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Handicapping – Guidelines Aren’t Exactly Rigid Rules

Punishment is relative...

NHA CEO Vee Moodley emphasised that the handicapping guidelines are “guidelines not rules” and added a press release would be sent out whenever there had been a deviation from the guidelines.

Vee Moodley – taking the initiative

A press release was sent out explaining the merit rated changes made after the running of the SA Derby and SA Oaks and it was clear to all who know the guidelines that the handicappers had deviated.

The NHA have risked opening a can of worms as there was no warning given at nomination stage that one particular guideline would be deviated from for the first time since its inception in 2012.

There have been three “updates” to the handicapping guidelines this decade.

In the June 2012 update one of the points stated, “Grade 1 & 2 races Upward Adjustment to first 5 finishers only.”

However, in the merit rating changes made after last weekend, the Grade 1 SA Derby 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th placed horses were all adjusted upward and the Grade 2 SA Oaks 6th placed horse was adjusted upward.

The press release wording relevant to the SA Derby stated, “In other changes, SENOR LIZARD was raised from 85 to 88, ARLINGTONS REVENGE goes up from 80 to 84, MASTER MAGIC was raised from 80 to 84, ZANAKI goes up from 78 to 83, and LAST OF THE LEGEND was upped from 78 to 81.  These horses finished from 5th place to 9th, and in doing this it is ensured that these five horses would meet one another on the correct weight terms in a handicap race.  This satisfies the definition of a handicap.  The only other change was OWLINTHETREE, whose rating was cut from 99 to 91.”

And for the SA Oaks it stated, “PRETTY BORDER (6th) goes up from 72 to 80 in order that she is not rated below last placed FARIHA, who remains unchanged on 80.”

The reasons for the changes are made clear.

However, owners and trainers of the above horses might have been taken by surprise.

If any of these owners or trainers subsequently have a horse facing Doublemint in a handicap they will be justified in arguing that the latter horse finished just 3,50 lengths back in the Sun Met in 6th place yet remains on a lowly 104 merit rating.

The five horses who finished ahead of him are now merit rated between 118 and 125 and he finished ahead of the 121 merit rated Oh Susanna.

The point is how consistently are the handicappers going to deviate from the guidelines and will owners and trainers know when to expect the deviations?

If the handicappers have carte blanche then the luxury owners and trainers have had since June 2012 of testing horses in Grade 1 and Grade 2s in the hope they are good enough might be over.

From 2012 until this week they had been safe in the knowledge that failing to earn a cheque in such a race would at least ensure no upward adjustment to their horse’s merit rating.

National Horseracing AuthorityOn the other hand Moodley is one of the most respected handicappers in the country and it should be borne in mind that in its purest form the merit rating system has no restrictive guidelines. In England, for example, handicapping is done purely on the handicappers’ interpretations of the race.

With Moodley now in charge of the NHA and two equally knowledgeable stalwarts in Lennon Maharaj and Matthew Lips doing the handicapping, perhaps it is time more trust was placed in their own discretion and interpretations.

Their task at present is onerous. There is pressure on them to satisfy international committees that certain races deserve Grade 1 or Grade 2 status, but on the other hand they must pay heed to guidelines aimed at preventing horses from being unfairly punished.

However, punishment is relative and in protecting one band of horse, others must be getting punished.

Ultimately, handicapping done by the pure interpretation of handicappers who know what they are doing must surely be the best solution and Moodley, Maharaj and Lips do know what they are doing.


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20 comments on “Handicapping – Guidelines Aren’t Exactly Rigid Rules

  1. Rod Mattheyse says:

    Big pressure at the next pattern conference, derbies downgraded to group 2 and oaks group 3…. anyone offering odds…

  2. Tony Mincione says:

    You would think the way to go is announce a change in the rules of the game rather than doing a fix on the fly.

    It’s not that you shouldn’t fix something if it doesn’t work, it’s just that many people have had to live with the consequences of arbitrary rules, sometimes having to swallow bitter pills for the sake of handicapping, for years now.

    I suppose we just have to be prepared for flash fixes as and when it suits them. Them is what you say when it isn’t “us” or “we”.

    It isn’t written anywhere, but are we heading to an era where the rules are what only apply to one side cos the other can just make changes villy milly?


  3. Anton Marx says:

    This sound to me like the recommendations are recommendations argument from our previous president

  4. Jay August says:

    The size of fields in some Graded races are going to drop with this new “ruling”, which while perfectly legitimate from a handicapping perspective, has been changed in an arbitrary fashion.

    Perhaps the handicappers have a serious handicap when it comes to phrasing their intentions. And from a clock-watching perspective, rather strange timing as well!

  5. Tony Mincione says:

    There is so much wrong with this article,one doesn’t really know where to begin!

    For a start, I dispute strongly Mr Moodley’s reading that the “guidelines” for handicapping are not rules. People have benefited and been disadvantaged in every way from winning races and the consequent careers of their horses to financially and who knows what opportunities lost from these guideline/rules. They have been enforced to the letter for years, including the outcomes in races such as the Met all the way down.

    You would think it’s impossible in a sport governed by so many rules and conditions for a CEO whose job it is to create, guard, nurse and enforce all these rules to suddenly have such a cavalier attitude where he announces “new rule”: the rules are only rules till I say they aren’t.

    Then how do we even find out? An “unchallenged” glow piece is issued by an operator, and then retweeted again unchallenged. Is this how the NHRA issues proclamations now?

    You would think that the Chief Traffic cop would at least wait for the Municipality to change the speed limit signs before issuing speeding tickets for those new limits. Maybe he’s Mayor and Chief now. Or Judge, Jury and Executioner.

    A quick look at the NHRA Rule Book shows that the word “guideline” is used everywhere as a synonym to the word “rule”. In addition to its use for handicapping, “guideline” is also used for replacement of riders, use of the crop, and guidelines on overweight. None of the usage is a suggestion, it’s all biblical shall not, may not and will not, and read in conjunction with other rules.

    As it happens, I can’t fault Mr Moodley’s views on the issues. He was an official handicapper and that’s great for all of us. His views are enlightened as far as I’m concerned. But the implementation is old school, and discretion hasn’t been kind to racing for a while (see objections and all other inconsistencies which have the little guy reeling).

    The NHRA CEO should also keep in mind that the amendments (guidelines) have all been protectionist until now. So not raising ratings for horses who are out of the money has been a purposeful and deliberate policy, and the rule is there precisely BECAUSE it conflicts with handicapping. It is actually rigid.

    I don’t like the rule in question because it interferes with the maths, but I can see exactly why it’s there. Do the traffic cops really have the power to increase the speed limit in front of the school because they think so? Let’s ask the principal, and let’s be transparent. Ask some parents too.

    And by the way, to our discerning guardians of information and makers of opinion, while copying and pasting and regurgitating the endless crap spewed out by one side (that has it’s own agenda), does no one ever just say, “but the emperor has no clothes on”? Just test some of it, instead of always adding to it how wonderful they are every time! It comes from one side and your job is to balance it. Shame!

  6. David Thiselton says:

    Mr Mincione one has to wonder whether you even read the article in full. What part of opening a can of worms do you not understand?, That is hardly glowing praise and it goes on to point out that owners and trainers of the punished horses would have a solid case if they chose to dispute the merit rating changes. In the interests of balance it ends off by looking at it from the point of view of the Handicappers. Guidelines have been forced on them when they are capable and responsible enough to do their own true handicapping. The only cutting and pasting done was of a guideline and of the press release referring to the merit rating changes which were done. I hope you did not expect me to put that into my own words! I had to explain a few years ago in a Tote vs bookmakers argument that nobody sits behind me and watches what I write but this time no such explanation is needed as I do not answer to the NHA.

    1. karel says:

      This is getting such fun! People not reading each other’s posts properly and then ….
      Clearly Mr Mincione wasn’t referring to you doing cut-and-paste, but the Sporting Post writer who regurgitated the story.

  7. David Thiselton says:

    Ok sorry Karel but he did say “glow piece” and then goes on to use virtually the same argument and points as the “glow piece”! Astonishing.

  8. Steve Reid says:

    You would wonder why Moodley would give an explanation to Gold Circle when firstly the “guidelines” were “interpreted differently” ( sounds so much more polite than inconsistent or incompetently ) in Phumelela country, and secondly, when all the questions were being asked on this website?

    While we are at it, perhaps Mr.Thiselton could ask if there will be retrospective handicapping of the 6th – last horses that participated in this years Met?

  9. Rian says:

    Funny Funny, We cant even re cycle the Crap that comes from the NHRA

  10. Tony Mincione says:

    Mr Thiselton, I did indeed say glow piece. If I were one of those mentioned in your artcle, I too would have that post-coitus glow. You did say that there could be worms, but you concluded with the summation of “they know what they are doing”, “must surely be the best solution” and the three “do know what they are doing”.

    Looks like a shiny A+ to me and I’m sure they have all clicked on “like”. But the point about glowing is really to ask whether statements issued by “authorities” get tested on the way to the public, or are they presented like press releases.

    So what? You are entitled to say what you want, you’ve been around, you weighed the pros and cons. As a reader you left me with the impression that it’s going to be fine, your evaluation being that we should have more “trust”. That’s glowy, isn’t it? There is nothing there that Gold Circle could have issue with, so it’s uncontroversial in that respect. All good so far?

    Here’s the thing though, it’s bullshit that these employees make it up as they go. They are not annointed priests with a direct line to what is right or wrong. Well, I hope not because they said they will let us know via press releases as they go along. If and when.

    They propose these actions, if fact it’s an after-action justification, they act as if it’s fine and this is the way it’s going to be. Normally the CEO would be hauing in the handicappers and saying you can’t do that, that isn’t the contract we had with people before the event.

    Every one of those horses beyond 5th should object. The objection in the Cape where the appeals board was left between a rock and a hard place left them making a decision that was handicapping beating guidelines rather than rules beating handcapping. And because it was an appeal, it was unchangeable. And that was the opening of the can of ..ok, let’s call it worms then.

    If the NHRA appeal board does that again you would think it’s time to look at the laws, because if you can’t read and understand the very laws you yourself wrote….

    As righteous as the ruling might be argued, once we have all agreed that a goal is a goal, a referee can’t make a goal = 1.5 goals just because he doesn’t know what to do when the penalty shoot out was still a draw when the lights went out.

    The handicappers, who don’t have CEO oversight because he happens to be on the panel, (how does that work?..well, clearly it doesn’t) can execute rule changes mid game. Now that’s astonishing!

    There are going to be a few people pointing out that this isn’t a dictatorship, benign or otherwise. It’s unpleasant to have be confrontational and I understand we can’t be friends now, but I’m just waiting for someone to call “bullshit!” when the pat lies right there. And yes, I did mean the Sporting Post too, because while you gurgitated, they regurgitated.

  11. David Thiselton says:

    Mr Mincione my two points were clear.

    The first being that they have no right to just suddenly regard the guidelines as not binding without any warning. That is your main point and I am in total agreement. You say connections should object I said they would be justified in doing so. So you appear to be arguing against me on something we both agree with. I don’t know how I could have made it clearer in the original article.

    My second point was why are their guidelines in the first place? If they are paid to handicap and they know how to handicap then they must handicap. It is then up to trainers to protect their horses in the case above by simply not running them in Gr 1 and Gr 2 races and That point is highlighted by the cut and paste doyens.

    1. karel says:

      You ask why there are Guidelines in the first place.
      Why ask now?
      Guidelines were introduced in June 2012 and have had revisions in Nov 2012 and April 2016.
      All with the stamp of approval of the NHRA Board, and with flagrant disregard to NHRA Rule 47.3.2 which states “a handicap, which shall be a RACE in which the weights to be carried by the HORSES are allocated by the handicapper for the purpose of equalising their chances of winning”.
      The Guidelines prevented the handicapper from doing his job and for more than six years no-on paid much attention.
      So I say again: why ask now?

  12. The Dark Duke says:

    How can the body regulating the sport be as unclear on something that is the absolute fulcrum of rating a horses ability? There is absolutely no black and white here its a sea of mushy grey with no solace found in the rules, or should I say guidelines?

    Perhaps it is high time that the CEO of the regulatory body take the members who he serves into his confidence and issues a solid explanation of how his abortion occured, how ALL future handicapping will be assessed, and most importantly WHY these changes to the status quo was done.

    This is not the time to act like your predecessors Mr. Moodley it is time for you to act like a leader and explain the way the NHA will be moving forward. Anything less and you will deserve the scorn those before you rightfully earned from members. Taking your recent background into account integrity is of paramount importance.

  13. Steve Reid says:

    There are advantages to having received a poor education and it has been most illuminating googling the meaning of glow piece. Note to the Kerel – you should unleash your Knysna Rottweiler on a more regular basis, it’s most refreshing to have a spade being called a spade without fear of comments receiving a Kaaskop thrashing.

    The message I take out of this latest NHA inadequacy is that it is clear that Moodley feels it is his prerogative to adapt the rules of the game whilst the game is still in play. Perusing the comments on this article, it is clear that the contributors all understand the rationale and workings of the adjustment received to horses finishing outside of the top 5 in the Graded races. The objections to these adjustments is the fact that the adjustments are contrary to the rules in place. Explaining off that these rules are guidelines further expose the arrogance of those in charge. Who exactly decided that two Grade 1 races would use different “guidelines” in determining the final ratings?

    A piece of free advice to Moodley – decide what you are. You are either the CEO of the NHA or you are a handicapper. I’m sure that your staff would appreciate the clarity while the micromanagement runs riot.

  14. karel says:

    … and so we wait with bated breath for the NHA to clarify matters. This is serious stuff.

  15. Jay August says:

    What exactly were the reasons at the time for implementing this 5 horse “guideline”. There must have been some group who were persuasive in getting it passed? Who were they?

    1. karel says:

      This is the best I can do (from a NHA press release dated 30 March 2010):
      “Following a meeting of the Handicapping Liaison Committee held on 20 October 2009, the National Board appointed a Sub-Committee comprising Messrs Robert Bloomberg, Tony Rivalland and Vee Moodley to draft amendments to the Handicapping Guidelines. These amended Guidelines were approved by the National Board on 24 March 2010.”

      There were subsequent updates, like this one which we reported on
      I am not sure who drafted the 2016 amendments.

  16. Tony Mincione says:

    Reading through Mr Thiselton’s (sorry about misspelling of your name earlier) article again, and the replies from the on point commentators above, here are some final conclusions:

    1. Everyone disagrees with Mr Moodley’s assertion that “guidelines are not rules”.
    – the guidelines in fact over-rule the rules, by giving exceptions, minimums and maximums, and plain contradicting the original rule much like an amendment to a constitution.

    2. Having the head of the NHRA bend the rules seems to make some people especially uncomfortable, much like watching a policeman shoplift.

    3. A few seem to think he shouldn’t be wearing multiple hats.

    4. Even from different (even contradicting) viewpoints, no one likes “guidelines”, and less the new perceived wiggle room them seem to have gotten overnight.

    5. Everyone feels that while the rules stand, whether you are for or against, that everyone should be painted with the same brush. No one likes that what get applied to one grade 1 is ignored in the next. It’s astonishing the NHRA doesn’t seem to get that. That they should LOOK like they doing right. Right?

    6, Reading between the lines, everyone seems to want to give Mr Moodley the space to be able to rearrange the NHRA, but preferable by the book and in the book, but not around it. No one is keen on “grey” areas. But no one thinks he’s not up to this.

    [With additional thanks to Messrs Reid, Duke, August and Miedema from whom points were borrowed. I think aside for minor positioning, there is a whole lot of consensus.]

  17. Jay August says:

    Tony, I can add that I do not know Mr Moodley at all, or his background so have no personal side in this debate. What I can say is that several weeks ago I contacted Mr Moodley via email on a matter which I thought needed fixing. He replied within the hour and the issue was resolved almost immediately.

    There are not many CEO’s of any organisation that would take the time to respond that quickly to someone they did not know. We all seem to agree that the handicapping principle employed in the Derby is the correct one but that the method of change was incorrect.

    The question that begs an answer after the haste to change a long-standing custom of following the guidelines, is; what other non-normal restrictions on the handicapper are now to be overlooked and possibly implemented without warning?

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