form study and final selection process. It is so rewarding, mentally and financially. Nothing better than seeing your horse win on the bridle by half the track and you knew beforehand that it was in a different class from the others. There are opportunities and examples every week!!

  2. Nowadays I only bet maybe 5,10 euros,just for an interest. Two of my maxims “PACE MAKES THE RACE” & “CLASS TELLS” were early lessons I put to good use many years ago,they still hold true.
    Then I used to grade every race using race value,course and a few other factors. My rating formula was first to eliminate likely losers by looking at their most recent race. I would select the “Class” horse by
    finding horse raced for most valuable prize last time(provided value was above the race it was to contest),sometimes you could get more than one “Class” horse in a race. I would then select two other categories based on last run and rate them on their best form race.
    We have graded racing for a long time now, and race value can sometimes be misleading e.g. Sales races.
    Pace makes the race,often an uncontested lead or tactics can cause a very different result. Nothing beats form study,how arace is likely to be run,what pace suits horses,etc. A good example was “World Cup” race at Meydan, I strongly fancied Animal Kingdom to win,he has good tactical speed,won kentucky Derby as 3yo,last year running a mile on turf in BreedersCup he kept on well to be 2nd to Wise Dan a top miler,with Excelebration in rear. Hunters light,Royal Delta’s wins were
    in my opinion against lesser class and they were much shorter odds.
    Red Devereaux who finished 2nd to Animal Kingdom, is a horse who needs a strong pace to show his best. In 2011 “Red” statred 5/1fav for Chester Cup,he was unplaced to Overturn, later at Pontefract he was unplaced behind Distant Memories. He went to the Melbourne Cup got a strong pace and lost in a photo. Despite running at a shorter distance
    he got a pace that suited him and ran a great race to be second,and get a big purse into the bargain!

    1. Thank you for your detailed and informative comment Francis, I am sure a lot of people will find it useful.

  3. A man called Van der Wheil defined class in the Raceform Handicap Book many years ago. (Type his name into Google). Raw ability in his opinion could be evaluated by dividing a horse’s win money by the number of wins. Simplistic but it is only the start. Consistency has also to be taken into account and also a horse’s capability on the day as indicated by a rating for that particular race. He used two rating methods. The outstanding example is of course is Frankel. Top prize money, Top racecourses, Top consistency. Top class by definition!!!

    1. VDW was an interesting character, we actually have a modified version of his ratings in the Racing Dossier. I think prize money is only one way of measuring class and that to be truly effective now we need to look at it from a range of different angles, although as you say consistency must also be taken into account.

  4. Returning to yesterday’s comments, in particular “opportunities and examples every week”, there was just such an opportunity in Newcastle’s first race, Victor Hewgo. Now I know a lot of punters will see a price of 1/2 available as something to pass over, we all want to back 10/1 winners, don’t we! But I saw the race – just one race from 7 UK scheduled meetings (50+ races) – as an opportunity to make 50% ROI. My day was complete by 2.30 pm. The Racing Post results comment for Victor Hewgo read… stayed on strongly to go clear from last, eased near finish. The horse was different class. Job done.

Back to top button