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The Unfathomable Case Of Pietro Mascagni

Silvano colt has boomed his way into testing racing's jurisprudence.


Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al Maktoum

Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al Maktoum’s R2 Million Silvano colt debuted on 31 October in a Maiden race at Turffontein.

Pietro Mascagni, named by some cultured purveyor of the operatic arts, has boomed his way into testing racing’s jurisprudence, writes Tony Mincione.

Rather than go into the calculations of ratings, Pietro Mascagni raises more interesting questions about our processes of errors and corrections, and how we think about things.

Are we a slave to ratings now, or should they be a guide to an end goal, and what would that be?  Mike De Kock clearly has a view and somehow is always at the coal face of these things.  He called for another look at the rating of his charge because it’s better than it looks in his opinion.

What Robert Bloomberg said

Yes, they had to bring a ratings argument for the appeal, but that misses the point.  Lets agree there is always another line horse which suits another point of view, and get to the point.

The handicappers did their work, arrived at a number and that’s good enough.  There is nothing fundementally wrong with what they did and that is what the appeal panel said.

What Justin Vermaak said

Yet, what they also said is exactly what Mike De Kock was putting to them.  This doesn’t feel like an ordinary 70-something to him.  It didn’t when they paid R2 Million, it didn’t when it won on debut, and it doesn’t in the light of his cracking bunch of 3 year olds that have emerged.  Or so I assume.

It turns out they gave him an extra 1 Kg ‘bonus’.

One of the panel, Justin Vermaak, broke ranks to publish a defence of what they did.  He says, “it is very obvious to see that PIETRO MASCAGNI and the placed runners are above there ratings in true ability”.  Sadly this is exactly the point, and it was in front of them the whole time.

National Horseracing AuthorityThe handicappers did their job.  The Appeal Panel’s job though is not there to frank the arithmetic of the handicapper.  Their function must be broader, to consider appellants when they bring the difficult issues forward that confound the rules.  To fix conundrums that conflict with the regular stuff  that racing can process on a daily basis, as it should.

Some would argue that we can only measure horses by what runs behind them.  That is true enough but now and again a good horse can only win and those behind him might not do him justice, especially not at first.  We don’t need to look at the list of runners up behind good horses to make the point.

In a way, the handicappers do have an “agenda”.  When ratings are unclear or ambiguous they tend to err on the conservative path so as not to “punish” horses.  If they choose wrong, then they can fix it on the next turn.

Mr De Kock also has a “not-so-hidden” agenda.  We can guess that he wants to get some of his more promising sorts to the high stakes table a.s.a.p.  But he faces a biased system, bent towards pessimism when it comes to ratings of young horses.

It’s their stated policy as admitted by Mr Vermaak, “the handicappers have been strongly encouraged to “err on the side of caution” by the handicapping committee when rating young horses and afford them opportunity to “win through the divisions”.

Here is where our Appeal Court should step in, and when see that the handicappers hands are tied should apply their minds to a view from higher up.  To just agree that their hands are tied is to admit you failed in your role as an Appeal Board.

There are three questions to consider:

  1. It is not whether the handicappers are right or wrong, but are “we” are getting it right… or not.

Mike De Kock – right?

So is Mike de Kock right, that Pietro Mascagni is better than 77 or 79?  The handicappers look like they think so.  The panel thinks so according to Vermaak’s admission.  The betting thought so before the race and the everyone who saw the race would be wishing they owned that one.  The jockey thinks so, as does the rider of the runner up and the rest of the weighing room.

This is not an exact science, and neither do we want it to be.  To refine the question: it’s not even are the appellants right, but are they PROBABLY right?

And yes, they probably are.

  1. Now that we know what we think, the next question is what can we do about it? Can we raise the rating and is the applicant probably right calculating 88?  Well, they got my vote.

We can view the 79 as a rating and the 88 as a “penalty”.  The connections want to penalise themselves, or from a handicapping point of view, they argue that they are lengths better than they might appear at face value.  If it’s not unreasonable, then why not?  Again, as an inexact process, are they probably right?  I would bet they are, and so what if they are wrong?

  1. The last question is does this have adverse consequences to anyone else?

Handicap ratings are sometimes used to select horses for feature races and a higher rating could get Pietro Mascagni into such a race.  Could that knock someone else out?  Clearly the answer is yes.

But, ratings for all horses are from the handicappers.  They use computers and the expertise of dedicated people, they use best fit techniques, experience and rules.  And sometimes it just looks wrong and then there is an appeal.

The Appeal Board should fix what is wrong, or at the very least try to move towards what is more correct.

If it changes the order of an eligibility list, it still has to be done.  Someone else also has the remedy to claim a higher rating should they feel their rating is wrong.

So the question changes to “does this have an UNFAIR adverse affect on anyone else?”  And the answer is that it’s only unfair if they don’t correct wrongs or make outcomes better.  Whether they raise or lower ratings will change the order of things, and that is a natural consequence of the process.


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3 comments on “The Unfathomable Case Of Pietro Mascagni

  1. Steve Reid says:

    You have got to love it when people want to run with the foxes and hunt with the hounds. You can’t have it both ways. My distrust of the Merit Rating system is well documented over the years. It seems that the oft pointed out line horse achilles heel, with respect to the effect this has on the ratings in a race has been truly exposed in this example. It is not an isolated case and the cry for the line horse to be published by the handicappers once ratings have been completed has been ignored for years. Add in human intervention by way of restricting the handicappers in applying their trade, and you have a recipe for disaster that is clearly shown here. Two individuals who are both well versed in the workings of the MR system both give compelling arguments as to how the horse should be rated. They can’t both be right or wrong can they? Or can they…………?

    In this article Tony Mincione states that there are three questions to consider as to how we came to be in this predicament. I disagree. I believe that there are actually four. The fourth question to consider is the way that Mike de Kock has handled this particular horses path to the Dingaans. Why was it debuted so late if it was so highly thought of? Why is it that he has resorted to raising this horses MR on paper, and has not looked at the option of proving that it is underrated on the track? There does not appear to have been enough time for a second run to raise the ratings of this horse and thereby guarantee entry to the big races. What further confuses the issue is that he is doing precisely this with a horse, who on paper would seem to have already qualified. Case in point is the Costa Livanos owned Noble Secret who is rated an 88 after its spectacular maiden win and who contests a progress Plate today. Whilst I understand that this race may not be the ideal race for Pietro Mascagni due to the conditions attached to what the handicappers are able to raise the winner by, surely another race could have been found? If there were issues around the horse itself, then with respect, all that can be said is the rules should treat everyone fairly and exclusion from the Dingaans should be explained by that hoary old chestnut “that’s racing”. The good news is that there is always the Guineas and hopefully there is a plan to qualify the horse for this.

  2. Tony Mincione says:

    The thing is moot now as Pietro Mascagni is a runner in the Dingaans without us able to see where it would have gone. Most appeals are to get ratings down so the opposite would be the test to see how consistent we are in principle.

    Next time.

  3. Steve Reid says:

    The only thing moot is the participation of the horse in the Dingaans and he got arsey at that coming in last of the 16 accepted. One thing seems sure though, de Kock must rate this horse to pull 4 out to ensure that he gets a run.

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