May 10 2013

Class Matters – From Top To Bottom

In this article we open up one of the most interesting topics in handicapping horse racing.  The topic of “Class.”  Class is considered by some handicappers to be THE most important factor when evaluating a race.  I have known Class players that will utilize Class almost exclusively when handicapping a race.  Others consider class less important, positing that a horse doesn’t know what “Class” he is supposed to be.  I think the majority of handicappers are somewhere in-between.  At least that’s where I am.


When I think of “Class,” I equate it to human sports, such as baseball, basketball, or football.  Baseball might offer the best comparisons, with it’s Major and Minor League systems.  The highest level of competition in baseball  is of course the Major Leagues.  But below that are multiple levels in the Minor Leagues.  Working from top to bottom, there is Triple-A, Double-A, and Class A.  While players at all of these levels have a chance to make it to the Major Leagues, those at Triple-A have the best shot.  Why?  Because they are playing ball against players that are closest in ability to Major League ballplayers.

I think that’s a good analogy to make with Horse Racing.  Horses competing against more talented animals, have the best shot of succeeding against the most talented horses in the sport, Graded Stakes horses.  If they can’t compete successfully against horses of lesser abilities, then they have very little chance of competing at the higher levels.

As the skeptic comments; a horse might not know what “Class” he is supposed to be, but horses of a higher class are in fact mentally and physically superior to horses of a lesser class.  They are stronger in aspects such as size, condition, turn of foot (speed), attitude, etc.  With that said, they do not start out that way.  There is a building process; just like the baseball player,  who starts out in Little League, progresses to college ball and/or the minor leagues, and then finally makes it to the Major leagues.  At each level the bar is raised higher, and the athlete is challenged to perform against a new “class” of athlete.

The following diagram shows what I call the Class Pyramid of Thoroughbred Horse Racing:

Class Pyramid Basic

The top three levels are the “Major Leagues” of horse racing, Graded Stakes races.  Grade 1 being the most competitive and valuable of races.

The next two levels (Stakes/Handicap and Allowance) are the “Minor Leagues” of horse racing.  This is where prospective Graded Stakes horses test their mettle and determine whether or not they can compete at the highest levels.  Some will make it, most will not.  A few will continue to compete at this level over a period of time, many will descend the class pyramid and compete at the Claiming level for an extended period of time.

Skipping down a level, the Maiden Special Weights are like the High School ball players, who have a lot to learn.  In fact, being classified as a “Maiden” means that they have not won a race yet.  Believe it or not, many will never actually win a race, or “Break Their Maiden” as referred to in the business.

Returning to the “Claiming” level of competition.  This is a special level, unlike any of the others mentioned above.  Some horses will never compete at this level. They will leapfrog from Maiden Special Weight to Allowance.  Why?  Because every horse in a “Claiming” race is technically for sale.  Meaning he/she can be purchased outright by another Trainer and Owner combination.  Entering a horse in a Claiming race is to risk losing him to someone else.  Obviously a horse with a great deal of potential is not entered into a Claiming race for that reason.

However, with that said, it is not uncommon for a horse to improve dramatically after running in a Claiming race, and then go on to compete successfully in higher levels of competition.  Sometimes for the original owner, and other times for a new owner after being Claimed (purchased) in a prior race.

Finally, at the bottom of the pyramid is the “Maiden Claiming” race.  This is the lowest level of competition.  Not only have the horses not won a race, their owners are willing to sell them at the conclusion of the race if someone enters a Claim “Tag” prior to the running of the race.

Each of these levels of class require further explanation and will be covered individually in other articles.

To learn more about Maiden races, click here to view an article on “Maidens.” Also, you can view a complete list of articles on the topic of class by choosing the Class Category in the right hand panel.

Neal Headshot2
By Neal Benoit

2 comments on “Class Matters – From Top To Bottom

  1. Another informative piece Neal. It would be helpful if you would walk us through the mathematics behind class rating systems.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *