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Let’s Put More Lipstick On The Pig

Fact - it's the public that pay the purse

Last night I endured a Racing Association meeting at which the hoary chestnut of bringing back the crowds and growing the punters’ base was regurgitated.

Lunch at the Garrett Bar courtesy of Dish Catering

The “race day experience”, dining-room quality and costs as well as food was discussed.

FFS!

Are we running a restaurant, asks Peter Wrensch in the SP Mailbag?

Or do we want punters, turnover and, especially, public confidence?

Roy Keane would have had a field day lampooning the prawn privileged remotely seated in their boxes.

Fact – it’s the public that pay the purse.

Racing needs them to have full confidence in the betting product and remain fans.

In the halcyon 1980’s there were crowds, large full stands and packed totes.

But most significantly, there were top horses. Lots of them. As there were trainers and owners.

These shared in the broad base of decent stock that paid it’s way, or a portion thereof, through a career that kindled optimism.

Met gates were shut to keep people out. And the champions in.

From my foray into racing in 1977 there was a consistent conveyor belt of seriously good horses.

Household names like Politician, Over The Air, Quarrytown, Bold Tropic, Wolf Power and plenty others galvanised the fan base and attracted numbers seeking to watch the best.

No one goes to the Currie Cup rugby and cricket equivalent anymore.For the reason that it’s not the best.

Run-of-the-mill racing today has emulated this.

In 1979 I recall Cape Top Division sprints boasting fields of 20 and the barrier to entry was 7 wins.The Guineas was 3.

The Eliminator, The Cruel Sea, Lovely Rhythm, Tucson, Horatius, Green Silver were then relieved by Lord Randolph, What A Beauty, Flobayou, Lurgan, Front Cover and a conveyor belt of top horses.

Nationally, compare every Top Division sprint race nowadays and name the star with Bolt-like attraction. Simply, racing does not put on a show of calibre.

Why not?

Three horses currently stand out and Sun Met 2020 will be a “kykweer” of the 2019 edition and the July.

In truth, this is the best in many years.

The reason being the costly failures at the Dubai Carnival as the European horses have moved in.

The present calibre of local horse does not match the international competitiveness that marked the first decade of this millennium.

Fanciful local merit ratings are not translating into stakes successes abroad.

What happened to the quality and depth? Are we breeding poorer stock?

This should not be the case given the commendable huge investment in importing quality stock.

The question arises why this stock is not translating into a wider base of smart horses that excites and enthuses.

This is where the crux of the problem lies.

Any prodigy is snuffed out in a quest to promote mediocrity.Quality talent is stifled and hampered from fulfilling true potential.

Public gallops and time trials can saturate the marketing process and transparency agenda, but if these are not permitted to translate into reliable performances then these initiatives, like the KZN experiment, are doomed.

The quest to attract turnover through the Lottoesque approach of big payouts has cultivated gambling akin to lucky numbers, where most numbers can win, but destroyed public confidence in the reliability of form.

Racing results across the country do not engender confidence.

Consequently, this disillusionment has delivered the death knell to betting on horseracing.

The concept of giving every horse equal opportunity is commendable but should not be at the expense of superiority. Compromising the superior has deprived racing of its stars which are the showpiece to effectively market the sport as one of excellence.

So where have all the top horses gone?

The paucity of depth in quality I believe is a direct result of the Merit Rating handicapping system that for young emerging horses, is just that – a handicap.

Thumbsuck 2 year old ratings and a blanket allocation to black type races has seen horses seriously overrated.

Our geese are not swans.This year’s Met proved that.

Smallest field and a match-race result.

Head Honcho’s subsequent performances will show whether he becomes a victim of the theoretical imposition.

To date, 7 months later, he hasn’t substantiated a rating of a top horse.

Early 3 year olds for many years are struggling until they mature physically into their handicapper’s assessment. Too many horses are taking up to a year to win again.

This has destroyed the faith in horseracing and if we are looking for scapegoats for dwindling betting support and supporters look no further than the merit rating system.

Especially as currently applied to 2 year olds.

I was a punter and a bookmaker, but seldom bet now.

Every trainer and jockey will be asked for card markings, but I simply draw a line through the Merit Rated races.

The only way to beat this system is if the handicapper has made an under assessment of a horse’s ability and this is highly unlikely given the bloated ratings horses are given.

Just toss on another TEN points.

Inconsistency is another killer of punters’ confidence.Cane Lime ‘N Soda wins a maiden by 8 1/2 lengths and  is rated 90. My horse, Captain Garett falls across the line in a Workrider’s and gets 86. 2 lengths!

In our optimistic dreams, we wish we have a gelding this good.

In time, many months and much expense, he could be that rating.

What of the long shots who finished close up?

A 4 year old filly making her debut and a 3 year old gelding with a previous 10 length 4th. Until horses reach these theoretical assessments they get hammered physically.

Many buckle mentally and others physically.

This week saw the aforementioned Cane Lime ‘N Soda beaten by a journeyman Jay Rock and the promising Silver Operator by an under-prepared older horse.

Does this develop the horse?

Is it in the horse or the owners’ best interest?Definitely not.

The facts show the vast number of horses that tumble down from their glorified 2 year old ratings.

They never make the grade and hence the pile of poor older horses that clutter up the lower merit ratings.

The handicapper has brutally admitted to this slaughter through the fabricated 10 point raise.

This lipstick-on-a-pig won’t make them better or run faster.

And it certainly won’t get me dashing 70 km from a cricket field to the course as I did when Tucson clashed with Horatius as early 3 year olds.

The well beaten 3rd horse, Mini Wave went on to win 9. How many have done this in the 3 major centres?

In Cape Town the current stat is 23 who have won 5 or more.Hardly the depth to excite, is it? Or the confidence to follow good horses.

Considering that these will be giving away as much as 8 kg, it behoves that there will be an even greater erosion of punters confidence.

It is devalued to simple gambling.

Any wonder that punters choose casinos over horseracing?

Pics-Candiese Marnewick / Chase Liebenberg

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35 comments on “Let’s Put More Lipstick On The Pig

  1. Peter Wrensch says:

    For good measure, Justin Snaith told me earlier that Silver Operator got lumped with an extra 2,5 kg for his second place consolation. Up to 106 from 101.
    He’s probably lucky he didn’t win!

  2. Graham Martin says:

    Excellent and truthfull article written by someone who knows exactly what is wrong with horseracing in this country. But will this article help? probably not. The demise of horseracing in this country started at the same time the Merit Rating system was introduced. The promotion of mediocrity above superiority! there is no form book because there is no form ! Head Honcho had his merit rating increased from 114 to 122 ( 8 points ) for one good run in the Met, a 3rd placing. And since then? A person can go on and on about this but to no avail ! it’s like flogging a dead horse.

    1. karel says:

      What a load of bull.
      Head Honcho ran right on top of Rainbow Bridge and Do It Again in the Met, at level weights.
      What rating should he have been given then?
      He has raced twice since, which is enough for you apparently to draw conclusions from.
      If you have no clue about handicapping, keep your thoughts to yourself.
      Talk about Martin flogging a dead horse… please!

  3. Jay August says:

    If this writer is correct, that handicapping is the cause of all the evil that affects horse racing, then one would expect to see the non handicap races filled to capacity and the handicap races devoid of runners.

    It turns out the exact opposite is true. The contrived Assessment Plate idea turned into a farce and was put out to pasture for lack of decent field size. A Plate race for three year old’s in CT three weeks ago had to be replaced by a handicap race as it attracted only 3 runners, while the replacement handicap filled up rather quickly.

    There is no merit rating system in the US yet they are afflicted with much the same issues which effect SA; unsound and timid horses, smaller field sizes, drops in real and nominal betting turnover, closure of tracks, smaller foal crops etc. There the excuse is drugs, in SA the excuse is the MR system. The pig is the same, the lipstick is another colour.

  4. Peter Wrensch says:

    The reason the Progress Plate collapsed is exactly because of Merit Ratings.
    As did the Assessment Plates.
    The handicappers told how the MR doesn’t change after the plate race but they do pencil the rating to which it ran and use that later as a line of ability.
    In the Assessment Plate – an old Graduation Plate – you bumped all the very high MRs, so trainers avoided these for the place money because of the future increase threat.
    Better the sub 80s go to the plenty handicaps on offer that cater for the crap. And in Gauteng at the Vaal there is loads of that.
    Who wants to take on Silver Operator on 101 at plate terms when you can get smashed 2 races later. Not for
    R 9000-18000.
    So Silver Operator has to lump a 101 against the best older hard knockers.
    Hardly fair on an early 3 year old trying to develop.
    Or the connections that have to prepare for the Guineas in 3 months.
    Forget the top horses that won the Guineas but those days there was a lengthy list of 4-5 winners like Festival Hall and Galactic King.
    You could punt these with certainty up to the Guineas.
    And beyond.
    Ask legend Peter Dembitzer about the living he made from the Guineas field for months after the race.
    I think it was Bushmanland’s Guineas. But Young England’s did too.
    I urge you to check the last 5 Cape Guineas and reflect on the subsequent performances.
    Not because they aren’t good horses but because they get lumped with 105-110 to the winners 116 or so.
    Please look at this year’s Derby.
    And tell me how many have shone since.
    That’s nearly EIGHT months. A long time to deliver.
    And if these “top division Derby ” potentials don’t deliver you can bet the owners lose faith as quickly as the punters.

  5. Peter Wrensch says:

    Why has Head Honcho only run twice?
    Probably because there aren’t races for these 115+ Sourh African “superstars”.
    Great.
    Keep them in mothballs and feed the punters the menu of Vaal, Turffontein Inner, Classic, Poly and MR 70s.
    Now that really excites the punters and draws in the crowds, doesn’t it?
    You notice the crowds outside of the July and Met?
    Cape Hunt factually got more than recent Cape Guineas fields.

  6. Graham Martin says:

    Eyes Wide Open is a typical example of a good horse being over rated.. How many times did this horse have to run unplaced before his merit rating was decreased to the point where he became competitive again? How much money did this cost the connections etc etc. When he won the Greyville 1900 he was winning his 5th race, almost a 5yr old! Must punters now guess when this horse would have been ready to win again? There was nothing in the form book that suggested he would win the Greyville 1900, As long as horseracing remains a lottery you will never get punters back to the race track! What happened to the Novice plates, Graduation plates etc, where horses had to qualify before proceeding further to C division, then B division and A division? Punters are the life blood of the game, get them back! Promoting mediocrity will not bring punters back. As long as horseracing remains a lottery, and not a game of skill punters will stay away!

  7. Graham Martin says:

    Sorry to upset you Karel but Head Honcho was judged on one good run! will he ever repeat that good run?

  8. Graham Martin says:

    The truth hurts but remains the truth! Don’t bury your head in the sand, it won’t help! Sorry to rattle your cage!

  9. Ian Jayes says:

    Karel is correct. There is nothing wrong with the system being used.

  10. hilton witz says:

    Karel and Jay you are wasting your time discussing the merit rating system with people who have no clue about its objectives and why it was introduced so for your health rather refrain …Rather refer these people to the nhra website where they can read a simple easy explanation of the merit rating system..Furthermore let me add that 80 to 90 percent of the worldwide horse population is mediocre thats just how life works and the handicapers are not responsible for the race program they have been told to handicap and therefore it isnt their problem that races are not available every month for head honcho..The connections of head honcho knew full well that when running him in the met at those conditions he was liable to get a fat penalty if running way above his rating but they took their chances just like they did when martial eagle won the met ..Another point is when a horse who runs way above his rating and returns to a merit rating race why should all the contestants be under sufferance with that horse as the definition of a handicap is that every horse has an equal chance of winning..The problem is that the handicapers have their hands tied by trainers and owners putting in stupid restrictions instead of letting them do their job ..

  11. Graeme Hawkins says:

    Dear Peter, your comments re the development of young horses are very valid – the MR has its shortcomings in this regard as there is no “easy” path for a young horse to grow in confidence without having to be put under undue pressure early on to justify its rating. In theory, clever Programming should provide some protection to the above average young horse and allow it in Conditions races to build up a sequence of wins with something in hand on each occasion before being thrown in the deep end. Years ago the Cape programme especially provided those opportunities. Now we cant fill the fields in these races because there are too many other opportunities in handicap races. Also, years ago trainers seldom had more than 40 horses and there was healthy competition amongst many yards – a much better situation than today. I am not sure what the answers are but your letter goes to the heart of what should be an ongoing debate until a programming and handicapping (they go hand in hand) that suits South Africa best is agreed upon.

  12. Jay August says:

    Peter the only reason race figures worked back in the “halcyon days” is because there were no other options. Owners and trainers of lower quality horses were obliged to run their inferior horses against horses of much higher ability. It worked just fine in an industry in perpetual growth but that started to slow and then decline in the late 80’s. It was easy to progress when you were running against cannon fodder.

    The steady decline in the industry started long before the merit ratings came into being. The reasons for the decline are not purely racing related as the world is a very changed place since 1989 and South Africa since 1994. The past belongs to the past – let it be. I live in the present. I acknowledge the past but it offers no lessons for today’s very changed market place.

    Blaming the MR system for all that afflicts SA horse racing is very simplistic and more likely the result of paranoia than common sense.

  13. Terry Lowe says:

    Great article. I won the Met in 2002 and said much the same in an interview.
    Through the years every decent 2yo has been murdered by the handicapper and very few have lived up to expectations. If they win early they get heavily penalised and by the time they drop to a realistic level they are plagued with problems and seldom realise their potential. The ones that do reasonably have high merit ratings which are not a true indication of their ability.
    We now have one time winners in the July which is ridiculous and they certainly won’t be crowd pullers.
    From being a big gambling stable I stopped punting completely in merit rating races.
    One of your senior handicappers admitted to me that the merit rating system had had an adverse effect on racing. But any criticism falls on deaf ears.

  14. hilton witz says:

    So Mr lowe according to your statement regarding 1 time winners running in the july you clearly think that the ability of a horse is equal to its number of wins and not who it competed against?

  15. hilton witz says:

    Lets also recall that post 2000 many of our top horses have been either sent to dubai to race or sold to hong kong or singapore and many others who fall just below top class get sold to mauritius hence leaving a large hole in top division races ..The system never stopped the likes of jay peg variety club legal eagle and pocket power to name a few winning plenty races ..The conditions for the met changed after pocket power won his first met and please dont blame the handicapers for that as well but the likes of la fabalous divine master would never have won the met in those days at current conditions but hats off to those trainers who knew how to get them into a grade 1 handicap off a competitive mark…

  16. Wesley Michaels says:

    Lol – typical multiple ‘ the only opinion that matters is mine ‘ responses from Mr Witz who continually fails to grasp the purpose of debates and discussions. But according to you, you are THE authority considering the number of Grade 1 winners you’ve trained or how often you are used by the NHRA to assist with handicapping issues. Isn’t that right ?

  17. hilton witz says:

    wesley you got an issue with me drop me a call let the editor give it to you ..Didnt know you had to train group 1 winners to have an opinion .

  18. Wayne Fouche says:

    These debates are robust and become a bit testy from time to time. No doubt Karel Jay August Hilton Witz and Ian Jayes (none of whom I have ever met) but whose online comment and opinions etc I think are excellent and pretty much on the button but this time I’m going with the “outsiders”.

    I long for the days when all maidens were rated 27 and when they won there 1st race the rating went up by 7 points to 34.Many of my friends and I still refer to these horses as ” a 34 -1″ meaning a horse straight out of the maidens. To this day we never include them in our exotics unless the win has come in the first or second run.

    What does this drivel have to do with the subject at hand? Well, quite a bit because I agree with Peter and Graham – our young horses are being crucified by the handicapping conditions. That being said it is also true that the overall quality is somewhat lacking.

  19. Wayne Fouche says:

    “their first race”

  20. WILLIAM MILKOVITCH says:

    Here’s the field sizes for the 7 meetings in CT from the 4th January 2019 to 9th February 2019

    (5-18-9-13-10-14-19-13) // (10-8-13-13-10-12-9-8-14-14) // 7-5-11-11-11-11-13-14-14 // 6-14-12-12-8-10-9-9-14 // 9-12-8-13-9-6-11-14 // (11-16-15-19-13-16-18-12-13-14-15-16) // 12-13-16-13-12-8-12-16

    It starts on the Friday Queens Plate Day and ends on a Saturday 9th Feb. I included this meeting as there was no racing from Met Day (26th) until the second Saturday in Feb (what a joke)

    1st set of brackets – Friday Queens Plate Day
    2nd set of brackets – Queens Plate Day
    3rd set of brackets – Met Day

    This range represents our ‘Height of the Season’ action, in other words, as good as it gets.

    Now, the field sizes for the last seven Cape Meetings from the 10th August 2019 to yesterday.

    8-12-12-8-12-7-10-10-14-13-9-8-5-7-13-10-11-6-12-11-10-12-7-11-8-5-13-7-9-7-7-10-15-15-10-10-10-13-8-12-8-12-8-7-7-10-7-11-10-11-9-8-8-7-9-12

    To summarize, in January, 774 runners from 7 meeting with 74 races carded. That’s when we mountain goats are rocking it!

    In the last 32 days, 541 runners from 7 meetings with 56 races carded.

    I think it’s unnecessary to nit-pick Peter Wrensch’s comments about no massive 20 horse fields, whether they are handicaps, progress plates, B Divisions, so what. Where are the big fields, that’s the point Peter is making.

    For the life of me I can’t recall 5 or 6 horses ever going down to the start at Milnerton. For that matter, I don’t remember 7 horses making their way to the start and that’s from 1979 until closure.

    The only occasions when it was a “cannon fodder” type finish was when the going used to be heavy and Stanley Amos just rode the opposition into the ground through sheer guts and supreme riding confidence.

    I’m was never a supporter of the old C and B Division setup, but I tell you every meeting you would have 4 horses across the finish line in photo finish, a frequent occurrence to the point where punters used to question these whisker type finishes.

    There wasn’t ever a trend of one-sided or warped Division racing, even though Thunder Cat won 10.

  21. Pepper the pig says:

    Can you all stop arguing and get me some lipstick please 🙂

  22. Dan says:

    Brilliant article and so true ! The merit rating system is a joke and is designed to destroy good horses! Owners that own a good horse , not a brilliant horse are punished and horses can never win stakes it’s entitled too! The pushing of the merit ratings by 10 points in now the biggest joke in history and embarrassing for sa racing! We were already 10-20 points to high. The handicapper deciding what a 2 year olds handicap should be after 1 run is an even bigger joke! Every horse that wins a maiden should come into handicaps with the same mr and that horse should be allowed to build through its career. If the horse wins second time then should be max mr it can go to again like 85 and so on. No horse should be be subjected to handicapping opinion unless it’s run 5 or more races and no horses handicap should be able to go up by more than 10 points per run. Why do we permanently want to stop good horses from winning and especially 2 year olds. Shouldn’t be a single two year old that has a higher merit rating than 90 going into 3! Let them prove themselves in higher company first and let them win stakes!

  23. Prasheen Harrimohan says:

    Mr editor can u please please please help, contact whoever u can from tellytrack and find out when the he’ll the fools overthere are going to bloody sort out the 1 and 1a confusion they cause us punters us bloody irritating and frustrating. They are so accurate about stupid soccer bets when tt supposed to be a horseracing channel. Please help😠😠😠😠😠😠😠😠😠😠😠😠😠😠😠😠

    1. Editor says:

      Prasheen, we have had an undertaking from TAB to look at this issue
      Will dig it up
      Is it worth the frustration?

  24. Prasheen Harrimohan says:

    Mr editor it very much is watch a race we’re there is 1 and 1a running and u will understand when number2 us showing as 1a on ur tt screen on the bottom of screen where they show ur current win place dividends of the horses in each race

  25. Peter Wrensch says:

    Field size isn’t material for the spectacle- only the operator seeking turnover – because often in big fields there are only 3 real contestants, whereas a 5 field could have all potential winners.
    I recall one of the best races ever was a 5 horse, Southern Cross Plate over 1000. Millard had the 4 time winning flyer Dusty Damsel and Cradle Days. Bass the brilliant Sweet Chestnut. Not sure if Hot Corn was in, but do remember a scorcher with the champion Scarlet Lady swooping late to whip the flying machines. She went back to KZN for Alastair Gordon and beat the country’s best in the Gilbeys.
    What matters is calibre.
    Few make it that far under the MR system.

  26. Jay August says:

    Peter, please explain how a filly like Scarlet Lady would have been compromised by the MR system had she been running today? Up to that Gilbey’s win she contested one Fillies Hcp, one B Div Hcp and one A Div Hcp race in 13 starts, the rest all being pattern races which still exist today or have approximate replacements.

    There was no steady progression for her as she was successful immediately won 3 of 4 at two including a feature, and carried 60.5kgs in her first start in a Fillies Hcp as a 3yo. The MR system would not have retarded a horse of her ability today.

    The only difference between 1981 and now is that she would not have won a Gillbey’s off 47kgs as the race would today not retain its Graded status under such overly favourable conditions. That has nothing to do with the MR system and is an internationally accepted standard for Graded and Pattern races.

  27. Peter Wrensch says:

    The point of that Southern Cross Plate is to show that public interest is not confined to field size but by the quality of the field.
    In the case of Scarlet Lady and the others, especially those that raced through the Graduation and Progress Plates system was the opportunity to develop, win and grow into multiple performances, not one hit 2 year old wonders.
    Scarlet Lady was fortunate to have not been sacrificed by an early MR of 100 plus which would have prematurely elevated her into tough company.
    Winning 3 of 4 at 2, as pointed out was instant success, would have ensured a 100+ merit rating.
    As recently witnessed by a long list of mere one time winners, she too would have been propelled into the equivalent of the old A Division.
    Under the old developmental system horses could win 4 before making the B’s and then still come in under a competitive weight.
    The Tops were 5 plus and even 7 time winners were still competitive.
    My experience with Ronnie Sheehan saw Captain Chaos gain his 2 nd win in the Nursery at his third start.
    He got the Western Cape champion 2 year old award and a MR of 100.
    At the time I repeated that he wouldn’t make the list of the best 100 horses I had ridden.
    He duly obliged, burgling a grand total of one more win.
    The runner up didn’t fare better and Ernie of that Nursery has ended up in Mauritius.
    Just like those other champions Seventh Plain and Barrack Street. Bold Eagle is limping alone in similar fashion, as is that other Grade One bomb Sand And Sea.
    One has to be extremely biased or a special kind of stupid to ignore the carnage of 2 year old ratings.
    Draw out the July and Gold Cup day’s 2 year old Grade One results over the past few years and see how many wins have emerged and how many have come tumbling down the Merit Ratings.
    Why?
    Simply because an iniquitous system over matches their physical development and inherent ability, which mostly doesn’t realise full potential.
    The dearth of quality horses being ample proof thereof.
    The Cape Guineas and the Derby consistently provided real champions on the turf.
    The also rans too went on to significant grade successes.
    A comparison between then and now is very revealing. Recent Cape Derbys, and in particular this year’s have not stood the test of true Grade One’s.
    How many horses have been exported because they would battle off their respective Merit Ratings?
    I’m not restricting this to the high Merit Ratings but included are a long list to Mauritius.
    Middle handicap hard knockers which I was involved with like Do Be Snappy, Danger Rock, Prince Lateral, Watch Me Dad and Phoenix Rising have all won races in Mauritius whereas they were in their place here simply by the administration of a pen.
    Is it advantageous for the local industry to lose its middle band?
    Are the handicappers benefitting the industry?
    With the loss of horses, the lack of competitiveness and paucity of champions there surely is a problem with the current system compared to the previous.
    And the public interest has clearly waned.
    Turnovers have not kept pace and we can’t talk of on course attendance, because there just isn’t any.
    Are the breeders delivering inferior product to the market?
    Scarlet Lady was very fortunate to have avoided the claws which clearly haven’t a clue about horses.
    Form lines yes, but equine welfare and development, no.

  28. Jay August says:

    Peter, you neatly sidestep the Scarlet Lady example. Nothing would stop that filly today as she never graduated through any system which no longer exists. All the races she participated in, or near equivalents remain today. Even with a 100+ rating after her 2yo campaign she never ran in enough handicaps for it to have ever been an issue or career destroying. The current pattern more than adequately caters for a filly of her ability although it does pose a sterner test as no 9 time winner gets to run in a Grade 1 event off 47kgs as she was able to do.

    Bold Eagle developed breathing issues which many good horses did before the MR system. His “limping” along today probably has little to do with the MR system and is more than likely his own soundness issues. Is Mauritius a benchmark for us given the general level of competition there. If Mauritius is prepared to allow horses with exposed ability a second chance to expose their ability through race figures then so much the better as it offers SA owners an out. That is what markets do – arbitrage differences.

    What exactly has the Cape Derby to do with the MR system given that it is a fixed weight event? How many of the champions you refer to graduated through a series of 4-5 plate and bottom division handicaps to get to the Cape Derby and beyond? How many of them had the CTS sales race as a primary target not the Derby?

    One only has to look back at this last season to see that despite sub standard Derby’s we witnessed some very talented three year olds running, horses which would have made those from the 70’s and 80’s have to run. If the MR system is such a compromise on the young horse than how does a One World, a Vardy, a Soqrat, a Hawwaam, a Twist of Fate, a Chimichuri Run and a Cirillo succeed.

    Captain Chaos is an interesting example. Two wins from 3 starts including the Cape Nursery. His first start at 3 is a Graduation Plate in which he runs unplaced indicating that he may not have trained on, not that the MR system got to him. He is entered in 3 “feature” races and comes up with a third as his best effort.until he enters the Plate arena again and fails to win either of his next two Plate races. It seems pretty clear that this horse did not train on and his MR has little to do with it. Strangely his first win a year after his last win is in his first MR handicap!

    This past season saw three horses of above average ability in Do It Again, Rainbow Bridge and Hawwaam. Under the old RF system Do It Again would never have won two July’s. It is quite instructive that of the three double July winners of the past 70 years none were under the old RF system. Two have been under the supposedly punishing and discriminating MR system and have come in the last 20 years. If the MR system is that bad how is this possible?

    To paraphrase you – it takes a “special kind of stupid” to blame the entire industry woes on the MR system and the handicappers. If you cannot see that the competition for betting and entertainment spend has changed significantly in this country and that the demographic profile of the average punter has also changed significantly then you will continue to make statements like the above about handicapping.

    Competition against one’s peers is “carnage” and can be quite brutal. How do champions emerge if they do not survive this carnage. Those champ[ions you so eagerly throw up onto a pedestal in the past left many in their wake in that carnage. You seem to forget that.

    I have a bias – for proper analysis. Perhaps that is a special kind of stupid! I’ve been called far worse.

  29. Leon Smuts says:

    I simply love reading these comments/debates and have learnt so much from getting informed views and opinions from those who have way more knowledge than me. Thank you for these wonderful arguments and learning opportunities. My 5 cents worth on the matter of handicapping is the following: If the handicapper gets it right and barring horses clearly under sufferance the theoretical outcome of each race should be a straight line wall of horses crossing the finishing line. Now this rarely happens and off course is influenced by factors like barrier draws, luck in running, jockeyship and a number of other factors. With handicapping attempting to give horses (and often moderate specimens) an equal chance of winning it goes without saying that small elements in the race would lead to very different outcomes from race to race. Most of these events if run under identical circumstances 10 times would probably result in 10 different outcomes, and rightfully so. This however destroys things for punters and makes the skills argument far less valid than it should be. In my estimate handicaps are not the problem but rather the number of handicap events as a percentage of overall events which makes punting, especially exotics, a lottery. The remedy would be fairly simple which is to provide the punter with a few less punitive exotic options to retain interest and to make getting involved simpler and more enjoyable for the novice. Even without introducing new products it would be advisable to bring couplings back into play and/or changing the unit of betting to a more affordable unit for the smaller punter who is the bread and butter of the industry. Even providing different denomination products of the same type concurrently would be a good idea. Racing needs to change its thinking and realise that winning is a necessary part of punting and that more winners will provide a better opportunity to grow the player pool over time. Off course the big paying options should still be offered but catering for a broader audience is an absolute must to restore growth and confidence in the sport.

  30. M9chael Jackson says:

    This is a very interesting discussion, the merits (excuse the pun) of merit rating vs race figures. The purists want the MRs and populists want the Race figures. But what does the punter want? Because without the punters there is no betting, no pools, no stakes, no racing! And the punters hate merit ratings. I’m a punter. I hate MR handicapping. I preferred working out the true ability of a horse, particularly straight out of the maidens, without a handicapper attaching his opinion on the horse. True form studiers don’t need merit ratings, we need past race information and form, and we’ll assess the horse’s ability. We don’t need an NHA handicapper to tell us how good ( or bad) a horse Is, thank you very much. Bring back the Race figure system and you will bring back the punters. Punters don’t want to do maths lessons, they want to study form and select their fancies. End of story. Merit rating handicapping has ruined SA racing. It is so obvious yet the proponents continue pushing this this type of racing. Once racing has died completely and punters stop playing altogether, maybe then sense will prevail.

    1. karel says:

      Nothing prevents you to do from what you describe.
      What has MR to do with your approach?

  31. Graham Martin says:

    Thank you M9chael Jackson and so say all of us!!!

  32. Jay August says:

    “True form studiers don’t need merit ratings, we need past race information and form, and we’ll assess the horse’s ability.”

    M9chael, there is an inherent contradiction in your argument and one which perhaps you cannot see, but please explain how the MR system stops you from doing any of the above?

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