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Merit Ratings To Be Adjusted

Overcrowding in lower divisions can be reduced

The National Horseracing Authority of South Africa has confirmed an increase in domestic merit ratings with effect from 1 March 2018.


In a press release issued on 5 February, the NHA reports that over the last few racing seasons, a general decline in the Merit Ratings was observed, especially in relation to the large group of horses rated 70 and less.

National Horseracing AuthorityUpon request, an analysis of average ratings of the racing population from August 2010 to present was undertaken.

Based on the research, the following was proposed:

  1. Increase the domestic population by 6 rating points; effective entries 1 March 2018. (The relativity between horses remains the same).
  2. The rating increase will “stretch” the population thereby reducing the “over-crowding” in the lower divisions.
  3. This will only affect domestic ratings. Domestic and International Ratings are not linked and are done separately.
  4. This adjustment will be effective on 1 March 2018 across the country.

The situation arose due to:

  1. Guidelines limiting upward rating adjustments.
  2. Race conditions restricting upward rating adjustment.
  3. More aggressive rating drops for non-performance.
  4. More cognizant dropping of young horses not making weight- for- age improvement.
  5. “Slippage” in handicap races. i.e. Where there are more downward adjustments than horses remaining the same or going up. Where this happens in large numbers; the ratings will tend to decrease over time.

These factors are under review.

The proposed increase was accepted by the industry representatives that attended a meeting in Johannesburg on 25 October 2017 and was ratified by the National Board of the NHA.

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40 comments on “Merit Ratings To Be Adjusted

  1. Rod Mattheyse says:

    Here we go again…

  2. Rod Mattheyse says:

    I would hazard a guess that sporting post rating on average are 6 pts below merit ratings so now we have a12 pts variance

  3. Rod Mattheyse says:

    Oh Susanna rated higher than derby 4th Eminent… not quite sure how the north south works but they would be close to levels in the weights …. I know where my cash would be

  4. Rod Mattheyse says:

    Ed are your formguides going to allow for this adjustment …. otherwise a lot of ink will be spent on MR up 6 pts.

    1. karel says:

      Afraid there’s not much we can do about that.

  5. Rod Mattheyse says:

    Or oh sussana rated 7 lbs inferior to Enable…. shoo that stretches my

  6. hilton witz says:

    rod have you taken the wfa allowance when comparing enable to oh susanna?over 10 furlongs this time of the year must be 12 pounds

    1. karel says:

      Ratings incorporate wfa

    2. Rod Mattheyse says:

      Hilton I don’t know what the northern Southern Hemisphere allowances are … but both Enable and Eminents ratings are based on their efforts as 3 yr olds….so I am not sure how it pans out… but I would take on Oh Sussana in a handicap with those 2 with her new 1 March rating and any Southern Nothern hemisphere adjustments if any

  7. Michael Jacobs says:

    The Merit ratings system of handicapping has been an unmitigated disaster for SA horseracing, and is probably one of the primary reasons for the demise of racing in SA. Mediocrity prevails, good young horses are penalised and weighted out of racing, poor handicaps are the order of the day, trainers manipulating the racing careers of horses and punters are voting with their feet and wallets. Opening a race card these days is a depressing affair when one sees the plethora of weak handicaps and dearth of quality horses. The previous race figure system of progress through the ranks until the feature and graded races made for exciting racing. The handicapping system has been fiddled with and messed around for years since MR racing was introduced. The NHA and operators should go back to the drawing board, kick MR handicapping out the door and reintroduce race figure handicapping and progress through the ranks from maiden, through Graduation, Novice and Progress plate levels though to A and B division handicapping!

    1. Graham Martin says:

      Spot on! The race figure system should be brought back A.S.A.P. Finding winners was a lot easier and more exciting due to gradual increase in the horses rating. No huge increases ! A person could follow a horses career with reasonable confidence knowing that the horses form was genuine. Why give a horse a huge increase and then reduce gradually for poor performance. The punter now sits with a horse that is formless for heaven knows how long! Why not a gradual increase and the horses form stays more consistent giving the punter a much fairer chance! Also bring back A division, C and D division.

  8. Jurgs says:

    There seems to be very little thought having gone into this. If the MR system was the Rolls-Royce many on here believe it to be, the question must be asked why the mechanics have to tinker with the motor on such a regular basis?

  9. Brian says:

    Was this not because of over zealous handicapping in the first place, a la Last Winter.

  10. Tony Mincione says:

    Maybe this is an excellent learning opportunity. If Oh Sussana, Last Winter and African Night Sky met in a 2000m handicap next week:

    Last Winter 119 60kgs
    Oh Sussana 115 53kgs
    African N Sky 102 51.5kgs

    If we were on race figures, how would they be handicapped?

    1. karel says:

      Tony asked:
      Maybe this is an excellent learning opportunity.
      If Oh Susanna, Last Winter and African Night Sky met in a 2000m handicap next week:
      Last Winter 119 60kg
      Oh Sussana 115 53kg
      African Night Sky 102 51.5kg
      If we were on race figures, how would they be handicapped?

      This taxes the memory.
      I suppose African Night Sky (5 wins) would carry top weight, so 60kg.
      Last Winter (4 wins) would carry 3kg less, so 57kg.
      Oh Susanna (3 wins) would carry 3kg less, so 54kg (there’s no weight for age with race figures – I can’t remember if there was a sex allowance then she’ll carry less than 54kg).

      So how would they be priced up? 🙂
      Remember the Met:
      Oh Susanna 51.5kg
      Last Winter 59.5 (beaten 1/2 length)
      African Night Sky 59.5 (beaten 2 lengths)

  11. Robin BRUSS says:

    Like Michael Jacobs, I have long disliked the MR system, which is designed to favour punters by equalizing the chances of horses as soon as they expose their ability. On the other hand, it has the effect of also penalising promising young horses and reducing their chances of winning more prize money than horses that are not tagged early. In 2013, we held two workshops at the NHA to debate whether the MR system was fair because the duty of the NHA is to safeguard fairness in all aspects of racing, and this includes a responsibility to all stakeholders. In principle, is any handicap fair, because it reduces the chances of better horses in favour of those who are inferior ? The workshop also considered how South Africa fits into the international community of the Asian Racing Federation’s 27 countries which uses the MR system as a standard. I personally preferred the old Racefigure system because I think it was conducive to good horses winning their way up the ladder, but South Africa cannot be an island and the MR system is here to stay as an international benchmark. Owners and Trainers naturally pressurise the handicappers to not be over zealous and what seems to occur without intention is a gradual downward slippage in the ratings. The consequence is that the average ratings of horses in Graded races has become much lower than comparable countries, to the extent that the international pattern race committee wants us to downgrade 13 of our graded Graded races (four Gr.1 races were downgraded last year !). And yet when our best horses race internationally, they run Merit Ratings 6 to 10 lbs greater than at home. Not for the first time, the realisation is that slippage has occurred and it must be corrected in order to conform. Various artificial methods of imposing rules on the handicappers which allow horses leniency from penalties have been tried to a successful extent for horse owners, but distort races and create complications of their own by contributing to slippage of the population. Hence the new review that took place in October 2017 and for all the above reasons, the decisions as made above. There is no ‘unmitigated disaster” and there is definitely no lack of consideration and effort to find the best solution to a difficult set of circumstances in order to do what is right and what is fair. By hosting an industry wide workshop for open discussion with international participation, the above solutions are supported by the industry bodies, both here and overseas. I hope that this explains the background for you and helps you to understand the logic.

    1. Graham Martin says:

      I agree with what Michael Jacobs says. The merit rating system in it’s current form has been an unmitigated disaster for horse racing in this country! Why do you think the game has lost it’s popularity. Pick up a race card from the eighties and nineties and compare it to a race card of today. Look at the form lines. How many horses are formless because they were over rated after one good run and now there rating is decreasing because they were unable to confirm the merit rating increase! The punter now looks at the poor form line for how many runs? Then all of a sudden this formless horse wins at huge odds. Not even the trainer thought the horse had a chance. What is attractive to the racing public about this type of horse racing?I will tell you, NOTHING! And this is happening over and over and chasing the betting public away. Now compare it to the seventies and eighties and before, when you had champions like Naval Escort, Sea Cottage, Flaming Rock and many more! No comparison! These horses could run in the July HANDICAP and the Cape Met when it was a handicap and win or run well! Too many people have interfered in horse racing in this country and messed up BIG TIME, AND THAT’S MY OPINION!

    2. Roderick Mattheyse says:

      Robin please elaborate on MR introduced to help punters?

      Robin please elaborate on our grade 1 winners overseas are 6 -10 pts under rated? Smart Call went into the MET a 112, i am not sure what rating she got after that but its safe to safe a bit higher. Her current BHA rating is 110. I could not find a BHA rating for Whisky Baron.

      Perhaps treat us as fools and lets have the data that supports this.

      The problem here is that our international G1 status of races is at risk?

      1. karel says:

        Smart Call rated 121 after her Met win.
        Her Racing Post ratings from o’seas are (oldest to newest) 100, 111, 112, 98, 110+, 99, 104.
        Whisky Baron (120 after his Met win) ran to 91 at his only start (he had no official BHA rating at the time).

        As an aside, with our March-planned increase of MR ratings, Smart Call would have been 126 and Whisky Baron 125.
        This seems over the top in the international context.

        MR was introduced in about 1999 because the Racefigure system was patently unfair, and a flagrant abuse of the Jockey Club’s definition in the Rules of ‘handicap’.
        We invited English Jockey Club handicapper Geoffrey Gibbs in November 1996, who provided the final nail in the coffin of Racefigure handicapping.

        1. Roderick Mattheyse says:

          Thanks Karel,

          I liken racing post rating to SP ability ratings and BHA ratings to our offical ratings

          I know my sample of 1 is not a statiscal sample but i cant think of any horses in the last 5 years running in G1 overseas races being under rated by 6-10 pts. very happy to be wrong, but would love the evidence to be produced. The dropping of G1 status is emotional, but we hardly have enough overseas competitors in G1 races to prove or disprove.

          1. karel says:

            Three examples spring to mind.
            Soft Falling Rain, Champion 2yo and unbeaten in 4 starts at 2, rated MR 105 when he turned 3yo.
            He appeared with an official rating of 113 in Dubai, which rose to 122 in UK.
            His career high Timeform rating was 129
            Shea Shea left SA with MR 120.
            He raced off an official 119 on his Dubai debut, which rose to 120.
            His career high Timeform rating was 127.
            Variety Club left SA with MR 124 (which actually was 118, plus the then controversial universal 6 point MR increase for all except PE, later undone).
            He raced off an official 120 on his Dubai debut, and kept that for 3 runs (he beat Soft Falling Rain at levels by a length); his official rating could have been anything after his final win in Hong Kong.
            His career high Timeform rating was 131.

            Let us add J J The Jet Plane, who went and came back.
            He left SA rated MR 120.
            He raced off an official 120 on his Dubai debut, and kept that in UK.
            Raised to an official 122 after his Hong Kong win.
            He returned to SA following injury, re-appearing here on MR 122, but running nowhere near that in 3 starts (one of which was a 2nd in a Pinnacle Stakes where he was beaten by Winking Jack (MR 101) by a neck at level weight).
            His career high Timeform rating was 126

          2. karel says:

            Another overseas Gr1 performer to add.
            Same Jurisdiction.
            Left SA rated MR 111 (dropped from career-high 115 she still had one run previously).
            Appeared in UK with official 111.
            This was dropped on subsequent runs: 107/103/100/99

          3. Rod Mattheyse says:

            thanks Karel, you dont say whether you feel this is evidence enough for this adjustment based on Robin’s justification

          4. karel says:

            I’ve now had a chance to look at the median Merit ratings as they were at the beginning of a number of consecutive seasons.
            Here’s what I found for the active population as a whole, taken at the start of a season on August 1:
            3yo 69 (’15) 69 (’16) 69 (’17) 66 (halfway to ’18, work in progress)
            4yo 63 (’15) 62 (’16) 62 (’17) 60 (halfway to ’18)
            5yo 62 (’15) 62 (’16) 62 (’17) 62 (halfway to ’18)
            6yo 66 (’15) 65 (’16) 65 (’17) 67 (halfway to ’18)
            7yo 67 (’15) 67 (’16) 70 (’17) 71 (halfway to ’18)

            Now it is announced that all ratings will go up by 6.
            You may draw your own conclusions…

          5. karel says:

            A further enhancement, doing the same, split by sex. Below MR male/female.

            3yo 70/67 (’15) 70/68 (’16) 70/68 (’17) 67/65 (halfway to ’18, work in progress)
            4yo 65/62 (’15) 64/61 (’16) 64/60 (’17) 62/58 (halfway to ’18)
            5yo 65/58 (’15) 65/60 (’16) 65/59 (’17) 66/58 (halfway to ’18)
            6yo 70/61 (’15) 68/59 (’16) 68/60 (’17) 70/54 (halfway to ’18)

            (low MR for female 5yo and 6yo are to be expected, as the better ones have gone to stud)

          6. karel says:

            The essence of all this was covered in 2014 on this website:

            You may want to refresh the memory.

  12. Tony Mincione says:

    The merit rating handicap above is just ridiculous.

    We just saw Last Winter and African Night Sky meet at level weights in the Met, and we saw 1.50 L between them.

    How can they meet in a Hcp with 60 and 51.5kgs respectively?

    Race figures would have African Night Sky 60kgs and Last Winter 57kgs. Also a joke, just worse.

    An even bigger joke is that merit rating would say that there is about 3 lbs between the two, and therefore Last Winter should carry about 1.5kgs more than African Night Sky and then bookies would price them up about even, with the edge to Last Winter, common sense at work.

    So we can see that our current system 60 : 51.5 kgs and our previous system 57 : 60 kgs is wrong and wronger, and ironically we judge by USING… merit ratings!

    No one says the majority of races after a maiden has to be handicaps. With all due respect, the problem is that often in a plated or conditions or race figure handicap, that from a merit point of view a single horse is favored above the rest in handicapping terms. So if that is true, then most people would rather run in a handicap… it’s common sense.

    So Robin, why did the NHA allow meddling in handicapping when it is remote that they could improve what had taken 150 years to develop? This is a genuine question, not a rhetorical one.

    How on earth does the NHA not hang itself when it sees African Night Sky have carry 51.5kgs? It breaks…no it annihilates… the rule giving anything like a fair chance and explains exactly why bookmakers made him favourite for the July.

    Elsewhere the NHA would be sued, I’m sure. And they couldn’t win either.

    Race figures are so very definitely not the answer when there are several solutions better in every way. But there is no avoiding this truth: there is a very serious, systematic (in the system), mistake. As a punter, please bring back race figures because I look forward the the chaos unleashed that will take years to unscrew and provide betting opportunities aplenty!

    1. Graham Martin says:

      HI Tony, the race figure system was used in this country from the beginning up untill 1999 which is over one hundred years and there was nothing wrong with it so why would it create chaos? It was also a system that was preferred by the racing public

  13. Peter De Beyer says:

    Tony is spot on- a MR handicap system that has been bastardized with our bizarre rules restricting the handicappers from allocating the correct ratings to all horses results in ridiculous anomalies.
    The problem of providing opportunities to good young horses is simply solved by increasing the number of novice, graduation and progress plates. The operator complains that these races result in smaller fields, but this is a small price to pay for ensuring that the better younger horses can pick up a race or three without lumping big weights in handicaps. In my view, having more such races will increase interest in seeing the good horses run( and win) and also enhance the opportunity for punters in difficult to catch bets like the pick 6, with one or two possible bankers. Compare today’s boring Vaal meeting with Thursday where a very smart horse comes out in a Plate race.

  14. John Bryant says:

    So, from next month, Legal Eagle will be 127 (the 6th highest MR in the world) and Sail South (123) will be the 12th highest MR in the world! Clearly the NHRA has lost the plot.
    The current MR system (and WFA scale) is a proven system worldwide (introduced 70 years ago in 1948). The bastardised MR system in South Africa has failed because the “administrators” have tied the hands of the handicappers with a set of rules that create the “official merit ratings” as opposed to the “actual merit ratings” penciled in by both the official and “amateur” handicappers (like myself).
    Those who would like to see the old Race Figure system back must remember that this system has nothing to do with a horses’s ability, but only the number of wins. Maiden colts had a RF of 18 (fillies 15) and 6 points were added to the RF for each win. So before the Met, On Susanna would have had a RF of 33 and Last Winter 42. Neither would have come close to getting in to the Met!! With a RF system, many winners of the Epsom Derby and Oaks would not have qualified!! In the “old days” with the RF system, the 3YO’s had to have at least 6 wins to get into the July – horses like Sea Cottage, Naval Escort, In Full Flight etc. Many trainers were very disappointed when their champion 3YO did not get into the July because their RF was to low.
    The Merit Rating system tends (globally) to produce a high level of consistency at Group/Stakes level and a low level of consistency at the bottom (look at those races in PE and DBN where the average MR is less than 70 – less than a maiden). Older horses with problems that seldom run to their MRs.
    The fact that the “administrators” have made rules that keep African Night Sky at MR102, does not mean that the MR system does not work. Since winning the winter triple crown (like Pocket Power), African Night Sky has had 3 runs – a Pinnacle Stakes over 1400m (well short of this best) and based on the official MR’s of Edict of Nantes, Captain America and Sail South he ran a 111. In the Queens Plate (1600m and short of his best) he ran 6lbs below Legal Eagle and about 4lbs below Captain America, Sail South and Marinaresco – so about 113. In the Met he ran the same rating as Legal Eagle and Captain America – which based on the ratings given to Oh Susanna and Last Winter is a 116. So, as an “amateur” handicapper, I know he ran a 111 over 1400m, a 113 over 1600m and a 116 over 2000m. Everybody knows this, and so that is why he is favourite for the July carrying bottom weight off and “official” MR of 102. The NHRA rules mean that the handicappers must ignore his last 3 runs and he stays an MR102. So, what has failed – the MR system or the NHRA administrators??
    I agree with Peter de Beyer. Lets have more Plate races plus MR handicaps. In that way, trainers can choose what to do with their up and coming 3YO’s. But when it comes to Group races, qualifiers are based on merit ratings. So if the handicapper does not have his hands tied by the administrators, then this does not affect Group qualification, as the horse will get the appropriate MR whether winning a MR handicap or a Plate race.

    1. Louis Goosen says:

      MR was introduced in order to give most horses a longer career, through very low rated races being available for very weak horses, thus maintaining field sizes, because more meetings were required by the Operator, to sell to Internationals.

      This is why so few Plate races are programmed – they produce smaller fields, which the Operators do not want as turnover is lower.

      And MR has made it difficult for Punters, who have voted with their feet. MR is the main cause of the declining turnovers.

  15. Phillip Lamport says:

    Well written John Bryant

  16. Mike Wanklin says:

    Dear Karel. Can I point out to your readers that it has been recognised by the NHA that domestic MR ratings are no longer aligned to the global rating system.

    In other words SA MR is a domestic system. The SA horses will still be rated in global terms by the international Handicappers without cognisance of the SA domestic level.

    I think that is actually pointed out in the NHA press release.

    There are reasons to this. Most importantly is trying to fit handicapping to the local situation. This is not only a SA situation. There are a number of jurisdictions that apply dual assessments to their horses including Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand.

    1. Rod Mattheyse says:

      Thank you for this Mike, but I can’t then understand some of Robin’s reasons for applying the increase

  17. Mike Wanklin says:

    @ Mr Bryant. It is indeed a breath of fresh air to read the words of someone who understands the principles of handicapping.

    To all – race figure handicapping had two great flaws. Firstly – every horse was assumed useless and started at the bottom of the pile. I.e. Colts 18 and fillies 13. Win you get plus 6 to 24/19 etc etc. It didn’t matter if you were a 2yo – 3yo or older Maiden ???? Then up by 6 points for each win thereafter (in the main – some exceptions for feature wins etc).

    Secondly and alluded to above there was no account for the immaturity of the younger horse in the rating system.

    Now the MR system is not perfect. There is no way any system for handicapping can be PERFECT. Ask any golfer !!!! But what system is fair? That is the question.

    Can any one of the MR haters explain to me how it was Fair for a multiple out of season winner, years back before MR was introduced, carried top weight in the July because of racefigures (Dance Festival I think was his name or something similar?). And yet under MR the highest winning weights carried by 3yo have been achieved and Top weights have won at least three times to my memory.

    No system is perfect but race figures were not any where near fair. Just remember Model Man against Bush Telegraph. There was 7.5 kg difference in weight (from memory) – yes that was fair ????? (Not)

    Anyway just food for thought.

    1. John Bryant says:

      Mike, your example of Bush Telegraph and Model Man is a perfect example of the Race Figure system vs the Merit Rating System. Bush Telegraph (3YO) went into the July unbeaten in 8 starts, his last win being what is now the Daily News 2000(GR1). Model Man (4YO) had won his previous 6 starts,, the latest being the J&B Met and then what is now the Gold Challenge (GR1) by 6L. Let us assume that Model Man was a MR120. In the July Model Man gave Bush Telegraph 8kg and was beaten 1.25L. Allowing for WFA, Bush Telegraph was 9lbs inferior to Model Man i.e. MR111. They then met again in what is now the Champions Cup (GR1) over 1800m and the end of July. Model Man carried 57kg and Bush Telegraph carried 53kg. Model Man beat Bush Telegraph 1.25L. Allowing for WFA, Model Man ran MR120 and Bush Telegraph MR112 – virtually identical to the July.
      What I can say, is the RF system gave amateur handicappers like myself wonderful betting opportunities – so maybe I should lobby for a return to race figures!! Yes, I did back Bush Telegraph in the July at 4/1 and I am very grateful that Garth Puller managed to “waste” down to 49kg to ride him!

      1. bob kistnasamy says:

        I tend to be in the same corner as John.
        we have horses that win a maiden and next run in a grade 1 race and perform well. The merit rating of the horse is elevated and being a one time winner gets an entry into some big races only to perform poorly.

        i cannot recall some horses but there are a few that were affected and their careers adversely affected.
        The race figure system worked wonders. Off course, horses with high race figures did not get entry into major events if there inconsistent performance.

  18. Jurgs says:

    All I see here are people with vested interests defending the system. With all due respect, having a “local” system that is ignored by the “International Panel” really defeats the object. How is it that the solution to a congested horse population with established low ratings, is by “dumbing up” those ratings six points? So the congestion goes from a theoretical problem area of 64-70, to a 70-76. Nothing changes besides the little issue of suiting the program of races available.

    Therein lies the problem. The operators to supply a mind numbing card of full fields to maximise turnover. The solution is to have a mix of Handicaps and plate races, regardless of field sizes. Perhaps someone at PG should do some homework today and see exactly how much is wagered on
    Mustaaqeem (AUS) today as a banker in all exotics. Punters need good things not theoretical bullshit.

  19. Blue Peter says:

    For many years i was totally opposed to MR system. The dilution of the breed being the factor of concern. After listening to trainer C Binda on tellytrack, he commented that if not for the MR approach he and many trainers would be forced out of the game. A disaster of major proportions. May i suggest that before breeding with many of our mares we engage with the likes of Mr R Bruss, an expert in the pedigree of throughbreds to evaluate the breeding and recommend whether the mare should be sent stud. A small fee well invested. The raising of the MR by 3kg is of no consequence as it is across the board. We cannot compare MR for overseas jurisdictions as they do not compete in the same races. The top 100 horses on the planet should not be affected if WFA is the criteria. Just a thought. MR is here to stay.

  20. Robin BRUSS says:

    Thanks for the vote for me to play God in the breeding game Blue Peter ! Hahaha.
    I would need more than a crystal ball considering that Jet Master’s mother came back from a riding school and Secrtariat’s mother was unplaced ! ! Generally the breed advances on the basis of selection by racing class and therefore more important than Merit Ratings in the system of identifying class through black type races and more importantly, Graded Races. Its for good reason they earn bold black type in catalogues because SW represent the top 3% of the breed and therefore are instantly recognisable as being better than 97% of the population – and generally SW breed more SW than any other class of mare. The pattern of Graded races and their purse structure must be jealously guarded in the hope that if selection of future breeding stock is the goal, these races must attract the best competition possible so as to test the character traits and qualities of horses to the maximum.

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