No 2yo race until Thursday so instead this review will briefly consider
2yo ratings and handicapping in general. The majority of publicly available
and commercial ratings are based on race standardisation and collateral
form methods. They produce similar ratings and, for example, a difference
of 5 points (5lbs to be carried in a handicap) would be a notably big difference
between these rating purveyors for a particular race or horse.
The British Horseracing Authority employ 12 men, they are all male, to
cover the handicapping for all British racing. While they obviously have
to cover each other they will have particular areas of responsibility based
on types of racing (flat & NH), race distance and ages. The dedicated
2yo handicapper is Matthew Tester. His job is to rate all 2yo races and
to build a database of handicap marks for all juveniles which have qualified
to run in Nursery races. The 2yo handicap starts anew each year and the
Nurseries do not begin until early July until a body of form has built
up which will respond to traditional handicap methods.
The handicap scale runs from 0-140 but horses rated under 45 are now discouraged
and no handicaps will be run for their rating range. Higher class horses
will tend not to run in Handicaps as 2yos and will be encouraged to run
in Conditions, Listed & Group races. In 2008 a small total of 12 horses
officially rated 90 (OR90) or higher ran in nurseries of which 2 were successful
for a small profit for reference. This group of 12, on inspection, are
what you would expect to end up in this situation. Precocious horses that
have already won a maiden, and perhaps a conditions race, then proved unable
to win better races. So you have a go in a Nursery to start getting their
OR mark moved downwards. The best 2yos each year will get put in the 120s.
The preceding should have you starting to think that there is a strong
structure to the Handicap Ratings scale. The horses that end up in certain
regions of it will have competed in particular race types. It is possible
to delineate further parts of the rating scale. For example :-
OR80-89 = will contain higher class handicappers who haven't run in better
class races which attract 90+ ratings. Winners and placed horses from better
maidens at major courses. The more famous trainers and arab owned horses
in your maiden will shift your rating further up into the 80s. However,
maiden winners even at the major courses rarely get over OR89. These region
contains the magic OR figure of 88, two fat horses. If you have physically
precocious, nippy, 2yo with little scope you may win a an early maiden
with it. You are then forced to give it a go in better races and it will
end up rated 95+. Because it has less than normal improvement it cannot
cut this and by early 3yo, perhaps even late in its 2yo days with enough
runs to chip away at that OR figure, it will be down to the long-view OR88
it never was better than. Remember that a lot of 2yo Listed races are won
with OR80s handicap performances in reality.
OR70-79 = Interchange rating range between the better class handicappers
and that more salubrious end of the moderate athletes & seller winner
range. The average maiden winners at non-premier racecourses will end up
in this range and which end will depend on how good it looked, strength
of opposition and so forth. A real OR79 horse will be a different
athlete to look at from an OR71 one for instance. Some combination of size,
power, neatness of construction and so in will be clearly better quality.
The eternal placers who can never quite win a maiden are almost certainly
horses that fit into the OR 66-73 range so vulnerable to even an average
(OR75) maiden winner type.
OR60-69 = The average seller winner fits around OR62 and a horse above
this up to OR69 will struggle in open maidens but may blag places, see
above, and give the trainer the problem of whether to drop them to a seller
or try handicaps.
OR50-59 = poor quality seller runners and the lowest class handicappers
who will need to be roped off in their own races to have any chance of
winning a race.
Now you know that structure you could have a fair go at placing the four
races we have had so far on the OR scale as if we were the BHA guy. Remember
that over 5f we can use 3 points less rating for each length beaten and
different weight carried at 1lb per rating point in a completely algorithmic
manner. So, the only real question is where to stick the winner on the
50-90 scale and count the rest of the field back from there. Put like that
handicapping becomes a lot less mysterious and it is perfectly possible
to write a computer program to do it which would not be too far off the BHA
& Timeform figures.
Here goes, the Brocklesby is a Conditions race and therefore should get
rated in the OR80-89 range. A good winner might get boosted higher but
a weak version of the race probably wouldn't get much below OR78-9. Hearts
Of Fire won well and in what looked a reasonable time for an early 2yo
so you wouldn't be getting much argument from Mr Tester if you suggested
OR86 as a starting point for him. Star Rover won a Class 4 maiden by four
lengths at a solid course and from a well backed horse from a big northern
stable with a Hannon horse in third. OR78-9 and "Next".
A bit more difficult at Lingfield with some cheap fillies in an Auction
race but a Class 5 one so we don't want to go below OR70 for a winner.
'Channon' on the trainer's ticket makes OR72 sound plausible. It's going
to be somewhere between OR67 to OR74 anyway so we are arguing about dust
if we bother to. Hmm, Folkestone and that McEntee fellow has had a winner
with one that cost £500 and the runner-up 3,500gns, both for less
than a secondhand Escort. But, it's a Class 5 race although at a gaff course.
Hang on though Bould Mover was third though (if you watch the race on TV
having backed him your blood should have gone cold after half a furlong
when the much bigger, and more stable moving, Black Baccara was cruising
next to him, ahem). He ran 4th at Kempton which was put on a prospective
OR55. He probably ran into the late OR60s here and, after taken distance
beaten and weights carried into account, Black Baccara ran similarly. Call
it OR71 and it would have been OR74-5 if it had been Channon & Hannon
and it they had cost a little bit more.
There you are, you can build your own handicap from there because you know
where to land the handicap ratings for maidens. You also have the advantage
of being able to take horses with form at face value when they run. At
Leicester tomorrow the Brocklesby second Archers Road runs and you can
assume he has a mark around the high OR70s for that. If he looks like he
runs his race you can rate everything else around him in a mechanical manner.
Now would seem a good time to get the spanner out and look for somewhere
to jam it. This traditional approach has the advantage of being quite simple
to implement. It is probably the best way to implement a public handicap
which lines horses well enough to produce presentable racing. But it rests
on two assumptions which introduce errors. Use of tools such as paddock
review will make these errors visible. Well produced timefigures will highlight
the anomalies as well.
The first assumption is that races of certain types produce similar performance
levels during a season and year on year. Races actually vary hugely and
the actual level of expressed performance. This might be fundamental in
that this season the race has a duff bunch of horses in it. It might be
that the horses are the normal ability spread but they dawdled through
the race so that different quality horses finished too close to each other.
Pinning the winner to, say, OR75, and counting back lifts moderate
horses too high in the handicap. The traditional handicapper will take
no account of this which is why you will see jockeys wrestling with horses
late in maiden races to try to get them to finish further behind the winner
(especially if it is Stoute trained, Arab owned, or whatever). Certain
trainers have been known to declare their horses as non-runners is races
with particularly dangerous set-ups to avoid having to trust to the jockey's
wrangling, break missing, running into the back of other horses, etc, skills.
The other issue is more difficult to get a handle on and the official handicapper
takes one of the classic approaches to difficult problems and ignores it.
Horses mature at different rates as individuals but on average they are
not the finished athlete until they are 4yos. Which means that 2yos and
3yos are still immature horses as a group. Leaving out the details the
average horse is expected to make around 30lbs of improvement from
early 2yo through to maturity (younger at shorter distances say to late
3yo over 5f and later in the 4yo season over 2 miles to be 'Mature'). The
'Weight For Age' scale (WFA) allows for horses of different ages to compete
against each other at different distances and at different times of the
year. It does so by specifying the average amount of weight difference
due to physical development as required. For example, a 3yo with an OR
of 75 running over 6f in early June in an all-aged handicap would
receive 5lbs from a 4yo also rated OR75 because the WFA scale says that
is the relief needed for the 3yo to compete evenly.
The issue for 2yo racing comes because the WFA scale assumes pretty much
consistent improvement throughout the period from early 2yo through to
'maturity'. Which means that over 5f the average 2yo is expected
to make about 14lbs of physical improvement (which will be expressed as
better performance) between early season and mid October. But, there is
no WFA scale applied with horses of the same age so this internal WFA
is unacknowledged. The BHA handicapper has to make the assumption that
all 2yos make this improvement and in a consistent way. Why? Because
if he didn't he couldn't rate early season maiden races in exactly the
same way as in later season. He also couldn't easily produce handicaps
which assumed form demonstrated at any time in the season was equivalent
to any other.
Let us try an example to help with a difficult point. Star Rover is a small
and nippy horse who has been got ready in early season to show most of
what he is capable of. He isn't going to get much bigger, or faster, and
the more development 2yos will overtake him during the season. So, let
us assume Mr Tester has given him a mark of OR79. Poor old Star Rover has
gone down with horse lurgy and doesn't recover until October when he appears
in a nursery off his OR79. That's all very well but has he made 14lbs worth
of physical improvement? On looks he probably wont and let us says he has
found an extra 7lbs worth of performance producing bulk from somewhere.
Without doing anything he's now a real OR72 horse running off OR79
because the baseline has moved upward more than he can develop. This 14lbs
links back to the OR88 horse. The nippy 2yo described earlier who had a
few goes in Listed races and the like by July would end up with an OR in
the early 100s. But he hasn't got 14lbs of development (can you see where
this is going?). Which mans by the time the baseline has gone up 14lbs
he will get down to OR88 after a few uncompetitive runs because that is
the real horse he is.
At Kempton on Saturday as well as the 2yo race there were a number of 3yo
handicaps with many horses who had made full careers at 2yo. Taking a few
of them as examples will hopefully make the point. If we start with
Effort he was running off OR88 in his handicap so you should know what
is coming next. He won his maiden on May 26th and then finished second
in a Novice race before goes in Listed & Group races including a 4h
in the Windsor Castle at Royal Ascot, a flawed event despite Donativum's
position in 7th (given his success in the US and some of the John Best
2yos just how soft are some American juvenile Graded events?). He couldn't
place in any of those and struggled dropped back to conditions and Novice
races. He didn't run in a nursery but all those moderate runs had got him
down to OR88 for Saturday. Here's a - Picture
- of him on Saturday and another of him at Folkestone
at 2yo. 20lbs of improvement visible? Probably not.
In the Star Rover mould there was the filly Clumber Place who was a debut
winner in a Pontefract fillies' maiden way back in April 2008. The field
she beat wasn't very good but had a superior claimer winner in behind and
well beaten was a filly from a small yard who placed in a group race after
really developing. She finally appeared again at Kempton after 341 days
sporting an OR82 for that early season win. You should pray for her before
you have even seen her. Remember that OR82 sticker was put on her when
she was young and she certainly never ran to anything like that level in
actuality. On top of that she has to make 20lbs of improvement even if
she ever were an OR82 filly. All very unlikely. Her - Picture - shows why
she could win that early race as she is a skinny, leggy Compton Place in
the manner of Angus Newz but less tall and powerful. OR82 against a bunch
of colts, some of whom are still growing and have a lesser OR was no bargain.
Let us finish with a couple of opposites in terms of how precocious they
were. Northern Tour ran in the Brocklesby last year for Paul Cole and won
his second go in early April. He here is - Picture-
at Folkestone on the day of that early win. Very mature and complete looking
for an early 2yo. Here he is on Saturday at Kempton off OR81 - Picture.
He won a Conditions race at 2yo in early season so had to be rated OR85
in his sole nursery run and OR81 is the start of the downgrade. Similar
sort of thing, Hasn't really filled out and very fit for the day. OR81
isn't far off what he should be competitive off but that is in the OR70s
unless he muscles up more.
At the other end of the scale we have Kaolak who cost just 4,000gns ran
four times at 2yo. He started off with a 4th of 19 at Newmarket at 100/1
hinting that he might have something then bombed out on soft at Yarmouth
at 9/2. Given a break and then two runs on the AW in November & December
with a third and then a maiden win where he led all the way. He started
his handicap career off OR76 on Saturday (you should now recognise this
as the 'average' maiden winner mark). He looked in great condition which
made the each-way support he got in the market believable. Here is his
- Picture - and he is a real 'tank'
of a horse and very powerful. Since he was very cheap you wonder whether
he has just grown a lot since yearling days and is still doing so. He is
front heavy with a big neck and head and this shows in his galloping style.
Now, his 2yo career starts to make sense in that, unlike the straight-out-of-the-box
Northern Tour, he probably did develop a lot through his 2yo season and
was still weak in his frame in those early maiden runs and perhaps why
he didn't like soft. Given a consistent polytrack surface and a bit of
time and his win came. He tried to take on Saint Arch at Kempton and made
an early effort to do it and faded badly in the straight. Rather than not
staying it is possible his fade was caused by going too fast early. He
gallops like a stayer and on movement you would think he would be better
at 10f+ distances. But, you could imagine him ending up going above OR80
with development if his trainer can get the job done. 365 days ago when
Northern Tour was already running to an early season OR81 mark he wouldn't
have been able to do OR50s you suspect because he would have been too immature