What exactly is class? We hear about it all the time, and not only in racing. Class is what makes things cost more than others, and what makes some people think they are better than others (they have more 'class'... whether or not they do is often open to question).

The word 'Class' means the same thing as 'Quality'. I'd like to quote you a little piece from one of my favourite books. Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

"Quality... you know what it is yet you don't know what it is. But thats self-contradictory. But some things are better than others, that is, they have more Quality. But when you try to say what that Quality is, apart from the things that have it, it all goes poof!

There's nothing to talk about. But if you can't say what Quality is, how do you know what it is, or how do you know that it even exists? If no-one knows what it is, then for all practical purposes it doesn't exist at all. But for all practical purposes it really does exist.

What else are the grades based on? Why would people pay fortunes for some things and throw others in the trash pile? Obviously some things are better than others... but what's the 'betterness'?... so round and round you go, spinning mental wheels and nowhere finding any place to get traction. What the hell is Quality? What is it?" (page 178 Corgi edn 1977)

Quality or Class eludes most of us when we really try to pin it down. We say. "Yes, this is a class horse," at the drop of a hat when we are talking about certain metropolitan performers but what do we mean?

Richard Sasuly in his The Search for the Winning Horse (Holt Rinehard 1980). which is one of the finest books on racing I've ever read, has this to say:

"It is obviously true that some horses are better than others. They prove their superiority. or higher class. by beating the others on the racetrack. The horseplayer who can detect a horse of higher class among a field of middling opponents wins more than his share of bets.

But how does the player go about classifying, or selecting the classiest horse in a race? The question has engaged the attention of handicappers for at least a century and a half.

Among a thousand slightly different ways of forecasting the winner of, the next race, the serious approaches can be reduced to two: one based on class. the other based on time." (page 79)

Well. so far as Australasia is concerned, the second option carries little weight. since we race on grass, which is variable to a degree that dirt (on which most of America's races are conducted) is not. I have always felt that even the great Phil Bull Timeform ratings in the UK are really assessments of class and not actual speed. Pick a random year and you will find that the best horses are not necessarily track recordbreakers, but they are those which demonstrate they are superior to their opponents in the best races.

Sasuly goes on to provide a fascinating background to Admiral Henry John Rous and the origins of the weight-for-age system of classifying horses. Incidentally, the WFA is only good for one thing: age definition. It won't tell you how to assess a top three-year-old against a mediocre field of older horses. but theoretically it will bring them all in with the opportunity to do their best.

Sasuly also comments that there is another helpful factor in classifying horses: an elephantine memory! Note that I use the word'classifying'... it is only the verb from 'Class', something which is well worth remembering even if you haven't got the memory of a jumbo.

Using Saturday August 17 as an example, there were only half a dozen horses on the Sydney card which could be classified as 'Class' animals. Melbourne was very heavy, so in my view an evening-up or a levelling occurred which precluded any chance of examining horses for Class. In Sydney. Pleasant Flight stood out Oh by the way. you do save your old form guides, don't you? Please start now if you don't, because we'll be doing a lot of work with them.

Pleasant Flight, as I was saying, stood out He had been beaten a short head by Rory's Jester just before the Slipper and the defeat had cost him his chance in the big race. He had a record of a good win, over the course and distance, and four other places from only six starts. He was drawn a little wide, but to compensate for that he had Bruce Compton on board. In his only other preparation he performed well first up, and he was literally classes ahead of the field if his run behind the Golden Slipper winner. over today's course and distance, was any criterion.

At 6-1 he was an each way special. He was backed in to 11 -2 and won as he pleased.

In the sixth race (1200m) there were five horses which had a touch of that elusive 'Class' about them; they were Avon Angel. who had been beaten first-up at odds-on last preparation, Real Dream who is a most honest horse, Lord Ballina (a winner of the Elders and a 1400m Class One animal), Vari's Ace, and the three-year-old Indian Raj, who had yet to prove himself. All but Avon Angel were rockhard fit, with Vari's Ace ready to perform after a few starts from a spell.

The question was, would you outlay your money at short odds on the best runner in the field. who everybody agreed was Avon Angel-, We know she won, but not by a lot, and she may not have got much further that day. My view is that Class, in that case. did not compensate for the unknown factor of race-fitness on her part. It is a case when I would accept her class, and not bet against her. but I wouldn't back her either.

In the seventh race there were only two animals with pretensions to Class: Hayai, arguably our best stayer, and the promising but as yet unproven King Randell. Hayai has shown us that he improves as he gets a few runs under his belt. and he could be let go over a distance obviously short of his best King Randell won like a good horse, but over the final 300 m my videos tell me he was holding, not going away from Hayai, and I suspect another 400 m or so will see the class horse victorious.

This does not mean that King Randell is not Class. it means that he was very fit and beat a moderate field apart from one class horse which prefers a longer distance. It means that I for one will not back King Randell the first time he takes on the top horses. Should he beat them, or even run a good fourth or fifth, he will establish his Class. But not until.

Don Scott's new book should be available to me in the next issue of PPM, but there is much we can learn from going over the lessons in The Winning Way (Puntwin, 1982). Don has had a tremendous influence on Australian racing in many ways, not the least being his publication of the two most comprehensive books on our racing that we've ever had. If you have a copy of The Winning Way handy, look up Chapters eight and nine.

Firstly, look at page 99. Note how the first step to understanding anything about racing is to understand that there are two kinds of races:


then note that these are again divided into


If you have the book handy, read the rest of the chapter before you go on with this article. If not, make sure you get a copy of the new book because I will be expanding these ideas next month and using the new book quite extensively to demonstrate the concept of Class.

Weight-for-Age racing, which we were on about earlier, is often thought to be the kind of classification which brings together the best horses. That is often true, in for example the Cox Plate (although there are frequently one or two non-class animals even in that race!) but remember not to confuse a race like that with the run-of-the-mill set weight events you see every mid-week. They are not weight-forage... they are merely set weight races, and Don's book spells out exactly what 'class' they are put on for. Which brings me to a vital point about Class:


Class can mean what we've been trying to establish above. It can be that nebulous, hard-to-define thing that makes a good horse a top horse. Let me give you an example from the past Leilani is an all-time favourite of mine.

She always tried her heart out. I wept when she broke down in her last run in Sydney in the Tancred Stakes and still tried to get to the line. She won the Queen of the Turf, the Toorak, the Turnbull, the Caulfield Cup. the Australian Cup, the AJC Oaks, the Mackinnon Stakes, the Queens Cup, the Orr Stakes, and was 2nd in the 1974 Melbourne Cup to extreme distance horse Think Big.

She didn't need to prove anything to anybody when she retired with a record of only once out of the money in her entire career. She looked a champion too, which always helps, with that striking black coat- A natural stayer, bred to be a stayer, her Class helped her to placings in races which were too short for her. early each preparation.
Leilani was Class.

But there is another kind of Class, the one used by the handicapper, and for that matter used in dog and trots races too. to distinguish between GRADES of animals. As most of you will know. horses move through classes as they win races. Sometimes they skip a class, and you will hear the pundits saying that the particular horse is 'racing out of its class'. This is the Class which is equated with Grading.

You might play tennis at about the same standard I do. Don uses this example to show that while we can give each other a good game, and play the occasional brilliant shot, we do not expect to play at Wimbledon. Nor would we be invited, we would be playing out of our class.

Again Don Scott's books are the best guides to what grading in Australasia is all about. You will find out why two-year-olds hardly ever contest weight-for-age events even though it looks as if they may be well-treated. On the other hand, a three-year-old can often have the services of a top rider in a weight-for-age race and carry no dead weight at all.

If, for example, a top rider can ride at 49 kg. or even 50 kg, he can be of maximum use to a three-year-old in the Cox Plate... an older horse would need to carry lead weights to make up its extra impost if that jockey were engaged. Knowing this kind of thing can help you tremendously in assessing a race when there are several more-or-less equal horses engaged. Again Don's new book will undoubtedly carry a table of riders' weights, as well as a rating for the top hoops which will prove invaluable even if you only use it to assess the relative class of riders.

There is another spot where readers can find access to Class, and that is right inside PPM. In fact there are two spots. The first is in the July issue, page 15, the figures of Statsman. Using the brilliant Aus-Pro package marketed a few years back as his guide (why don't they put a computer to work on that plan? It was quite a magnificent concept for picking winners) Statsman has provided us with a General Guide to Change in Class. If you compare it with page 117 of The Winning Way, you should develop a very sound concept of what the class structure of racing is all about.

However, just to make things even easier for you I intend going through the grades over the next months and looking at actual races run under actual conditions. then assessing the results and seeing if they are more or less what we might have expected them to be. So again I stress, don't throw out your form guides or results. Store them in a special place away from the threat of ending up around the vegetable scraps.

One of the points Statsman makes is that


and that brings us back to the first kind of Class we were on about. the Class which distinguishes the good, consistent, open-class animal from the rest of the mob, and this takes us to the second piece of information that PPM offers every month to its readers, my own class/weight ratings shown on the following pages, substantially modified, but I can say, with all due modesty, based on many many years of experience.

Another attitude to Class which I haven't mentioned yet because it has onlyjust been published is my 1984-85 Diary. When ljoined PPM I was invited to analyse my diary and to put together part of a book. The whole book will be a coverage of the season's racing and a guide to the new season, but I believe it to be unique in format. My idea was to provide you with a guide to the kind of thing that happens in racing on a week-by-week basis.

I concentrated on Class, Price, and Form. It is my absolute belief that most horses go on repeating their performances. It's another way of saying what I say throughout the diary, that WINNERS KEEP WINNING AND LOSERS KEEP LOSING and that there are many more of the latter category. Usually they are not mentioned at all in the diary because they don't get into the placings. I rarely found myself suddenly including a horse as a winner when it had done nothing beforehand.

I came to this realisation some years ago when I read a very good little paperback from England called Always Back Winners by Stewart Simpson, an English professional punter (Hodder and Stoughton). Simpson's contention is that horses win when they are entered for precisely the kind of race they have won before, and when they are near the top of the weights. In other words, they are rated by the handicapper to be the best, or near best. in the field. and they have already done exactly what they are being asked to do today.

I modified this to suit myself, by disregarding any horses which didn't have that magical touch of Class. Certainly there is an inner sixth sense in punters so far as Class is concerned, but it can be clouded by subjectivejudgement when we want to back a horse and are looking for reasons to support our judgement. In my next article I'm going to try to suggest ways of being a little more objective about the whole business. Let me say right now, though, that the best way to cloud your judgement is to listen to the radio men telling you why a horse is going to win. They are merely offering opinions.

One chap from Brisbane told me on my car radio that Haro would win on August 17. Now he didn't say he thought it had a chance, he stressed IT WILL WIN. It didn't run a place. If you ever take notice of that kind of guessing (many Sydneysiders will recall hearing it) you need certification. Racing is a game of uncertainties, and all that did was to make Haro'sTAB price 7-2 instead of 10- 1 and in the Sydney ring you couldn't get above 8-1 at any stage. Mug money.

Haro is not a Class horse. He has had chances to show Class and has quite clearly indicated that he is a good performer, but no more. If you were given six good reasons for backing Hayai and VALUE was available, then you might think again. This of course brings me to an altogether new, but totally related point. My diary is concerned with VALUE amongst Class horses. Next month, with the editor's permission, I'll give you an example or two of how value is to be found at the track nearly every week.

We'll also talk more about Class. and we'll have a good look at Don Scott's new book and what he has to say about Ratings and Class.

As my regulars will know, I have rated horses for many years. Give me a horse and I'll give you a number, but it's only a number for negotiation and for consideration as we look at all the variables.

The age of being able to arbitrarily place a single figure on a horse is gone. The age of the sophisticated computer has made such methods archaic, and we will be looking at the serious business of highly selective investment. I do believe that the PPM team offers the lot: for the first time, the punter has one magazine that is totally devoted to the pursuit of winning. We'll certainly be doing our best, and I stress again that you are most welcome to write to me with ideas and questions.

Remember that there are a lot of race meetings coming up in the next month. There is plenty of time, because we are going to be together for ages. Until next time we talk, watch your pocket!

By The Optimist