Class: How to Determine the Class of a Race and the Class of Each Horse in a Race

This is part II of a series on the basics of handicapping horse races, if you have not already done so I encourage you to read part I first.

Most literature on how to handicap a horse race will point to Form as the primary factor when looking at a race.

In my opinion Class trumps Form for one reason, which will be discussed below.

For now let’s define Class, look at how to determine it and discuss the different types of it.

What is Class?

Class is the level at which a horse is competitive.

That level will, for most horses, change over time so the key is determining where each horse fits today.

How to Determine Class

Class can be split into two parts: the Class of the race and the Class of the horse.

The Class of the race can be found in the Conditions located in the Race Header of the Past Performances.

The Class of the horse can be found in the Body of the Past Performances.

Class of the Race

The Conditions of the race are located in the Race Header.

They tell you everything about the Class of the race, including the:

  • track
  • distance
  • surface
  • type of race
  • purse
  • restrictions
  • claiming price (if applicable)

Here is an example of the conditions of a race:

Horse Racing Conditions

This race is being run at Arlington Park at 1 1/16 miles on the turf course.

The race is a claiming race with a purse of $23,000 and is restricted to horses that are three years old or older and have never won three races.

The claiming price for each horse is $25,000.

Class of the Horse

The Body of the Past Performances contain the running lines for each of the last ten races the horse has run.

Within each running line is the Class of the race, which is circled in red below.

Horse's Class

In this example this horse has been running in claiming races on the turf.

The top running line, which is the most recent race for this horse, was at Arlington Park going 5 furlongs on the turf.

The race was a $25,000 claiming race for the year olds and upward (denoted by the number 3 followed by the up arrow) and was restricted to horses that have never won two races (denoted by the N2L following the claiming price).

Now that you know where to look for the Class of the race and the Class of the horse let’s look at the different types of horses and different types of races.

Two Types of Horses

Horses can be separated into two groups: claiming and non-claiming.

Claiming

Claiming horses run in claiming races and starter races.

The key characteristic of claiming races is each horse is entered for a claiming price and can be claimed (bought) by anyone with a horse owner’s license.

Claiming races are generally considered to be lower in Class than their non-claiming counterparts.

Some claiming horses also race in starter allowances and starter handicaps, which protect the horses from being claimed.

Non-claiming

Non-claiming horses run in non-claiming races.

The key charcterstic of non-claiming races is no horse is entered for a claiming price and therefore none are at risk of being claimed (bought).

Non-claiming races are generally considered to be higher in Class than their claiming counterparts.

Three Types of Races

While there are two types of horses there are three types of races that these horses run in: claiming, non-claiming and optional claiming.

Claiming

Claiming races can be separated into three groups: maiden claiming, claiming and starter.

Maiden Claiming

Maiden claiming races are the lowest Class races at any race track.

These races are for horses that have never won a race and are entered for a claiming price.

The Class of a maiden claiming race is directly related to the claiming price, the higher the claiming price the higher the Class and vice versa.

Claiming

Claiming races are for horses that have won a maiden claiming race and are not good enough to run competitively in a non-claiming race.

As is the case with maiden claiming races the Class of a claiming race is related to the claiming price but with one additional caveat.

Claiming races can also have restrictions such the number of times a horse has won or the number of races a horse has won during a certain time period.

Non-restricted claiming races are higher Class than restricted claiming races and the higher the claiming price the higher the Class and vice versa.

Starter Allowance/Starter Handicaps

Starter races are for claiming horses but differ in that the horses are not eligible to be claimed.

These races require that a horse has run for a specific claiming price and must have done so within a specific time period.

Starter races restricted to horses that have only broken their maiden are the lowest Class while those open to any horse that has run for a claiming price within the given time period are higher Class.

As is the case in maiden claiming and claiming races the higher the required claiming price the higher the Class of the starter race and vice versa.

Non-claiming

The second type of race, non-claiming races, can be separated into three groups: maiden special weight, allowance and stakes.

Maiden Special Weight

Maiden special weight (also sometimes referred to as maiden allowance races) are for horses that have not won a race.

Unlike maiden claiming races the horses are not entered for a claiming price.

Maiden special weight races are where most good horses begin their careers.

Allowance

Allowance races are for horses that have won a maiden special weight or for claiming horses that have improved and are ready for a higher Class race.

The Class of an allowance race is based on the restrictions of the race.

Allowance races are normally restricted to horses that have not won a specific number of races.

Allowance races restricted to horses that have never won two races are the lowest Class while allowance races with no restrictions on the number of wins are the highest Class.

Stakes

The highest Class races in horse racing are stakes races and these races mostly consist of the best horses at the race track.

Stakes are for horses that have progressed through allowance races (with the exception being 2 year olds that often go straight from maiden wins to stakes).

The Class of a stakes race is based on its grading or lack thereof.

Non-graded races are the lowest Class while Grade 1 (or Group 1 for foreign races) are the highest Class.

Optional Claiming

The third and final type of races, optional claiming races, are a combination of the first two.

Optional claiming races allow horses to run for a claiming price but does not require them to provided they meet the restrictions of the race if there are any.

There are two groups of optional claiming races: maiden optional claiming and allowance option claiming.

Maiden Optional Claiming

Maiden optional claiming races fall in between maiden claiming and maiden special weight races on the Class ladder.

Not all tracks offer these races, which are relatively new in horse racing.

The Class level of a maiden optional claiming race is directly related to the claiming price, the higher the claiming price the higher the Class and vice versa.

Allowance Optional Claiming

Allowance optional claiming races bring together allowance horses and claiming horses.

Allowance optional claiming races are higher Class than an allowance races with the same restrictions because it allows horses that are not eligible under those restrictions to run but with one caveat.

Horses that do not meet the allowance restrictions must be entered for a claiming price.

The Class of an allowance optional claiming race is based on a combination of the claiming price and the restrictions of the race.

A higher claiming price and less restrictive race is higher Class than a lower claiming price and more restrictive race.

Now that you know the different Classes of horses and different Classes of races let’s look at the most important factor relating Class: Class moves.

Class Moves

For every horse that has raced at least once they will do one of three things in their next race:

  • rise (or move up) in Class
  • stay at the same Class level
  • drop (or move down) in Class

Rise in Class

When a horse rises in Class it means the horse is racing in a tougher race than its previous race.

A rise in Class can occur in the same type of race or between two different types of race.

An example of a horse rising in Class within the same type of race would be a claiming horse moving from a $40,000 claiming race to a $50,000 claiming race.

An example of a horse rising in Class between two different types of races would be a non-claiming horse moving from an allowance race to a stakes race.

Stay at the Same Class Level

When a horse stays at the same Class level it is running in the same race today as it did in its previous start.

An example of this would be a horse that lost in a maiden special weight running back in a maiden special weight.

Drop in Class

When a horse drops in Class it means the horse is racing in a weaker race than its previous race.

A drop in Class can occur in the same type of race or between two different types of race.

An example of a horse dropping in Class within the same type of race would be a claiming horse moving from a $16,000 claiming race to a $10,000 claiming race.

An example of a horse dropping in Class between two different types of races would be a non-claiming horse moving from an maiden special weight race to a maiden claiming race.

Positive Class Moves

Rises in Class, drops in Class and staying at the same level can be viewed as a positive sign under the right circumstances.

A few examples of positive Class moves are:

  • a rise in Class following a win or good performance
  • a slight drop in Class following an average or poor performance
  • staying at the same level following an average or good performance

Negative Class Moves

Drops in Class and staying at the same level can be viewed as a negative sign under the right circumstances.

A few examples of negative Class moves are:

  • a major drop in Class following a win or good performance
  • staying at the same level following an easy win

Now that you know the different types of Class moves and when they are positive and negative signs let’s look at why Class is the most important handicapping factor.

Why Class Trumps Form

As mentioned earlier in most handicapping literature Form is listed as the most important handicapping factor.

The reason for this if a horse is not in Form (which will be discussed in the next post) it can often be eliminated as a contender.

The reason I believe Class trumps Form is because if a horse that appears off Form is dropping in Class to a level that it figures to be competitive at it can win.

A prime example of this is seen in maiden claiming races, which very often are won by horses dropping significantly in Class.

The drop from a maiden special weight race to a maiden claiming race is the biggest Class drop in horse racing.

For that reason a horse that showed any ability in the tougher maiden special weight should be viewed as a contender, this would include going to the lead and fading badly in the stretch or finishing in the top half of the field.

Occasionally even that is not required as many maiden claiming races are won by horses that showed no ability in a maiden special weight race in their previous start.

This is but one example of how Class trumps Form and over time you will come across many others.

What’s Next?

In the next post I will look at the second Pillar of Handicapping: Form and more specifically what it is, how to determine it and the different stages of the Form cycle.

For now please leave any comments or questions regarding Class in the comment section below and if you found this information useful please share it using one of the social media options below.

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Comments

  1. Ron Zuercher says:

    Lenny,

    Today’s Bonapaw at FG may be a contrarian example of Class trumps form. Hollywood Hit and Chamberlain Bridge are definitely classy horses. Ready for More is the horse in form and getting a severe class test. He was probably gelded in June and has run his recent competition into the ground. At a 5-1 ML, I will probably pass the race as I would like Hollywood Hit if I knew he will handle the turf. I could go with defending champion Chamb Bridge if I knew how the 8 yo was feeling today or I could go with Ready for More because I just love improving horses with his running style. 5-1 is low borderline for the risk involved.

    Ron Zuercher

  2. Do you have empirical evidence to support your thesis of class trumping form?

    What you are missing, and you are missing it, is that horses dropping in class who appear out of form are actually not out of form, you just haven’t figured out how to ascertain this. No harm in that as it is a product of deliberate practice (aka experience).

    Of course you are welcome to prove me otherwise with that empirical evidence supporting your thesis. This means many nights with back issues of the DRF, which we did in the old days (we were still riding dinosaurs then) or mining a dataset with appropriate queries, which is done today.

    It’s a lost pleasure to dig through the stacks, but the marvel of slicing and dicing electronically is the better “business” decision.

    • Anonymous says:

      Horses”appearing” to be out of form. That is horses who’s statistically appear to be in poor form are some of the worst bets a person can make.As a professional I only wager on poor form when the animal is Dropping.How else to over come the inability to run pars at its current class level.As far as hidden good form,I am not certain it exists.
      But I know many patrons who confuse winning with good form.When other factors account for these victories.Trainer patterns,Pace,Bias, on & on.
      Keep wagering on obvious bad form & you will be left holding you D—.

  3. One gradation of class the author missed, “statebred” to open company. Furthermore, the above application of class is as old as the sport, and not terribly helpful in my opinion. Don’t get me wrong, the proper handling of class is extremely important to evaluating a field and cashing tickets. But to advance the science would be negative to my bottom line so I must defer at this time.

  4. Man this is great stuff ,,,I love it ,,Me an you started racing for the same reasons,,, I was Good for 15 ,,,20 years ,,well as good as i could be ,,i was really got into it big time ..i started changing my old school handicapping up a while back trying new an different stuff ,,,but im having a hard time getting back what i had ,,,but i had a terrible thing happen i had a mass heart attack the day my Daddy died ,,,it mentally messed me up for a while ,,,i think reading all this may help me ,,,Thanks fellow handicapper i mean it this is good ,,,Timmy Ritchey

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