Horse Class Assessment 8 minutes

In thoroughbred racing, a horse “class” is used in two different ways.

Firstly it is used to describe the different types and grading of races in Australia: at the lowest end of the class hierarchy is a Maiden race and at the highest end is a Group 1 Weight For Age (WFA) race. Secondly and more importantly from a handicapping perspective, class refers to the ability of a horse compared to its rivals.

In this respect, class can be described as the combination of speed, stamina and determination a horse possesses… qualities that allow it to win or be competitive at a given level of competition. The higher the grade of race, the greater the speed, stamina and determination a horse needs to win.

A horse that has won or placed at Group 1 level has more class (ability) than a horse that can only be competitive in a restricted grade.

The ability to understand and accurately assess class / ability is one of the most important elements of good form analysis. If a horse does not have the necessary ability to win the race, then other positive factors such as form, fitness, distance, weight, barrier, jockey etc. are largely irrelevant.

The following guidelines provide a framework that can help you to assess class when doing the form:

1. Class Profile

Consider the horse’s overall career and in particular the last 12 runs not exceeding 12 months.

  • What is the highest class the horse has won in? How many times?
  • What is the highest class the horse has been competitive in (within two lengths of the winner)? How many times?
  • Outside of the above, what class has the horse been expected to be competitive in? That is, races where it started up to $5 in betting and then between $5 and $10 in betting.
  • What class has the horse attempted and failed in?

Be sure to consider relevant factors that may have affected the horse’s competitiveness in a particular run. For example, if a horse’s best form is on dry ground, then a failure up in class on slow ground should not be viewed in the same way as a similar failure on good ground.

2. Current Class Assessment

Summarise the current class of the horse with one or more of the following statements:

  • The horse has been a winner and / or consistent competitive performer up to “x” class
  • The horse has been thereabouts (2-4 lengths away) and sometimes competitive up to “x” class
  • The horse has failed to be competitive in “x” attempts in “x”? class.

3. Class Potential

At some point in its career a horse will reach its class peak, which is the level of competition beyond which it is unable to be competitive. When a horse begins its career though, it’s impossible to predict with accuracy what that class level will be. As with human athletes, it takes time, a good deal of conditioning and competitive experience for a horse to reach its potential.

For that reason most trainers start their horses in low class races (Maidens or Restricted grade) and then progress to higher levels of competition as the horse’s ability allows.

Generally speaking the first 10 starts of a horse’s career will give a good guide to its likely class potential. Some don’t show their full talent until 10-15 starts in, but very few horses suddenly elevate to a significantly higher class level if they haven’t shown something close to that ability in their first 15 starts.

Genuine top class horses do however tend to progress much faster than others. For example our best horses over the past two decades including Black Caviar, Makybe Diva, Winx, Weekend Hussler, Lonhro, Sunline, Northerly, Might and Power, Octagonal etc. all showed their top class potential within their first 10 starts.

In addition to assessing a horse’s current class, it’s important to evaluate if:

  • The horse is still moving through the classes and yet to reach its peak
  • The horse has most likely reached its peak and is holding competitiveness at that level
  • The horse has reached its peak and is possibly declining in competitiveness (all horses reach this point at some stage in their career.)

Horses that are still improving and yet to reach their class peak are most likely to have:

  • Had 10 starts or less
  • Won a number of races already, some of them with relative ease (i.e. by more than 2 lengths)
  • Have run overall race time / sectionals that are faster than other races of stronger class over the same distance on the same day.
  • May be observed still travelling comfortably in a race when other runners around them are under pressure from the jockey.
  • Started at a short price in a number of their runs

For these types of horses it’s worth trying to make some judgment on the class level you think they can reach. Can they reach city class? Saturday class? Group class races?

Of course some horses can be late bloomers and may not begin to show their true potential until after they have had 15 starts.  If a horse does start to win and be consistently competitive in stronger class then don’t let the fact it has had more than 15 starts limit your judgment. This is especially true if the horse is starting to race over a longer distance than it has in the past. However it’s worth keeping in mind that the very large majority of better class horses indicate their talent early on.

4. Class For Today’s Race

The most important part of your analysis is to classify the horse’s inherent class / ability in relation to today’s race.

On the evidence available make an assessment of whether the horse is:

  • Capable of handling stronger class than this race (has won or been consistently competitive in higher class races)
  • Equal to the class of this race (has won or been consistently competitive in similar races)
  • Yet to be proven but should (or could) be up to this class.
  • Yet to be proven but is unlikely to be up to this class
  • Definitely outclassed.

Horses that are not up to the class of today’s race rarely win and can be quickly eliminated from further consideration. Those that are up to the class of today’s race (or better) can be considered contenders, subject to further analysis on factors such as fitness, recent form, distance, position in running etc.

Always be on the lookout for lightly raced, talented horses that are up in class, but look like they could eventually reach a better class than today’s race. They might still be well found in the market, but if they have positive traits in their form and positive characteristics for today’s race then they are usually still good betting prospects that are somewhat undervalued by the market.

One final word of advice; be cautious about believing everything you read, watch or listen to about horses and their supposed level of talent. Learn to make your own assessments by looking at key indicators such as the quality of opposition a horse defeats, how easily they do it, the quality of their times & sectionals, strength and speed in the run to the line and other traits that you objectively assess yourself. With experience you’ll avoid falling into horses that are overhyped in the market and gain good value by identifying others that are flying under the public radar.

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