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Handicapping Guidelines – NHA Explains

Regulator on their philosophy

The rationale behind the Handicapping Guidelines as last amended in April 2016 followed from numerous meetings with all stakeholders at which it was unanimously agreed that horses should be protected from over aggressive adjustments and so ensure that they could achieve their fair share of wins.

The National Horseracing Authority advises in a press release published on 24 April 2019, that maximum caps were imposed on all maiden winners, and maiden winners older than three years were capped in such a way as to ensure that, generally speaking, a horse which struggled for some time to win a race would not be forced to compete in a handicap substantially above its capabilities.

In essence, this allows maiden winners to start at the bottom of the ratings pyramid.

It has been a long established practice that winners of ordinary handicaps could not be raised more than eight MR points, excluding any sufferance and/or overweight.   This especially protects horses whose winning performance by a wide margin could be flattering or ‘once off’.

All winners of Plated, Conditions and Assessment races – except in the case of compulsory runners in terms of the Assessment Plate rules now in force on the Highveld – cannot be raised more than six MR points where applicable, while placed horses cannot be raised at all, except at the request of the connections.

National Horseracing AuthorityThe specific conditions of certain individual races do impose further limitations on the Handicappers’ ability to adjust ratings freely.

Thus there are many opportunities for connections to expose to the Handicappers the true ability of their horses, by placing them correctly, without any risk of the horses’ ratings being adjusted to those achieved levels.  This is not an ideal situation and can amount to “beating the system”, but the rationale behind it is understood and applied by the Handicappers.

All of these restrictions in essence can make it very difficult or even impossible for the Handicappers to correctly apply NHA Rule 47.3.2, which clearly defines the meaning of a Handicap race.

All of the above has led to an imbalance to the Merit Rating system, with considerable congestion at the lower end of the ratings’ ‘pyramid’.

At present, more than 72% of the horse population are rated 73 or below, notwithstanding the fact that numerous horses in reality have shown themselves to be capable of a higher rating.

When assessing Graded, Listed or Non Black Type Feature races, the Handicappers reserve the right to deviate from the Guidelines where they believe that it is in the best interests of conforming with NHA Rule 47.3.2 to do so, with particular reference (but not limited to) “unexposed” horses.  The Handicappers will however tread cautiously when a more exposed horse puts in a performance which is substantially out of “sync” with its previous form and apply discretion when assessing such horses, as they see fit.

The Handicappers will also give due consideration to factors that could account for a sudden improved performance, including amongst others equipment changes, race distance changes, recent gelding, and any other factor which it is felt may account for an improved performance.

The fewer restrictions that exist on the system, the more sustainable the Handicapping system would be.

A literal adherence to the guidelines works against this and is largely responsible for the congestion at the lower end of the population “pyramid” and renders it very difficult to secure a thriving middle or upper division. 

Deviating from the guidelines in Graded, Listed and Non Black Type races – which are by definition contested by a better class of horse – allows the Handicappers to offset this imbalance to a considerable extent by stretching the gap between higher class horses and ‘run of the mill’ performers.

The National Horseracing Authority Handicappers have initiated a series of Roadshows to further explain Handicapping rationale and engage in questions and answers sessions.  The first such session will take place at Kenilworth Racecourse on Saturday, 27 April 2019 after the last race.

Further Roadshows to follow:

Port Elizabeth: Fairview Racecourse on 10 May 2019 after the last race.

KZN and Highveld dates to be confirmed and published on the NHA website.

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8 comments on “Handicapping Guidelines – NHA Explains

  1. Jay August says:

    The 72% of horses rated below 74 I presume includes all horses without a rating? If that is so what is the percentage below 74 but which have a rating >0, and are two year old’s excluded from the above numbers?

    The BHA database, at the end of last year and including two year old’s, for all horses with a rating >0, but below 74, was 59.5%. The NHA database shows 66.5%, so I am assuming the 72% number includes horses without a rating.

    What does the NHA consider a more normal percentage under MR74?

    1. karel says:

      Male median MR and Female median MR, crop by crop from 1999 onward (MR>0)

      72.0 67.0
      71.0 67.0
      70.0 64.0
      70.0 66.0
      71.0 67.0
      74.0 70.0
      72.0 68.0
      73.0 70.0
      72.0 68.0
      71.0 67.0
      70.0 67.0
      68.0 66.0
      70.0 66.0
      69.0 66.0
      68.0 66.0
      69.0 67.0
      67.0 64.0
      0.0 0.0

  2. Jay August says:

    Karel, thanks. I assume you have not made any revisions for the blanket 6pt increase last year, or have you? The second last row (2015?) can be ignored as it is still in play so not strictly comparable.

    There does seem to be a downward trend after 2009 and once the guidelines came into effect. The numbers I quote above from the BHA are of course not by crop but for all horses of any age and sex in the database at the end of last year.

    1. karel says:

      Data taken straight from database – no adjustments made by me.

    2. karel says:

      Here is MR data by racing season

      year mean variance stddev
      1999 73 160 13
      2000 74 171 13
      2001 75 145 12
      2002 74 148 12
      2003 72 152 12
      2004 68 167 13
      2005 68 175 13
      2006 67 187 14
      2007 69 174 13
      2008 70 174 13
      2009 70 179 13
      2010 70 190 14
      2011 70 190 14
      2012 70 202 14
      2013 67 215 15
      2014 66 228 15
      2015 66 238 15
      2016 66 243 16
      2017 66 246 16
      2018 67 261 16
      2019 66 250 16

  3. Jay August says:

    Cheers Karel, that looks much more like what I am looking at. Very clear to see the downward trend. Very clear how the database has changed from 2013 as the guidelines have taken full effect.

    The biggest problem with handicapping a population is that you need to step away from the debate about clusters of horses and individual horses and ensure that the overall picture remains more or less the same, and normal.

    Those that jockey for their views to become guidelines or rules never have to have their views subject to prior test, and most likely do not understand the principles which govern population dynamics. The results of their getting their way is after the fact, and the distortions become more pronounced as the years go by.

    And I am sure those same people are the same people who now cast stones!

  4. The Dark Duke says:

    Karel seeing that you will have the first feedback session in your town, perhaps the many questions posted on this site regarding the handicapping changes should be addressed? The NHA responses could then be published.

    My main question to Vee would be how he justifies changing the rules without consultation or notice after the fact.

  5. Jay August says:

    Karel, been looking at these numbers again for the yearly data. I assume your numbers above are by calendar year and not by racing season? If that is the case is 1999 only from August of that year or was that for the full calendar year?

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