British 2yo Racing - 2009 Season
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Racing Review - April 1st 
Races :-
  • NONE

  •   April 1st Summary : 
    • 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 and weak.

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