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‘Handicappers Clueless’- De Kock

Snaith Gamesmanship Works!

“It’s official,” writes Mike de Kock in his latest blog. “South Africa’s handicappers have confirmed what we all suspected. They are clueless!”

He continues:

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!

Mike de Kock

Mike de Kock – not happy

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).

Oh Susanna wins Sun Met

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.

Yakeen wins the Jubilee narrowly

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 – no gripe with him

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.”

Easy does it – African Night Sky cruises in on Saturday

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?

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33 comments on “‘Handicappers Clueless’- De Kock

  1. Pmb says:

    Have to laugh. In essence criticism that handicappers not taking into account different runners performances in different races in different circumstances in different provinces . And it’s not even as if these mentioned runners even ended up with similar MR .
    Yes, we know what he means, but there is no system that would cater for this argument , except one which all ratings were based on an Opinion that Everyone agreed with.

  2. Kevin says:

    New broom sweeps clean

  3. karel says:

    If Mike de Kock want the handicappers to rate horses properly he should rather advocate getting rid of the stupid restrictive rules initiated by ignorant non-handicappers and approved by the equally ignorant NHA board.
    No other major racing country would condone such nonsense.
    Without the restrictions African Night Sky would have been rated properly after his Met run.

    Blaming the handicappers for something over which thy have no control is quite wrong.
    The NHA instructs the handicapper to climb the tree and then ties his hands behind his back, only for trainers to call them stupid when they don’t get to the top.

    And imagine, if African Night Sky would have been rated higher than what he actually produced in his last win, then that would open the door to allowing the official handicapper to rate horses on a whim or thumbsuck. It may be right in unusual cases, but imagine how trainers would react to them doing that – there would be no end to the abuse.

    There’s only one way, and that is getting back to basics: allow the handicapper to do what is right.

    Aside, for Mike to compare ‘penalties’ given to other horses in other races (like in the Jubilee) makes no sense at all. Apples and pears.

  4. Tony jacob says:

    Please tell how they gave Undercover Agent from a 111 to 125

  5. Russell Parkinson says:

    African Night Sky, at the weights, should prove to be an extremely tough nut to crack in what is looking like one of the very weakest renewals of the Durban July in many a year.

  6. hilton witz says:

    Well done to those who put these restrictions and caps in place you now have one happy set of connections and 17 unhappy connections but im sure you thought this through beforehand ..You cant have it both ways unfortunately and we have a group one handicap with a horse who is slung in on paper and where anywhere in the world the betting in handicaps is 5 to 1 the field we have 16 to 10 the favourite and 8 to 1 bar…definition of a handicap is where every horse has an equal chance of winning…only in africa

  7. Paul says:

    I apologise for having to ask, but I need to: what did Sporting Post rate African Night Sky after the Met? Are you rating purely on performance or restricting yourselves to the NHA rules too?

    1. karel says:

      We handicap properly. Always have done.
      You can check the Digest archive and look at the Queens Plate and Met results issues of January this year.

      The comments on these races are most enlightening, as are the ratings, and the rating rationale which we always explain in detail.

  8. Tony Mincione says:

    Immediately after the Met it was apparent that the July favourite had to be African Night Sky, and so it was. It has been very interesting to follow the progress of African Night Sky because it was obvious that the connections would have to do everything to protect African Night Sky’s low merit rating by playing the handicapping rules against all the other July wannabe’s.

    As Mike de Kock explains perfectly, African Night Sky ran 0.35 L behind Legal Eagle at WFA so was basically 1 point off 123 but kept his 108.

    In his next start African Night Sky elected to run in a Pinnacle Plate where the rule is if you don’t win you can’t get a penalty. As a certainty he dropped out to last and flew up to lose by 0.10 L.

    In the Cup Trial the rules are maximum 10-5-3 for 1st-2nd-3rd and, here’s the thing, the line horse may only come from the first 4.
    Handicaps can be tight affairs, but even with a theoretical 7kgs in hand the gaps between the top four was 0.75 0.15 1.60 from ratings 108 102 101 98. The revised ratings are 112 102 101 98. But if you have 112 for the winner you would expect 104 and 103 for the runners up one could argue, but the most you could argue for the winner was 113.

    The rule that protected African Night Sky (and who knows why) has basically disadvantaged everyone else. Every rule that protects horse A must condemn horse B, and possibly many others for that matter. The Americans have a legal expression “fruit of the poison tree” and that applies. These problems have been caused by an arbitrary rules that pepper the system and make it worse, not better. Obviously, as evidence now proves, the rule is wrong and not the handicappers.

    I would never argue that the handicappers are perfect, nor the system that they apply. But if it’s fairness in handicaps that you looking for then handcuffing the handicapper makes things worse, not better, and exponentially worse over time.

    One has to wonder if Eyes Wide Open, Like A Panther, Talkingthepeace and even Oh Susanna would have viewed the race differently were is not for this gaping hole. Making handicaps fair can’t be a bad thing, because if you must fiddle… at least be fair.

  9. Nishal Singh says:

    Mathematically speaking, the average MR in the Greyville Cup Trial was 102 and 12 runners went to post with a gross stake of R300K. Crowd Pleaser MR102 ran 2nd and Platinum Prince MR101 ran 3rd. The median runner, i.e., the middle finisher of 12 runners, Summer Sky, ran 6th on MR96. The fifth placed runner, Wild wicket with MR100 ran 5th. Given that this is a stakes placed runner, Wild Wicket should have been the line horse. In light of the fact that he ran to 2MR points better than the race MR average and 6 MR points better than the median horse, Summer Sky, he should be the line horse. Therefore, mathematically speaking, African Night Sky should have been raised by 6MR points at the very least. Perhaps even 10MR points, given the ease with which he won.

    The average MR in the Jubilee Handicap run over the same distance of 1800m and the same race class (Grade 3) for a stake of R250K, was 102 and 13 horses went to post. Therefore, mathematically speaking on average, both races were of the same calibre, and the median horse is the horse that ran 7th, this being Tandava MR101, which is close enough to MR102 being the race MR average. Clearly, Yakeen and Tilbury Fort were 4.2L ahead of Tandava, which should represent a 1.5kg raise in MR, or 3 points each. (assuming 1.5L over 1800m equates to a 0.5kg weight difference).

    One can conclude that Yakeen and Tilbury Fort have been assessed correctly, but African Night Sky got away with murder, hence him shortening in the betting to 16/10 for the July, which I think is far too short in a large handicap field which is very competitive by nature. The generally accepted norm is that he should be 4/1 or more.

    With Coral Fever MR118 carrying top weight of 60kg in the July, and a 3yr old colt carrying a minimum weight of 53kg after the 1kg age allowance, Yakeen would need to be MR102. He is now MR102, so he will carry 53.0kg, but will actually be under 3kg sufferance at the very minimum to African Night Sky’s true rating and weight advantage of at least of 3kg or more.

    Tilbury Fort, now also MR102, but a year older, will be under 1kg sufferance on the field and at least 4kg sufferance to African Night Sky. He risks not making the final field, unless he is invited by the sole discretion of the “July Selection Panel”. An older colt or gelding should carry 54kg, or MR106 in this race with Coral Fever.

    Still, I think, we are all in for a shock, as none of these will win…….. except the bookmakers who love to steal candy from kids when it comes up to incorrectly pricing up favourites.

  10. Hylton says:

    Well then, African Night Sky is a certainty
    let’s all have a bet then
    Pick 6 banker
    Jackpot banker
    Pa banker
    Come on go for it he’s unbeatable

  11. Editor says:

    Email comment received from Robert Bloomberg:

    “Very convenient to blame the guidelines when the handicappers could and should have made Head Honcho the line horse which would have then meant a 5lb penalty PLUS they could easily have justified an additional 3lb penalty for ease of victory.
    The guidelines didn’t stop the handicappers giving ANS 8lbs. He came from last, raced wide early on and then shifted course twice in a short straight and cruised in.
    No justification for a 4lb penalty, I’m afraid.
    If you don’t believe me ask Mike Wanklin for his opinion – because I have no doubt that is what he would have done and the horse would then be carrying 59kgs in the July”

    1. karel says:

      So Bloomberg can’t write himself anymore.
      What about the horse’s rating in the Met?
      It’s not all about the July.
      Your guidelines stink, just admit it.

  12. Editor says:

    The handicappers can use their discretion and disregard the merit ratings when framing weights – according to the official race condiitions – and thus nothing cast in stone yet?
    ‘Weights shall be framed by the Handicapper in his sole discretion and without necessarily having regard for horses’ merit ratings…’

  13. Basil says:

    You guys are arguing about MR’s at the highest level in RSA racing , what about the poor owners and trainers in the lower divisions. I believe all higher races , bar classics , should be run at WFA plus penalties in the current racing year. That stretches the performance of horses over 12 months and not extremely current performances like mentioned with African Night Sky. The July is perfect as it’s run at the end of the season. Other factors can also be considered when allotting the final weights. Unfortunately the WFA plus penalties can be harsh on 3yr olds who have classic victories to their credit. Remember the days when many 3yr olds carried 49kg in the July.

  14. Rian says:

    Bring back those old days when even the Sunday Times paid tribute to Garth Puller and his achievements in not only making 49kg and winning on a Bush Telegraph
    Just look at his record and he still came in on 49 kg
    Great Horses, Great trainers and jockeys , no moans only praises

  15. Ian Jayes says:

    Karel is absolutely correct. Don’t blame the handicappers, the merit rating system has been adulterated to such an extent that it is impossible to handicap properly anymore. A weight range of only 8 kilos is also nonsense. It is not all that long ago when the top-weight was 10 stone 10 pounds and the bottom-weight 7 stone.(68 Kgs and 45 Kgs a range of 23 Kgs).

  16. Jurgs says:

    I am afraid that it is Mike de Kock who is actually clueless. The handicappers have handicapped correctly utilising the rules they are forced to operate under.

  17. Graham Martin says:

    Hi Tony Jacob , Under Cover Agent had his merit rating increased from 111 to 125 after beating two old age 7yr olds who are close to pension by half a length in the rising sun Gold Challenge! Namely Captain America (124) and Sail South(123) . His punishment for this is a 14 merit rating hike which is equal to 7 kilograms or 7 lengths ! This for winning a race by half a length!

  18. Paul says:

    I believe the Snaith yard deserves a lot of respect for understanding the handicap system and managing their runners career to give it the best possible chance in the July.

  19. Robert Bloomberg says:

    Karel, firstly these are not my guidelines as you disingenuously state. They are guidelines formulated through industry participation via a forum following Operator intervention, subsequent amendment by a sub-committee of the NHA which included the handicappers and then final approval by the main board of the NHA itself.

    Secondly, there are many countries that adopt systems that work for them. We are not a first world racing jurisdiction and nor do many believe that we have the quality of handicappers that allows for restriction free handicapping which is what should happen in an ideal world. What is faintly amusing is your constant whining and defence of the handicappers which includes your good friend Matthew Lips, yet you publish your own ratings, more often than not in total contradiction to their ratings. If you think they so bloody marvellous then don’t be so arrogant and hypocritical in publishing your own ratings!

    And please don’t say you publish your ratings because the guidelines are the direct cause of the handicappers inaccuracies. You’ve been publishing your ratings since prior to the Battle of Blood River, the Rinderpest and the Boer War, when there were no handicapping restrictions!

    Anyway, stick around because with the accomplished Mike Wanklin hopefully returning soon in some or other manner, shape or form, you can expect to see further handicapping amendments which he has been instrumental in, so you can have a go at him next.

  20. Neil Bruss says:

    Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and I feel that I need to add my own.

    “Jurgs” says Mike de Kock is actually clueless !!!! Thanks for your opinion Einstein
    This begs belief that the Editor can actually print such horse shyte This allegation from what I can only guess is a “ticky” punter, one of those that think punters keep the Sport of horse racing going.

    If Jurgs thinks he is so clued up on this subject, explain how Oh Susanna has a MR of 121 and
    African Night Sky has a MR of 112. I know who I would like to back anytime they met on Handicap terms..

    My take on Handicappers :Fire them all and put their remuneration into Stake money. A computer can do their job at a fraction of their cost, not only in salaries but the horses they handicap so incorrectly, NHA system or not.

    All Graded races should be WFA, especially a Group 1.
    Listed Races should be Conditions. and Handicaps easily worked out by computer. i.e. back to the Index figures system.

    1. Editor says:

      Mike de Kock expressed an opinion
      Jurgs expressed his opinion – he may well be a ‘ticky’ punter as you suggest.
      We don’t ‘print’ this Neil – it originates from posters – if it falls within the ambit of our comments policy, we allow it.
      We doubt that Mike de Kock will be offended

  21. Sarvan says:

    Why not make the Durban July a WFA contest? Simple then hey. As a Durbanite, I’m very heart sore to say the MET is now the best race in the country. With respect this crop isn’t the best for a July either. It’s no wonder that certain owners don’t want to run their horse in the July, Oh Susanna is a case in point. Bring some credibility to the race known the world over and have it at WFA conditions. The race is not a handicap!!!….you cant have a handicap with conditions.

  22. Jurgs says:

    Neil Bruss if you take the time to actually read the article you would have noted the following stated by MdK “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.” Is there anything ambiguous in this? The handicappers did their job as per the guidelines they work under.

    I think that you may be spending too much time under that Arabian sun. Take care.

  23. James George says:

    Did Mr. Neil Bruss really call someone he disagrees with a ticky punter?Me thinks he knows exactly what he meant.After all he has been in camel country..

  24. Cleo says:

    There should be a course of action available whereby, for a hefty fee (refunded if successful), connections of other horses in a feature race can object against “too low a rating” of another competitor.

  25. Barry says:

    Interesting comments and observations all round. Myself being a small punter I have followed the career of African Night Sky since he won his maiden, then the Winter Series with consumate ease !! I backed him in the Met and was very quick to grab the 7/1 on offer at opening call for this years July. I eagerly await his victory parade in front of the grandstand adorned with the sash on 7 July !!!

  26. Ian Jayes says:

    Handicapping, Conditions and Weight-for-Age racing are different systems, designed to produce different results. Pure handicapping takes account of and assesses every run, so to expect a handicapper to ignore and not penalise placed runs is a stupidity.

  27. johnf says:

    For Jurgs to say ‘I am afraid that it is Mike de Kock who is actually clueless.’ is the biggest joke of all. Mike has put South African racing on the world map, is one of the few SA trainers who will take on the ‘powers that be’ publicly… and what have you done for South African racing that you are such an authority Jurgs?

  28. Michael Jacobs says:

    The July should remain a handicap because it is the best betting race in SA and it is a well-loved, iconic, once a year racing event for the ordinary South African. But then it should be a true handicap with none of the gimmicky conditions and guidelines. It should also be downgraded to a grade 2 as it is not an equal contest of quality. It should remain a well- endowed handicap which all horses can enter for a rich stake, and take their chances at handicap conditions, it should never be a WFA rsce. Why would trainers give the race a miss if there was big prizes involved, horses don’t earn anything standing in their boxes? The July encourages strong debate and opinions and that is fine, that’s what a handicap does.

  29. Graham Martin says:

    Hear hear! We get fed enough of these stupid Conditions races through out the year! Keep the July as a HANDICAP! Its one of the few handicaps that are left on the racing calendar that is a graded race. In the Poinsettia we had a 3yr old filly giving 1,5kg,s away to a more mature 4 yr old (Sommerlied) and this is supposed to be a W.F.A. race! Ridiculous! And I AM NOT A TICKY PUNTER, I am an ex-punter!

  30. Graham Martin says:

    I agree with Robin, fire all the handicappers especially the chief handicapper and use the index system!! Problem solved! Then we won’t have a 3yr old 5 time winner who is rated the 3rd highest in the world!

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