Dodgy Handicapping Techniques

The JT McNamara Munster National last weekend was further proof of the unhealthy state of Irish handicapping. The 100,000 Euro prize should have been a competitive affair but the first five home were over 24 lengths apart. Total Recall won the race off of a mark of 129 and it transpired that the gambled on favorite was dangerously well handicapped. The change of stable was one reason to bring about improvement and I have some sympathy with the handicapper here as he was not obviously well in on previous form. However, the excuses go no further than runner up, Alpha des Obeaux.
Mouse Morris’ charge is a solid and obvious 145 performer and again on Sunday he ran to that level. Suffice it to say that even off of top weight, he can be competitive in a more solid handicap chase. But in Ireland, top weight seems to be viewed as a kiss of death. Weight seemingly issued to anchor a horse from winning and the general opinion was that Alpha des Obeaux had run an almighty race off of top weight. Yes, he ran well but just so as his exposed ability suggests he should and now he has been raised seven pounds in the weights to compensate for the decimated finish. It’s yet another case of kicking the can down the road at this level of assessment and as a now familiar consequence, modestly rate our horses on an international stage.
Outgoing BHA Chief Handicapper, Phil Smith, has addressed this by keeping his own Irish handicap and although he gets a good deal of criticism, his record speaks for itself. He rates Irish horses more accurately, consistently and without the lethargic approach but the institute in our own jurisdiction.
By raising Alpha des Obeaux in the weights to 152 is to bring him back to the rest of the fields who never got competitive and only ten of sixteen finished. Granted that Total Recall’s under value probably got a lot of them racing sooner than they wanted but he was patiently ridden so it’s not as if he ran them into the ground.
He’s likely to also be crippled from winning under the re-evaluation of +18 pounds to 147 and with the front two to be brought backwards rather than looking at what really happened in the race. Hypothetically speaking, if they all lined up again, in something like the Cork National next month and carried revised ratings, then all that has happened is the front two are being brought back rather than the rest of the field being evened up. This slows the race down making the quality output inferior and that’s what is happening all too often in Ireland. The slower standards have the ironic effect of dragging quality down for putting it up in the wrong place.
Alpha des Obeaux ran to 145 in winning his Beginners Chase, and he replicated that figure in defeat in the Drinmore Chase and the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham festival. That is what he ran off of on Sunday and that is once again what he performed too. He was the only horse in the race that the handicapper can leave alone. To raise him further is both cruel on connections and the horse’s welfare.
The Sadler Maker gelding has a history of epistaxis issues – breaking blood vessels under extreme exercise – and it is a repetitive problem to thoroughbred’s susceptible to it. By unjustifiably raising Alpha des Obeaux from his solid 145 is to snooker his chances of winning and put him into strenuous demands of which the consequences are already known.
It’s all well and good for me to say he performed to this figure but the proof is there under a simple handicapping formulae. My stopwatch timed the race from pillar to post at 6 minutes 22.6 seconds. It’s run over 3 miles in soft ground on a relatively fair track. The final furlong of the race is covered by Total Recall in a time of 14.03 seconds. By converting the times recorded into miles per hour, the result shows that 28.26mph and 32.07mph make this race 113.48% efficient. The reason race efficiency is important is to judge how genuine the contest has been. A 100% efficient race is when the finishing speed equals the average race speed which basically follows the rule that in order to finish the race quickly, the horse must have slowed down at some point. Sectional times make this point more obvious.
In a 100% race, run at 27mph the winner would run to 169 off of 11 stone 10 pounds in these conditions, so Total Recall’s Munster National win is +5.04 lengths on speed when you compensate for 4 lengths per second on soft ground. Rectifying his weight of 10 stone 5 pounds with the average speed per pound brings him down from 174.04 to 153.87.
113.08% is judged in the negative so 13.08% is below 100 rather than above, which results in 86.92%. That percentage of 153.87 corrects the performance to 135.86 but the ease of the win would find it’s way easily up to around 138.
Regardless, Alpha des Obeaux is beaten by a 135.86 performance so with 16 pounds concession for a seven length reversal leaves a 9 pound reflection of authority which bring him up to 144.86, as good as 145.
Without having to rely on this formulae, you could simply adopt the pound per length approach. Alpha des Obeaux at 145 is beaten by 7 lengths (= 152), conceding 16 pounds (152 – 16 = 136). Total Recall 136.
The result of this shows that the eight finishers have all disappointed which is quiet a big coincidence. Their ratings prior to the contest against my own were as follow:
3rd Phil’s Magic 129 (OR) 127 (my assessment) 125 (consequential ability) 119 (finishing figure)
4th Tulsa Jack 134 131 128 123
5th Net D’ecosse 129 126 123 112
6th Dromnea 137 134 128
7th Shanpallas 137 135 132 121
8th On Fiddler’s Green 136 132 128 115
9th Rogue Angel 140 140 140 116
10th Stellar Notion 140 141 142 30
The 3rd to 6th placed finishers are an average 11.75 pounds below the handicappers view on this performance, is it a coincidence that I have shown the winner has at least performed eleven pounds above his rating? Only the winner should run off of a revised mark next time which would bring him back to the rest of the field. Alpha des Obeaux would therefore hold an equal chance with all runners.
Off of 152 Alpha des Obeaux now has little chance in a ‘competitve’ handicap and must likely go up to tougher assignments. Once again, he is following to theory that top weights are anchored out of competing in big handicaps whereas the whole point is that they have equal chance based on their ability. He certainly ran a great race to keep going with the feather weight on Total Recall’s back considering his ability, and should he come on for the run then he would have every chance of improving his mark but the horse has run to an obvious figure on four occasions in the last twelve months and the Turf Club’s approach to ratings once again reflects badly on this sphere of Irish racing.
In previous articles with the same concerns, I mentioned of how Nichols Canyon was not raised a pound for a solid win in the Morgiana Hurdle, where the beaten horses finished as they should on ratings. In fact, he was to be lowered to 155 before winning the Stayers Hurdle at Cheltenham when he ran to the figure I had given him for the Morgiana win. The explanation had been that he was entitled to win the race. In the Ten Up Novices’ Chase last February, Acapella Bourgeois was raised 19 pounds as he had hammered his opposition where the beaten horses all finished as they should on ratings. That was the explanation from the turf Club for the huge hike in the ratings for the winner. Huge inconsistency at the highest level.
Had Acapella Bourgeois been an 8/13 chance and Nichols Canyon been 7/2, would the latter have been the one to have been raised? I practice handicapping as a pastime but all to regularly I find horses running more to my ratings than to official figures issued from the Turf Club. What is most disappointing is no one seems to be bringing this up.

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