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De Kock – ‘Handicappers Are Spot On’

Mount Pleasant is no handicapper!

Mike de Kock

Mike de Kock – giving credit where it’s due

I note with interest that comment has been levelled at the merit rating of 127 (from 112) given to our three-year-old colt Mount Pleasant, the winner of last week’s Gr2 Joburg Spring Challenge, writes Mike de Kock.

I believe, in this case, that the handicapper’s assessment is spot-on.

We as trainers go into weight-for-age races with our eyes open, knowing that if a runner finishes close to the higher-rated horses or beats them, we can expect a significant penalty.

Last week I had it at the back of my mind that Mount Pleasant could beat the top-rated Cirillo (MR127) and Chimichuri Run (126), but I knew he’d be penalised if he did so.

Anyone who bemoans a penalty after a weight-for-age event knowing that they were competing against higher rated older horses, doesn’t understand how weight-for-age or merit rating works.

Mount Pleasant is a genuine weight for age horse, he’ll be running in the classics and the WFA events and will probably be a top miler. He is not a handicapper.

Some trainers and commentators battle to differentiate between weight-for-age horses and handicappers. This is sometimes due to the programme and unfortunately the Durban July is a race that seems to cloud judgement – many evaluate ratings with the July in mind.

Generally, in weight-for-age races, the handicapper gets it right, and we as trainers go into these races knowing what to expect.

The upside to the higher ratings is that, if you have an entire or a filly, its paddock value goes up along with its rating.

It’s a simple fact that breeders are inclined to support higher-rated, better performed horses, and the progeny of higher-rated fillies attract the best prices, especially if they’re well conformed.

As a big buyer myself, when assessing pedigrees, I take serious cognisance of weight-for-age performances as opposed to handicaps.

  • www.mikedekockracing.com

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28 comments on “De Kock – ‘Handicappers Are Spot On’

  1. DEAN DEMONT says:

    Be that as it may… I still think there is a lot they get wrong. Take a horse like Out Of Your League for instance a run before winning the Derby, he raced off a MR90.. he got beat a shorthead by Gold Griffon who is a MR78.Next start Out Of Your League wins the Derby, albeit beating a few runners rated 120odd, but in saying that those high merit rated horses, don’t stay a yard further than 2200m.. so the mediocre bunch of stayers he did beat, doesn’t justify him being put straight up to a 113…??? So in turn that’s just about the end of him until he is 6yrs old and can race competitively off a realistic mark of 98 or so..

  2. Mike Saxon says:

    Interesting. I have just read….” It’s Official. Our Handicappers are clueless.”
    It’s in the blog on the same website this article is extracted from.
    Dated 12/06/2018

    1. Editor says:

      To be fair, Mike de Kock said – ‘I believe, in this case, that the handicapper’s assessment is spot-on. Generally, in weight-for-age races, the handicapper gets it right’
      So he’s giving credit where it’s due.

  3. Jonathan Harris says:

    “We as trainers go into weight-for-age races with our eyes open, knowing that if a runner finishes close to the higher-rated horses or beats them, we can expect a significant penalty.”
    Common sense at last!
    “Anyone who bemoans a penalty after a weight-for-age event knowing that they were competing against higher rated older horses, doesn’t understand how weight-for-age or merit rating works”.
    And to think some people used your name, Mr deKock, as as an advocate for opposing the M.R. system.

  4. Jonathan Harris says:

    Dean….your argument proves that if a trainer chooses to enter horses in wfa events he risks an increase in ratings which thereafter affects a handicapping future. Stick to wfa events then.

  5. Steve Reid says:

    @Jonathan Harris perhaps you can explain the Thumbs up race and subsequent rating adjustments logically and I give my word that I will never question this fantastic MR system again. Explain how a line horse can be dropped 3 points and then how Puerto Manzano is rated 2 points higher that Thumbs up..

    The emphasis is on a logical explanation. Good luck with that.

  6. Kenny Masilele says:

    Spot-on MDK! In fact, it is not a penalty but an upward adjustment.

  7. Roy Kasseepersadh says:

    Good Day. I think Mike de Kock is quite correct. But his thoughts in this case will apply only to the fastest horses. It has to please a trainer if his fast horse goes even higher in the merit rating. That’s because that horse will now appeal to the breeders. It’s value goes up. I think the main problem in horse racing is with the lower ranked horses. If the handicapper incresses the MR of a much lower ranked horse, say from 60 to 66, if it won by half a length, that’s no good for the horse and the trainer plus leaves the punter completely puzzled. On the other hand when a horse finishes very badly in its last few races, the handicappers are absolutely stingy, sometimes reducing the MR by just one point. I wonder why this discrepancy for the lower ranked horses. When a horse does well they increase its MR astronomically. When a horse does badly, they are stingy with the reduction. To complicate matters, the vast majority of horses are ranked lower, perhaps less than 100.

  8. Daniel Peter says:

    Is this a new “Horse Chestnut “?

  9. Jonathan Harris says:

    @Roy Kasseepersadh . I fully understand your argument re lower rated horses and it is as you say. However you need to understand that when a horse receives an increase in its rating it is based on an assessment of its ABILITY. The horse in its subsequent “bad runs” as you put it does not necessarily lose its ability, but its form, hence the reluctance to immediately drastically lower its rating. Only after it is evident the horse is no longer performing is a big reduction justified. I agree that the time it takes is sometimes too long.

  10. M(artin)Gram(atica) says:

    Jonathan why dont you answer Steve’s question?

  11. Steve Reid says:

    Jonathan Harris ignoring my question tells me a lot. It reminds me of the modus operandi of the NHA.

  12. Graham Martin says:

    As I have mentioned on this forum previously Collateral Form and MR works well but only with the very best horses in the country! Normally the best horses can run in classics, Handicaps and WFA. Using the MR system of handicapping does not work in the lower division races simply because the penalties are to harsh for winners and placed horses as the lower division handicap horses are too mediocre to be able to cope with these penalties. Collateral form in the lower division races does not exist, period! It then becomes a Lottery, a guessing game with no skill involved! I believe that a different system of handicapping needs to be implemented for the lower division races to make it a fair contest. The RF system would be the solution!

  13. Jonathan Harris says:

    @Steve Reid. Hi. What a challenge. At first glance, i agree, the current M.R. Ratings of the horses in question can be justifiably debated. As an enthusiastic layman handicapper, I too was confused and still not entirely satisfied. However when viewing the race again and looking for a mathematical.solution,i think I have found a logical answer, which I’m afraid could open another can of worms and which still may not satisfy you. But ill present it anyway. Here goes:
    I believe the correct line horse was used and its rating of 93 is genuine based on its previous run. I also believe it makes no sense to drop its rating before using it as a line horse. So, the only way you can arrive at the current rating is if you used the line horses’ previous achieved rating, in this case an 86, for the purpose of giving a fair assessment of the ratings of ALL the runners in the race in question. Rating off a 93 would have raised the ratings of the balance of the field and not decreased it, as now is the case. Puerto would also have had a higher rating for a now 1 time winning maiden. Incidentally the 4th horse, unrated, came out and ran second to a well backed 1st timer. If this race in question is rated correctly ( at this time I give the handicapper the benefit of the doubt) this horse would now have a rating in the high 70s or possibly 80. We will see. I also follow Puertos next runs with keen interest.
    Now the question remains. Are the handicappers allowed to assess a race off a line horses rating lower than one achieved. In this case an 86 rather than the 93. Well, it certainly is not the norm. But the current rules do not forbid it. And if I am correct, then I believe the handicappers could have done it for the benefit of the entire field.
    And just a final point, Imo, based on this run, Puerto Manzano is deserving of a higher rating than Thumbs Up. And further if I was the handicapper, I would have rated the race off the line horses actual 93 and let the rest be rated accordingly. Less flak.

  14. Jonathan Harris says:

    @Steve and MGram. Pardon the slight delay. My ESSAY was completed last night but accidentally deleted, and I had no inclination to retype at that point.

  15. Tony Mincione says:

    @Jonathan Harris. With reference to using a line horse where you simultaneously change that horse’s rating:

    If the handicapper picks a line horse (that is a horse(s) whose rating they rely on to measure the race, AND at the same time change it’s rating, against what would they calculate the change?

    You may as well not use a line horse and just pick a number that gives you the guestimate you desire.

    It is possible that a handicapper might think that no horse ran it’s rating, but then you have to scrap the race as a race where you can derive changes in the merit of the runners. How can you adjust ratings when you are all at sea?

    If everyone in a 100m sprint runs well below (or above) their personal bests, you have to suspect outside factors. A handicapper relies on the fact that some horse(s) will run consistently. If that isn’t so, then they have no anchor to know if horses improved or otherwise.

  16. Jonathan Harris says:

    @Tony. You have a valid argument. What i endeavored to show was how the handicapper could possibly have arrived at the rating he did. The same practice it seems as in your letter on Clouds Unfold.
    Would be interesting to see off what rating Thumbs Up runs next. Can’t wait on the fallout from that.

  17. Steve Reid says:

    @Jonathan Harris thank you for taking the time to give me your answer. You have basically guessed at what happened and not answered my question about why Puerto Manzano gets 2 points more than Thumbs up.

    Now let me ask another question to get the grey matter going. In your opinion, why were the horses with well established ratings not used as the line viz. Pluviophile and Freezing Fast?

  18. Jonathan Harris says:

    @Tony You have a valid argument Sir. What I was endeavoring to show and answer Steve was what I thought the handicappers did to arrive at the ratings game they did.

  19. Jonathan Harris says:

    @Tony. In your opinion Sir, how should this race have been rated?

  20. Jonathan Harris says:


    “In your opinion, why were the horses with well established ratings not used as the line viz. Pluviophile and Freezing Fast?”
    What was wrong with Thumbs Ups rating and who do you see as more consistent ( a primary criteria for a line horse)
    “why Puerto Manzano gets 2 points more than Thumbs up” The weight….and did you watch the race?

  21. Isaac Ampo says:

    Same example can used in golf, you play a good round and your handicap goes up, in order for your handicap to drop, you must play at least 3 very indifferent rounds. Upward adjustment comes quickly, but downward adjustment take that much longer isaa

  22. Tony Mincione says:

    @Jonathan, Sir? Sir, In my opinion….

    The handicapper owes it to the sport to be transparent and consistent in how they handicap people’s horses. If they err too high, they penalize horses, and if they err too low, they penalize horses who should have won. Trainers and owners should be able to work out what their rating should be most of the time if we not employing smoke and mirrors. And why would we?

    The race in question gave us a dead heat, so it’s not my opinion that there is 2.5kgs between the colt and the filly, it’s a fact. You can add flavour, she had lots of experience, he had freshness and luck in running, etc etc, but for the handicapper, it’s 5 points.

    So I took THUMBS UP (93) and made PUERTO MANZANO (98).

    That makes debutantes 4yo TRATTORIA (67) and 3yo FLYING CARPET about 80.

    FLYING CARPET ran 2nd a week later. The winner there was rated 94 on debut, and the 3rd horse went up from 54 to 60, which makes FLYING CARPET about 80 (again).

    It’s not always simple, but it’s arithmetic, not calculus. And it’s the weight a horse should carry to make everyone think they have a chance when they meet again, that’s the point

    They way the handicapper seems to be doing it now, is like he has his thumb on the scale.

    My opinion is they should rate what they see, and be quick to correct. But horses must first carry what they have shown (convincingly). Of course, all this is only in merit handicaps, where we fiddle to stop the good horses for betting purposes because we are mad.


  23. Roy Kasseepersadh says:

    Good Day. I thank Jonathan Harris for replying to my post. The MR system is a very serious matter because punters with a mathematical knowledge will apply mathematics to their selections. Every time there is a dispute about a horse’s MR, there are reasons posted to support every suggestion. Nevertheless, the MRs of the faster horses are more or less correct. Unfortunately for the punter, there are fewer races in which faster horses participate because there much fewer fast horses. On a day to day basis, the vast majority of races involve the lower ranked horses. And the MRs of these horses are questionable. Which reduces the game to a lottery as someone else has pointed out. We need a much more accurate system to calculate the MRs for the lower ranked horses. Right now it looks like the Official Handicappers are so good because they have a telepathic connection with all the horses. And those who don’t, just have to believe them. And when they are wrong, we all start wondering which horse was the line horse on which the MR was based. Or the horse didn’t run to its ability.

  24. Jonathan Harris says:

    If you read my reply to Steve…yes the essay…you will note that I have come to exactly the same ratings for Flying Carpet, the unplaced 4th placed horse and noted her subsequent run. I also summarized by stating that i would rate the race on Thumbs Ups 93 rating as line horse. Thanks for confirming.

  25. Asgar Essack says:

    Graham Martin my friend your arguments are full of merit.
    Although you may bang your head against
    .the wall a thousand times nobody gives a damn.
    We may all eventually give up this game in disgust but nothing will change.
    Let them thrill new comers to the game with their fantastic Merit Rating System.
    Perhaps they will not complain because
    they never experienced great racing.
    I heard that the new racecourse in China is fantastic.
    Perhaps we can convince the Chinese to buy our one time winners and over rated horses.
    Our 3 year old horses who get severely penalised for winning their maiden may only win their next race at six years old when their ratings come down.
    China is the way forward..

  26. Steve Reid says:

    @Jonathan Harris I agree 100% that the line horse was, and should be, Thumbs Up. I also agree with both your and Tony Mincione’s reading of the race viz. Thumbs Up remains the line @ 93 and the 5 pound weight difference forces any rational and logical handicapper to raise Puerto Manzano to a 98. Why I asked the question about whether other horses were considered was simply due to the highly unusual, dare I say it, unprecedented move by the handicapper to lower the line horses rating by 3. This makes absolutely no sense. Let me prove that this has always been my viewpoint by revealing some actions taken on the afternoon of the race.

    You ask the question whether I watched the race. I will confess to not having watched it live. I watched a recorded version about an hour later. I then shot off a message to the Uber handicapper at 14h12 the same day, and said the following verbatim:

    ” Hello Mr Moodley, I’m looking forward to your handicappers assessment of the 1st race today. All I’m going to say is remember World Radar. My call is the line horse has to be the filly and thus the debutant gets a 98 for sharing a race. Nice”

    At 14h34 I received the following response and again I list the correspondence verbatim:

    “Dear Mr Reid. I have rated the race….. the Handicappers shall finalize on Monday. I have much lower than your assessment…. as for World Radar, I shall disagree with your comments in it’s entirety”.

    I then responded immediately ” Lol. You need the blinkers removed”.

    The reason I am listing this conversation is to show that Moodley, and hence by default Maharaj, were very aware of the implications of this dead heat. They then chose to ignore basic handicapping guidelines and made two cardinal errors. The first was to lower the line horse and second was not allocating the full weight difference to the colts rating. The weight difference is acknowledged but only 1kg of the 2,5kg difference is allotted. The question now, is why did they do this? I believe the saying “pride comes before the fall” is very relevant here. Sending out a message about who is in charge seems to have trumped common sense and handicapping basics. Perceived infallibility is a dangerous thing when the facts prove otherwise.

    I am so sure of what I allege that I issue these gentlemen a challenge. Give me a rational and logical explanation to justify your nonsense assessment of the race. Use only accepted handicapping guidelines and not protectionist rules. If you do this successfully, l will issue a public apology and never criticise the NHA in any regard again. I will also make a R20000 donation to the Highveld Horse Care Unit as a penance.

    What odds deathly silence follows?

  27. Roderick Mattheyse says:

    I wonder if Mr Werners and Mr Van Vuuren will allow the horses to compete against each other in a handicap where Puerto now only gives Thumbs up 1 kg…

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