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Azzie – ‘Stop The Persecution’

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Mike Azzie – handicappers nailing the 3yo’s

“Young horses are being persecuted by the handicappers and it really irks me,” chirped Mike Azzie about his MR 91 rated 3yo Varimax before the colt ran in a Novice Handicap at Turffontein on Saturday.

“Must we trainers run them no good? It’s not what we do,“ added Azzie. Varimax ran 18 lengths behind.

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23 comments on “Azzie – ‘Stop The Persecution’”

    1. Merit Ratings in principle are the same as overseas and derived using the same system.
      It’s just that we have crazy additional ‘handicapping’ rules, approved by the NHA, which tie the hands of the handicappers, forcing them to do things they would otherwise never do. Amazingly, those additional rules are in direct conflict with the definition of what a handicap is in the NHA’s own Rules.
      Not surprisingly, in this SA sadly stands alone.
      Ignorance rules.

  1. What does Azzie mean when he says,“Must we trainers run them no good?
    Does he mean running a horse when it is not fit/trying?

  2. Pops and Brian, take it whichever way you want to but basically high MR’s result in the horses (especially those who won’t get to the Listed/Group races) having to carry exorbitant weights with which they have little chance of winning . They then have to run unplaced so as to lower their MR’s until they become more competitive with reasonable weights to carry. The dangers and problems are that they have more chance of sustaining stress fractures while racing and the owners have to pay for keep until such stages are reached. The purpose of MR ratings is to get all horses in a race to finish in a dead heat. I have yet to see this happen and much prefer the old system whereby only the winner attracted a set penalty until reaching the B Division from where the handicapping came into effect. Furthermore , horses who win at an early age are more likely to receive the wrath of the handicapper than a horse who matures slower and only races at 3yrs plus.
    We have been complaining about the MR system for years but unfortunately it falls on deaf ears every time. So Mike don’t buy precocious horses and see how many new owners u lose as a result of them not having the patience or finances to wait for results.
    Which ever way u look at it , we keep shooting ourselves in the foot.

  3. Merit Rating is the root of all evil and is the biggest contributor to dwindling turnovers and Owner exodus in Racing. The hapless Owner , after spending many years in patience and heaps of money donating runners to make up turnovers, finally finds a good one…..and then is forced to skip a few wins because his horse must be “equalised”….

    The passionate Punter leaves the Course broke, week in and week out, because Merit Rating makes a minefield out of punting. Whilst the Punter loves to find the long shot in an open race, he also relies on finding his banker, the good thing or two on a day. Nowadays the “good thing” is a rarity…

    The goal of Merit Rating was to help the weaker horses have more of a career. What we have evolved it into is one that rewards the weak and punishes achievers. It is NEGATIVE !

    Mike Azzie is correct. We will have to pull them up, without the aid of the jockey, in order to get the ratings dropped. In our strings, we will have to separate our horses into two groups – the tryers and the non tryers. First timers must be so badly underdone that it takes a good few runs before winning. THAT IS WHAT THE MERIT RATING SYSTEM REWARDS !

    And when we DO THAT, we destroy the very core of Racing by hurting the ONLY two groups of people who sustain the Sport of Kings, and the free lunches and the gravy planes, which are so brazenly thrown in the faces of those who sustain the game.

    Punters cannot be blamed for rather taking a lotto ticket and Owners would be mad not to cut their strings and their spend right down.

    1. So will Mr. Goosen now be commenting on the well being of his first timers? Seems like now it is no more, “To Hell with them”,and he now feels for the owners AND the punter
      Change of scenery has never failed..

  4. Well Said Louis . Although we all know that this system is incorrect , I doubt the operators will ever change back. They want to fall in with the rest of the world and that’s just the way it will be.

    What drives me crazy is an example such as a horse called Secret Harbour – from the Matchett yard and owned by Fanie Bronkhorst. Here is a young owner who has had a bit of success but is starting to build a nice string of horses with various trainers , At the sales he is not a big buyer and does not spend six figure amounts.

    Here he has a horse that comes out and wins its maiden beating a hot favourite , its next run runs fourth five lengths off . In his third he runs in a handicap 76 MR – off a rating of 90 – Runs a 4th close to two lengths off giving the winner 4 kg.

    Last Thursday off a 89- he carries top weight of 61 kg in a 74 MR – Guess what not a place . So how many times is he going to have to run unplaced until he is able to earn his owner a stakes cheque?

  5. Secret harbour is now an 87…. probably started off too high a rating and this was based on Boatswain who ran well in baby features, might well win today but what will the handicapper do if he wins a head, will the second horse be rated 89?

    a whole lot of horses are being rated by comparing a horse who ran 7,5l behind mustaqeem… the arithmetic handicapping of this race will put a number of horses 10 pounds under sufference for some time to come

    1. Boatswain remains a 90… little magician goes up to 72 beaten 3 lengths…. so
      the arithmetic says either little magician is 11 or 12 points well in or Boatswain hopelessly over rated…. little magician goes up from from a 44, with a previous best of 47…. i perhaps both way over rated

  6. Its really heartwarming to read that every trainer and owner in this country owns and trains only top horses and none of them need merit rating handicaps to level the playing fields so their horses can be competitve with horses of better ability than them.LETS rather have all races where the same horses win everytime and 95 percent of the field never win and never have a chance of winning because of the conditions of the race then we will see how long these owners and trainers stay in the game and they will realise that 90 percent of any horseracing population worldwide are average to mediocre horses .THE problem lies with the race program not with the merit rating system whereby you need to have races put on for your better horses so blame the operator and not the merit rating system ..

    1. Hilton , we advocate that a reasonable non black type horse should be allowed to win at least a few races .High MR’s on a horse disallow that happening and even worse are placed horses who finish near to horses with higher MR’s and receive penalties as well. The old system could be amended but if one won a Novice Plate (equivalent to Class 4/5) the horse would normally be a two time winner . When a horse went up a division , he/she would initially carry a lower weight in that division until successful. The owner/trainer then has the option of carrying a heavier weight in that division or carry a lower weight in a higher division until reaching a division which was subject to weight being awarded by the handicapper. Therefor the same horse can’t beat the same field every time.
      Very few horses today regain the costs of purchase and keep but the current system may be one of the reasons why our sales have been so poor lately as a lot of owners feel penalised before they start. We all hope to at least buy a reasonable horse. If one bought a good horse in those days they attracted large crowds to the races. Two full brothers , Phantom Earl and Extra Cover won about 30 races between them.

  7. MR nelson the sprinter hear the drums won i think it was 34 races in pe without winning a group race and he raced in the time of the merit rating rating system which highlights my point that it is the race program and not the mr system which is at fault

  8. Hilton
    You may be reading my post selectively. I specifically said that the GOAL of MR was to help the weaker horse and that now, instead of doing this specific task, it is severely punishing the better horses, costing them their due wins. I have never been against the assistance required by the weaker horses and will never be.

    Yes, the programme is an issue. But BECAUSE OF the MR System it is a nightmare of a task. We CANNOT go back to the race figure system. But we CAN limit the damage to good horses whilst accommodating and catering for the weaker horses.
    Hear The Drums won most of his races in Pinnacle Plates which were put on once a month in PE. Trip Tease won a lot of plate races on the Sand. They are far and few between, those type of horses. Just below Gr1 class. But, i am guessing that you are more concerned about the much lower rates horses overall. Yes, these must be catered for. Agree.

    You also believe everything that you read. (So do some on course presenters, as they seem to avoid asking me on course) .
    ALL of our runners, including our first timers, have to pass our “5 checks” system on the morning of a race. Only then are we sure that all is ok for the day. Our 5 checks are as follows –
    1)Leavings ?
    2)Temperature ?
    3)Legs ?
    4)Walk and look ?
    5)PCV ? (We spin our own packed cell volumes)

    These are all completed by about 10h30 on race days.

    And these journos want me to comment vaguely about 4 or 5 days before a race ? (How many of the recorded Trainers comments on first timers are accurate or really helpful to Punters ? How many first timers have Punters made money on, based on Trainers comments a few days before ?) Is it fair to Punters, given the many forms of virus doing the rounds nowadays , to give a vague guess and useless info so long before a race ?

    Maybe Punters should criticise the well paid gravy train passengers who are too lazy to do actual race day reporting. We have an instant electronic media which could publish long before racetime, on race days…..with just a bit of effort. So, because they are lazy or lack vision or motivation, they actually start something which is useless and then criticise those who do not comply with their ineptitude. (Obviously the printed media cannot be published on race day. But they could dedicate a page to referring their readers to the electronic race day page…)

    And please name me the Punter who I have refused honest info to, on race day. Or the presenter on course. This has NEVER happened.

    And YES, we ARE a punting yard. We do this on race days. Sometimes, our horses shorten and it’s not our money. We gladly clarify. And we love winning and leading a horse in to the excited cheers of the on course Punters who bet with us and won with us.

    Or… I could please the ineptitude which governs this Industry and guess or give a “working nicely, could place but may be green” response, a few days before race day….and potentially mislead Punters. We take racing too seriously to do that.

  9. Louis Goosen says ” the GOAL of MR was to help the weaker horse and that now, instead of doing this specific task, it is severely punishing the better horses, costing them their due wins.”

    How does a system help the weaker horse without “punishing” the better horses by costing them wins? This is a zero sum game so you can’t do one without the other.

    Last year 5,200 horses competed in 3850 races for R400 million. So if every horse won 1 race, then 1,300 (25%) would not have won. On average there is R103k available to win per race, and horses won 77k each.

    There are several ways to go about solving your problem, even if you exclude the race figure system. But maybe no solution will be acceptable to the majority each time.

    1. You could insert compulsory Novice/Graduation/Progress Plates between Maiden races and handicaps. Then you enter the handicap system as a 2x winner rather than a 1x winner. “The system” begins to resemble the previous race figure system where handicappers had to be pretty smart.

    2. You could load the stake money with the higher rated handicaps. Weaker horses would or could still win their greater share, but they would not be able to earn like the better horses. Again like the previous system.

    3. You could benchmark your Maiden races and just not have handicaps at a lower level than maidens. You would need then to offer an alternative to a handicap as well, and the incentive would have to be to take money away from low rated handicaps and pay those in the plated races.

    4. You could “band” your handicaps as they do in Hong Kong. Horses are promoted and demoted to the different bands of handicaps, similar to C, B and A divisions. You avoid the “unfairness” of horses giving away major weights. This is different in principle to either of our systems.

    Examining system changes, one realizes that it’s not the the MR system fault, but the program, or the types of races offered, that requires fixing.

    There is a finite number of races and a winner for each by the end of the season. How you program will determine who wins more or less than before you meddled.

    If I have missed your point completely and what you meant is the handicapping system is unfair, then one has to say that:

    a. The handicappers have a purest view on handicapping. The exceptions and qualifications that people often point at to prove that merit ratings can sometimes be illogical, is the product of a panel of trainers; and

    b. That merit rating handicapping brings horses much closer together than other systems. The July is a good example, even with conditions and odd qualifying races.

    c. We have a Euro centric lean. I am not sure we suit the American system (lots of claimers) or the Australian model (uses banding, number of wins, stakes earned, as well as MR handicapping). Australia does have have more opportunity with 350 tracks and 35,000 horses.

    The bottom line is if most of your racing is handicaps, then racking up lots of wins is difficult. Last season 3 horses won more than 5 races. Amoung the 5x winners were: William Longsword, Whisky Baron, Edict Of Nantes & Just Sensual. You need to escape the handicaps to win a few. 26 Horses won R1 million or more, they won 83 races between them (average 3.2).

    While most of your races are handicaps, AND the prize money is about the same as conditions races, then why would most of your runners want to take on the good horses?

    It’s as clear as daylight you have to “punish” the handicaps, one way or another, to swing the wins and money back to the stronger horses.

    Punters have no say and trainers guide the owners. The trainers must lead the way. You started this…

    Tony Mincione

    1. Tony
      You make very valid points. I cannot call you wrong overall. Programming is a huge issue. But, to be the actual programmer, is an almost impossible task.

      Let’s start at the beginning of the Merit Rating system, when it was in its purest form and when the Handicappers had Carte Blanche. It resulted in a nightmare system and a host of poor decisions led to many completely diabolical ratings of horses. That is when the Industry stepped in and put in limitations or restrictions on the Handicappers. This was not done overnight and was not just a knee jerk reaction to two or three horses ratings.

      And thereafter, for instance, the Handicappers always used the 4th horse as the line horse and in so doing, increased the ratings of the first three, whilst being extremely slow to adjust the rest downwards. We had a situation where ratings had to be increased Countrywide….or were told that PE was different due to the “creep” factor….or that results in Plate races which went far opposite to the ratings were due to the “herd” factor….

      Again the Industry stepped in and more parameters were set. The end result is the system as we currently have it, a far cry from the original system. IMHO, the current system is the best that it has ever been, albeit far from perfect.

      Now, it is no secret that the entire Industry is in trouble. It is in decline in terms of Punters and Owners- the two groups that fund the Industry, creating jobs for everyone, including the Handicappers. Therefore any and every change that we make must be complimentary to the GOAL of rebuilding the Industry. And if Handicapping is part of the problem, then it must be seen to urgently. The problem is that the opinions of a select few, mostly self elected, supercede and trump the opinions of the majority. This is a problem that the bodies in Racing have not and will not deal with.

      We have to provide a contracted amount of race meetings for our Overseas contracts. These contracts are a vital source of income to the Operators. So, what will happen, during the next few years, if we lose 50 percent of our Racing stock ? Sure, the big boys will still be there. But who will they race against ? Who will sustain the Gauteng Winter Meetings or the KZN Summer?

      We cannot go back to the old Race Figure system. But we CAN set limits for horses for their first 3 wins, whilst still dropping the weaker horses. The Owner who finds the good one at least wins his due and the weaker ones are rated accordingly.

      And this will make programming easier …

      I will post my Handicapping suggestion.

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