Richard Hughes wrote an interesting article for the Racing Post, featured yesterday, in which he expressed his views regarding handicapping.
“My first preference would be to limit ratings rises in handicaps to winners.”
Racing can be an incredibly rewarding but frustrating sport in equal measures. Horses that win races go up in the handicap and horses that lose races go up in the handicap, only the latter don’t collect the winning prize money or the coveted ‘1’ next to their name.
“The main problem with the way we handicap horses in Britain and Ireland is the system encourages people to cheat.”
The problem is, when you honestly and openly campaign a horse that consistently runs well but without winning, the horse will find it very difficult to win a race when it is continually hiked in the weights and punished for running well but ultimately losing.
Take Rosina for example. As a two-year-old, Rosina won three races and finished a creditable sixth in an Ayr Listed race won by Quiet Reflection. Her opening mark was 73 – she ended the season on 90, a climb of 17 pounds. This is not a criticism of the handicapper, she’d had a great season and her rating reflected as much. However, her three-year-old season did not go so well. As a result of her decent rating and now chucked in with the older horses, Rosina struggled. She ran well and went close on several occasions but a win remained elusive. She had eight starts during that season and didn’t win any of them. She had slipped by only eight pounds by the end of the year. Her owner Jen, who had a capable filly that enjoyed her racing, was then faced with a difficult decision to make – to keep in training a horse that was struggling to win, send her to the sales, or go to stud. Happily, she kept her in training and as a four-year-old, after two more fruitless races, Rosina returned to the winner’s enclosure - and was promptly raised back up the handicap. She has since won again at five but we remain in the vicious cycle – such is the nature of handicapping in this country.
“What I'm calling for is what already happens in France. There, if you finish second in a handicap at Longchamp, Chantilly or anywhere else, you don't go up in the weights. The same applies to all losing horses. It is only the winner's mark that can be increased.”
Rosina is quirky, she often has a mind of her own which is apparent for all to see – it’s very clear when Rosie wants to win and when she’d rather sulk out the back, but she is always there to do her best. Something which has both helped and hindered her way to the winner’s enclosure.
“Owners are involved in the sport because they want to win. Not enough get to win, or feel they have a realistic chance of winning. That needs to change. My way of changing it would be rebuilding the handicap system so that in handicaps only winners can have their ratings increased.”
“Part of the problem is the prize-money dished out to placed horses is so poor. Prize-money in general isn't great, but the overall situation would be made much better if the cake was split differently.”
My first preference would be to limit ratings rises in handicaps to winners. If that cannot be done I would love to see prize-money distributed more fairly, so there is no longer such a chasm between what you earn when you win and what you earn when you nearly win. If we could do both, so much the better.
You can read Richard’s article here.
What are your thoughts?