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What is “class” in horse racing?

The term class is used in horse racing in two main ways.

It is sometimes used to describe a horse that has proven itself at high levels of competition, as in a “class” or “classy” horse.

The more common usage in the context of handicapping means the level at which an individual horse has recently been competing.

In this context, a horse that is “dropping in class” is meeting easier competition today and may be able to compete effectively, even if it’s been finishing up the track in those recent races.

Conversely, a horse that is “stepping up in class” is facing tougher foes than it has in its recent races and could be in for a rude awakening.

Context is important when considering moves up or down the class ladder.

Some horses get really good all of a sudden and can handle a jump of several levels, say from an allowance race into stakes company.

At the same time, a horse that once ran against the best horses can lose its edge and require several class drops to find a level where it can be competitive.