Richard Hoiles's Tuesday tips: Handicap system could be improved

By Richard Hoiles@RichardHoiles
Tue 11 Sep 2018

Clearly the weekend highlight was at Kempton, where Enable showed all of her old exuberance and verve in repelling Crystal Ocean when returning triumphant.

While the weights favoured her on the day due to Crystal Ocean’s penalty (reasonable) and the fillies allowance (less so) there were very few signs of rustiness and a return trip to the Arc, albeit at ParisLongchamp this time rather than Chantilly looks on the cards.

Watch analysis of Enable's win at Kempton on Saturday from The Verdict

The official rating of the front two in the King George looks a few pounds too high (Poet's Word 130 and Crystal Ocean 129) and the pecking order come the end of the season will be interesting.

Ratings were the feature of Richard Hughes’ weekend article in the Racing Post, but while it is easy to sympathise with trainers regarding some aspects of the handicap system, his proposal to raise the handicap mark just of the winner and an effective amnesty for placed horses would swiftly undermine the whole system.

The bedrock of any universal ratings system is maintaining as far as possible an accurate assessment of ability of each horse relative to each other. If two horses pull well clear of the rest then if the runner-up was granted an amnesty then very few would want to line up in opposition next time.

As this ripples through the system then small fields and short priced favourites would quickly increase and where is the line drawn? Would Crystal Ocean’s mark have to remain unchanged when second in the King George?

Clearly that is an extreme example, but there are also many instances such as Haydock last Friday where Everything For You, raised 6lb for back-to-back second places, led the field home by over four lengths reflecting the fact he is genuinely improving. How even more one sided would such races potentially become if only winners were raised?

There are many improvements that could be made to handicaps, firstly in simply having less reliance on them via more creative options within the Programme Book. Some very high-profile cards used to open with sellers many years ago, and the number of Claimers (a staple diet in France) has also declined markedly.

The biggest advance, however, would be to directly tackle the issue which prompted Hughes’s frustration, the fact that it can be a cheat’s charter as the true merit of a horse’s ability is disguised for the first three runs by lack of fitness, or by being campaigned under conditions far away from its optimum in terms of trip or ground. Currently only in comparatively rare circumstances, and usually with some element of suspicion, are horses denied handicap marks after the minimum number of runs.

This should be far more routine with no mark given until the handicapper is completely satisfied they can allocate a mark underpinned by solid reasoning. Similarly, horses stepping up or down markedly in trip from their qualifying runs should also not automatically be eligible to participate.

Hopefully a few of these will prove ahead of the handicapper today!

4.05 Catterick – Christmas Night each-way at 10-1 with Bet365:

This Ollie Pears' runner can track what looks a solid pace from stall four. The three-year-old gelding has been consistent all season, despite the fact his yard was much quieter early in the year and he has made the frame on both his previous visits to Catterick.

4.20 Leicester – Perfect Hustler at 7-2 with Bet365:

This three-year-old gelding is improving and got little luck in the run at Kempton last time but for which he may well have taken another step forward.

The plus side is he is able to race off the same mark, while his Ascot run shows 7f on fast ground holds no fears. Expect him to go well.

5.25 Leicester – Right About Now at 100-30:

This four-year-old gelding scored for Seamus Cronin at Yarmouth last time and looks as if he has the opportunity to boss the pace here under Cronin again.

He showed a good attitude under pressure that day and so if able to get a soft lead can repel all challengers again.

5.40 Salisbury – Foxtrot Lady at generally available 6-4:

This three-year-old filly has had a good season and this looks a good bit of placing to provide Racecourse Chairman Jeff Smith with another Salisbury winner.

Her yard are absolutely flying at present and she can go one better than at Pontefract last time in receipt of the handy fillies allowance!

Richard Hoiles's Tuesday tips:

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