The result of Saturday’s running of the Empress Club Stakes has again induced some ridicule aimed at the much-maligned Merit Rating (MR) system.
The winner of the race went off at an SP of 66/1 and paid R51.20 on the tote, implying that everyone thought the winner had less than a two percent chance of winning the race.
Jay August writes in the Sporting Post Mailbag that the winner was MR ranked 11th of the 13 horses in the race and horses so ranked generally win no more than 4.6% of all races they enter.
That equates to odds of around 20/1 and so the long odds available for the winner were therefore not surprising, and perhaps even provided compelling value.
Is the MR system really that bad and is this result evidence of that?
If the MR system is indeed poor at rating (handicapping) horses, especially in fixed weight or weight-for-age races, then one should see that, on average, the MR rankings provide no help to punters when deciding on the winner.
The facts are quite the opposite though and show just how far from reality any negative perception of Merit Ratings is. As I’ll show the MR system has a good ability to predict results.
The table below shows all races run this season from August 1, 2018, and up to April 11, 2019.
Shown are the winning stats for all MR Ranked horses from MR rank 1-13, thirteen being the field size of Saturday’s race.
The very first row shows the stats for horses with no MR and which are accordingly not ranked, and the rows thereafter show the ranking of the horses ranked MR first to thirteenth.
It should be quite clear by looking at the table that the higher a horse is ranked by the handicapper in a race the higher its chance of winning that race.
Horses ranked 1 to 4 have almost double the chance of winning a race compared to horses ranked 5 and above. That is a significant statistic in favour of the efficacy of the MR ratings. Put another way, horses ranked 1 to 4 have a 37% higher chance of winning a race than average while horses ranked 5 and above have a 30% lower chance of winning a race than average.
These stats are even more significant because most races from which these numbers are derived are handicaps which seek to impede the ability of the better horses.
The MR system therefore helps punters a great deal in assessing the likely winner of a race but makes no prediction of price (odds).
The punter is responsible for discerning value and weighing the multitude of variables which effect a horse’s ability to run to its rating. So why would one blame the MR system for a result which happens just over 4 times in 100 races and is normal under conditions of uncertainty?
Saturday’s result is a rare event, and in no way indicates a weakness in the MR system. Some horses can up their game when so required. The winner was one such horse.
Those punters that criticise the MR system are failing to take advantage of a very useful and free tool in assessing form and price. Perhaps they simply cannot calculate uncertainty very well and are blinded by rare events!
Track conditions and the MR System: