“It’s official,” writes Mike de Kock in his latest blog. “South Africa’s handicappers have confirmed what we all suspected. They are clueless!”
There is great debate about the Merit Rating system going on right now among trainers, operators and owners. Change is being called for. But maybe the only change needed is the handicappers themselves!
The following is a classic example of their inconsistencies which are most frustrating and which lead to attacks on the system.
After the running of the Sun Met this year, the handicappers rated Last Winter 125, Marinaresco 124 and Legal Eagle 123 – two lb (pounds) apart, – which is exactly how they finished – and in this case one can understand their logic.
African Night Sky was 6th that day, less than 2 lengths behind Last Winter – (he is same age and was carrying level weights with Last Winter). Based on that level of rating, African Night Sky therefore runs to a rating of 121 (minimum).
Given that the current rules prevent an unplaced horse being penalised, his rating had to remain at 108. The handicappers’ hands were tied, but they know he ran to 121.
At his next start, African Night Sky ran into massive traffic problems- so bad that his jockey issued a public apology to the punters. Clearly the run can be ignored.
At his only subsequent start, in the highly competitive Gr3 Cup Trial last Saturday, he came from stone last, sauntered through the field and won going away without ever being extended.
The manner and ease of the victory had all the commentators and journalists ‘gushing’ in their praise and tipping him as the likely July winner.
Despite the contemptuous ease with which he won – and knowing that he is actually a 121, the handicappers saw fit to raise him only 4lb (2kg) to MR112 for this graded victory.
The following day at Turffontein, Yakeen was flat to the boards and fell across the line in the Jubilee Handicap, winning by a short head. Guess what? He received a 4lb penalty – identical to the one given to African Night Sky for his stroll in the park!
It gets worse. Tilbury Fort – beaten by Yakeen into second under a hard ride – received a 3lb penalty – just one lb less than African Night Sky, who WON a stronger race with ease!
Justin Snaith said in a Gold Circle interview before the handicappers changed African Night Sky’s rating: “If we get hammered then we may take it on appeal but it will be up to Fred (Crabbia) to decide. If it’s around four pounds, hopefully less, then we will probably take our medicine and crack on,” said Snaith on Saturday.
Former Handicapper Ken Nicol wrote about the Cup Trial on TAB News as follows: “Run on handicap terms, African Night Sky was certain to get a weight penalty for the July if winning here, and conspiracy theorists were having a field day when Van Niekerk still had the 11/10 favourite parked in the rear at the top of the straight.
“But both horse and rider showed their class in no uncertain terms, as he carved his way through the field in effortless fashion, and by the 200m pole it was obvious there was only going to be one winner.”
Equate this win, then, to Yakeen’s win and Tilbury Fort’s second place? This begs the question, can we compare at all, the manner in which Yakeen and African Night Sky won?
It appears that the handicappers yielded to pressure from the Snaith stable to which I say, well done to Justin, I’d have done the same and my gripe isn’t with them. I have a problem with the handicappers who, as is clearly evident, do not watch racing.
Is the system flawed, or do the handicappers have no idea what they are doing?