There are two words that should hold more significance for punters than most other two words in the English language. I have always called them the "QC" of my racetrack investment and see them as quite different but overlapping.

Quality (here we have the Q) is for me an indicator of a horse's potential and special value. Class (and here is the C) has always been capable of creating major discussions and even wars amongst aficionados of the turf. Class can refer to the level of competition. For example, a Class 1 animal is a horse that has won only one lifetime start. If it has won more than one race, it is not eligible for a Class 1 event. True, there are a few small exceptions and this is not an absolute rule (the horse may have won an unregistered race) but by and large that's how it is.

We tend to refer to class horses generally in terms of being "top" class, or sometimes "a little below top class". This is, of course, quite another way of looking at "class", because it is subjective and emotional terminology. What I mean by this is that if I choose a horse like, say, Costly Addition, which ran in the fourth race at Sandown on January 19 in a Class 6 handicap for mares, you would have to nail me to a nest of driver ants and pour treacle all over me, in a temperature of at least 40 degrees, before I would concede that Costly Addition is a top-class mare.

However, you will have no trouble if you want me to say that she was reasonably well placed in a Class 6 Sunday afternoon excuse for Werribee - which just happened to be run at Sandown. If, on the other hand, you were to point to Matter Of Honour, which ran in the fifth race at Randwick the day before (and won it), we would be able to have a discussion on class.

Matter Of Honour won its sixth race that day, carrying 61.5kg, with an exceptionally impressive display.

The six-year-old gelding demonstrated something approaching the quality of his illustrious half brother Might And Power some 15 months before in Melbourne. The display on January 18 this year suggested to me that Matter Of Honour is indeed a class horse, one which has had serious problems (bleeding being amongst them).

Might And Power was a champion and I will get to him again a little later when I talk about quality and class and where they overlap. But back to his younger brother for a moment.

Matter Of Honour impressed me greatly with his first-up win in 2003. I don't know, he may have his work cut out in Melbourne, but certainly looks up to the class and is worth a chance down there.

But if I suggested to you that Matter Of Honour was a Class 5 horse prior to his January win and now is theoretically a Class 6 horse, you would probably fall about laughing. And you would be correct to do so. After all, putting aside the question of sex for a moment, should Matter Of Honour come up against the Class 6 mob that Costly Addition met the next day, I suppose that his weight would be something like 75kg or even more.

I just say this to make the distinction: in one sense of the word "class", Matter Of Honour is eligible for Class 6, but would probably not find a race in Australia where the conditions would allow him to accept at that level.

So is Matter Of Honour a quality horse? Let's delay that question a moment and ask another question of vital importance about class. We all understand the basics of class because we can all count from one to six. And we all know that if we use that other meaning of class, there is no way that we are going to acknowledge (a) Costly Addition as anything remotely better thin that class, and (b) Matter Of Honour as anything less than a well-performed Open class sprinter.

There would be no point in trying to argue with the handicapper that four horses in the race on January 18 had recorded more wins than Matter Of Honour. Interestingly, the most wins by any horse in this race was eight, by a horse which had won only half his prizemoney and was lining up for its 56th start, twice as many as Matter Of Honour.

The difference of 8kg in weight was very largely due to the handicapper's view of things, and the fact that the topweight was a proven Open class performer with at least two splendid wins to its lifetime credit. There would not be one person at the track that day who would have even contemplated putting these two horses at the same level, weightwise, or maintaining somehow that it would be reasonable handicapping.

Class has two very distinct meanings so far as racegoers are concerned. One refers to individual horses and their levels of performance, while the other is something more general and something that we have come to think of as "that indefinable attribute which the best horses possess". I think it is here that people get mixed up somewhat.

So what about Quality? I am the first to agree that the terms can overlap, but I think we can learn a lot about our investment habits and about our attitudes to racehorses if we try to separate them. Americans tend to speak of class in reference to ranking. More recently the British have fallen into line here. I suppose we do this when we try to rate horses. My own Class and Assessments pages in PPM say it all: there is the word "class" staring at you from the top of the page. It doesn't say quality, it says class.

Class is a kind of universal assessment gauge, and at the same time a very general term. We talk of a class race when we might find the likes of Octagonal, Saintly and Might And Power all competing together. "This is a class race," we hear the radio and television crowd telling us (as if we didn't know).When two or three top-class horses are in the one event, then there is the potential for a top-class race. If you think of the 2002 Cox Plate, you get the picture.

When the likes of Northerly, Sunline, Lonhro, Defier and one or two visiting notables are in the same event, then even the guy on the street corner is left in no doubt as to the race being a class race. The general idea of class is there. But if the only class runner in it happened to be Northerly, then after he has won the race you would nod and say, "Yes, well, it was the class runner".

Quality, if you want to push this idea to its maximum value, is a sort of level of class, but it's in the blood too. There's more to it. That's what it is in my book anyway. It's Greg Norman and Pat Rafter. I accept that class has colours of meaning. It can mean that a horse has more ability than the rest of today's field, or more ability than most horses racing anywhere. It can mean a race where several horses are in the top ability range. And as we have seen, it also provides a very strict and mathematical progressive ladder to try to accurately place these ability ranges.

A trainer will try to gauge the quality of the horses engaged in a particular class of race. He may decide that it is a pretty ordinary Open class event and therefore his entrant, which has no great pretensions to becoming a star, would have a reasonable chance of winning.

So the quality of a similar class of race can vary enormously. For example, a class race like the Melbourne Cup can vary markedly in quality from year to year.

Last year's Melbourne Cup is an interesting one to focus on. Obviously every horse in the field was of reasonable class and several of them were top class in the year 2002. Very few of them were top class when compared to, say, the 1996 field or the following year's field.

When you see a plugging eight-year-old beat all but the winner to the post, and you realise that the winner is a class horse which the handicapper has missed, you start to reassess the composition of the field - and this is what the true situation was in 2002.

Media Puzzle represented class and quality in a field which generally lacked quality. The fourth placegetter, Vinnie Roe, might have almost won had he been ridden differently, but you can say that about several visiting quality horses in the past decade. I might argue that several of the horses in the 2002 race did not possess that certain something I call quality, although they had the class.

Am I splitting straws here? Well, even if I am, then I'm sure I'm making you think about being able to identify class, and then quality.

I think the next thing for us to accept is that quality does not come into the equation until a certain class is reached. To my mind it is rather like a car manufacturer, which offers several levels of motor vehicle under the one badge. Let's imagine that Foryotanissabishi offers a standard six-cylinder V6 sedan at seven levels. The first or bottom level is very basic and I will call it "class one".

Class one has a steering wheel, reasonable seats and a radio-cassette player, with air-conditioning as an optional extra.

Move up to class four, and you'll get standard air-conditioning, a CD player, maybe alloy wheels, and some other goodies. This is a better class of vehicle and although it is still powered by the same sort of engine it might be a bit quieter, might be more comfortable, will certainly cost more, and it will have some of those "quality" inclusions that distinguish it from classes one, two and three (carpet, for example).

You see, from class one to class seven this car is the same basic car (if it was a horse, it would still be around about 15 or 16 hands tall, it would still be brown, grey or black, and it would still have four legs and eat hay).

But at the top end of the model range you expect to be able to identify the little extra bits that you want your neighbour to notice when you have just parked in the driveway. You expect your neighbour to wander over, and you should be able to see his recognition of quality as he runs his eye over your car.

Classes six and seven of the new and gleaming Foryotanissabisbi special limited edition super-duper piece of  creature-comfort will need to be genuine quality machines. You will be paying more for them and you will expect that everything about them oozes quality. Pedigree!

I am not a person who is able to judge a horse by looking at it. Some gifted people, for example Bart Cummings, have the eye and they can quite often detect quality which I simply would never see. Of course, I can look at the bloodlines, and I can get some clues when these are glaringly blueblood. Put the name Danehill in a horse's immediate breeding and even I get the message as to potential quality (and price). So, I would be much more able to identify the class seven Foryotanissabishi than I would be able to spot a superbly structured yearling at the sales. That may well go for you too.

Fortunately, you and I can stick to cars and things we know something about. But when the yearling actually starts racing, and proceeds through the classes, you will sooner or later say, "This is a class animal". And some time after that you will recognise that it possesses the indefinable "quality" tag.

It is from the quality horse that we derive our champions.

Look through my Class and Assessments. Several of the very best horses are resting and I could riot take up the space in this issue with horses that will not run. However, as I cast my eye down page 30, I observe several class horses. But what about quality horses? You are probably ahead of me. Of course, the page is brimming with quality
horses! This is because, from thousands of horses running across Australia during this period, I have culled my Assessments down to 47 on each page. Clearly, you are not going to get any maidens, and equally clearly most of these horses will already be way up the class ladder.

On that basis, when these 94 horses are appropriately placed, they should represent extremely strong chances of winning. If racing was always that simple we'd all be millionaires, but these Class and Assessment tables have hung in there for years because I try to identify the quality horses, and those with the potential to become quality horses, amongst the horses which already represent class.

I anticipate that this article will encourage some readers, perhaps even an avalanche of readers, to write to the editor with their views. That will be a very good thing for racing. Don't forget that the easiest way of expressing your opinion is to send an e-mail. I have taken on the role here of being the old racing philosopher who provokes thinking, and who says to you: "Have you really thought this through?"

By The Optimist