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A Turn For The Worse?

Penalty kick for Gold Cup

The problem with the system of handicapping is that it is a highly emotive and subjective issue and if you have three racing enthusiasts sitting around a table you will probably get four different opinions as to a horse’s merit rating.

Errol Budlender writes in the SP Mailbag that the controversial issue of handicapping raises its ugly head on a regular basis, the most noteworthy recent issue by renowned trainer Mike De Kock (see SP issue 12 June 2018 under the article “Handicappers Clueless”, which was responded to by the NHA’s Manager of Handicapping, Roger Smith).

See the Mike de Kock opinion

At the end of the day it is practically impossible to “argue” with the handicappers’ final decision, as it is a subjective matter and clearly they have reasons for reaching their sometimes baffling conclusions.

See the Handicapper’s response to De Kock

However a recent merit rating adjustment has forced me to write to you on this matter in order to provide a simple recommendation, which is to adopt an additional handicapping rule which, in my opinion, would make the handicappers decisions less frustrating for all to accept.

The horse and merit rating in question is It’s My Turn who went into both the Track and Ball Derby (Grade 3) on 23 June and the Gold Vase (Grade 3) on 7 July with a Merit Rating of 108 – he had effectively been on this rating for approximately a year.

(Ed – he was pencilled in as a 106 by the handicappers after the Track & Ball Derby but as weights were already issued for Gold Vase, the change was only shown after past weekend)

After winning both of these graded races with contemptuous ease, albeit under favourable weight conditions in the Track and Ball Derby, his merit rating was DROPPED by the handicappers by two points to a 106.

It’s My Turn wins the Gold Vase on Saturday (Pic – Candiese Marnewick)

I know the handicappers will argue that he ran to a MR of 99 in the Derby and a 106 in the Gold Vase but this assessment of his performance ignores the fact that he won both of these races (by 2.25 lengths & 1.25 lengths respectively) with contemptuous ease and clearly was not required to be ridden out fully, as he would have had to have done had it been a close finish.

In other words, I am convinced that in both of these races he clearly had the ability to perform better than he did, but he was not required and was not ridden to do so by his professional jockey, as he effectively had these races won well before the finishing post.

Without wanting to argue the contentious point with the handicappers as to what he did or could have run to in these races I would recommend that a simple handicapping rule be implemented whereby a horse’s merit rating cannot be lowered after winning a race – especially if it is a graded race or, even worse, two races in a row or even worse still two graded races in a row! To me it is inconceivable that It’s My Turn, who appears to have only in his last two runs come back to his best form, is now suddenly regarded by the handicappers to be not up to the ability that he was six months ago?

At the very least he must be at least equal to the ability (i.e MR of 108) that he showed six months ago and therefore he does not deserve to have had his rating dropped by two points. Provided he stays the testing 3200m in the Gold Cup, this 2 point or 1 kg drop in the weights makes him, in my opinion, a “penalty kick” for that race.

Is this what the handicappers wanted after he was contentiously omitted from the final Vodacom July field?

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11 comments on “A Turn For The Worse?

  1. Brian says:

    Handicaps were never the issue in days gone by. It’s only now and that is clearly because the handicapper is himself handicapped by an already handicapped system.

    If MdK says he’s clueless, I would go with that

  2. Brian Shapiro says:

    Couldn’t agree more! Well said Mr Budlender.

  3. Tony Mincione says:

    I’m with Errol Budlender.

    There is an utter mindlessness to this. In the Gold Vase, the first 5 were within 1.60 L. They were an assortment of ages and sexes, ratings and weights.

    So the winner is dropped 1kg…and everything else stays the same. Imagine if we run the race again now.

    The Gold Vase Gr3 for half a million is a sort of stepped handicap with these additional conditions: “The winner of this race will not incur a penalty of more than 6 Rating points, unless requested. There will be no rating increase for placed horses, unless requested.”


    You can’t make this ** (edited) up as they say.

  4. Ian Jayes says:

    The problem is the more hard and fast rules that tie the handicappers’ hands that are introduced, the more you adulterate and compromise the system. The hadicappers will adjust the horse’s merit rating in due course. We should all be handicappers and run or not run horses if they are either in or out at the weights.

  5. Hylton says:

    Look, everyone out there thought that African night Sky was very well in after winning a grade 3 race very easily, however this has not proven to be the case. His jockey gave him every chance in the July and he was still not enough to land a win at grade 1 level.
    South African staying race fields are very weak and even the Gold Cup status has been reduced from grade 1 to grade 3 status.
    It’s my Turn is winning over staying distances in weak company.
    I would say that 106 is fair reflection for a grade 3 winner in this country especially over staying races that has weak fields.
    In his last win, 2nd in the race was Flichity by Far rated 100
    And 3rd Sheet weaver rated 78
    7 of the 14 runners were rated 88 or below and a further 3 in the 90’s so this race was more of a listed race Quality.
    Of the 4 runners rated more than 100 only Flicity by Far placed.

    For me this time the handicappers are probably correct.

    Crowd Pleaser rated 102 and Its my Turn rated 106, if these 2 horses ran over 2000m which would you back and over 3000m which would you back on handicap terms or even level weights.

    I would back Crowd Pleaser over 2000m and Its my Turn over 3000m.

    Penalty kick sure put the money where the mouth is.
    Hope you’ll have been watching the world cup Penalty kicks have missed.

  6. Dino says:

    Blame the authorities and not the handicappers. By the keeping these excuse filled handicappers is totally their fault.
    Just like a west Indies cricket being destroyed by a group of incompetent administrators and the sports ministry letting it happen is the same here.
    If these people are using subjectivity to handicap they should be removed and replaced by reasonable people.


  7. Errol Budlender says:

    Hylton, you unfortunately have missed the whole point of the article. If a horse wins easily it clearly has not been ridden out at the finish & who knows what is the “correct” MR that it ran to? If pressurized in either of these group wins both you and/or the handicappers cannot say with certainty what he may or may not have run to. It’s all purely subjective. Therefore with that in mind no horses merit rating should be DROPPED after winning a race because who is to say what that horse’s true rating may have been? As I have always heard said in the past – a horse cannot do more than win a race – so why bring his rating down after doing just that?

  8. Roderick Mattheyse says:

    So you don’t see any harm in that if they same field contests the same race next week the winner carries 1kg less after hammering them into submission

  9. Graham Hurlstone-Jones says:

    The race was a nightmare…….AFS had no chance after going to the front in fact ran a cracker all things considered. The July is not the be end and end all of grade 1’s….AFS will be back and will win grade. 1…you are very quick to write off AFS after a really slow July ? AFS was extremely well in at the weights….ask Mike de Kock ( did you read the article ? )…….Thats why I liked it a lot…shame about the Greyville crawl ( you went see grade 1’s around the world run like this, always a genuine pace its catered for ).

  10. The Dark Duke says:

    Sung to the tune of living next door to Alice
    AFS AFS who the hell is AFS 🙂

  11. Butkus Punchy says:

    ‘ His jockey gave him every chance in the July and he was still not enough to land a win at grade 1 level ‘
    GvN definitely had no choice but to do what he did, agreed, but you make out that it was only down to African Night Sky not being good enough. What race were you watching ??

    Back to It’s My Turn. Considering that of the 22 horse he has beaten in his last 2 runs, 20 were rated lower than 100, and only half were 90 or better, who knows if he is a true 108 – probably not – but to drop him after his last win makes no sense.

    Only the race will tell, but in the meantime, for the writer himself to say that he is the proverbial penalty kick PROVIDED he stays – in my books – makes him not a penalty kick.

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