The Fourth Place Conundrum In Horseracing

An interesting perspective

We strive to not only bring breaking news and updates to our readership, but also to be a non-biased platform for the voice of our readers in all rational/reasonable debate.

Furthermore, we promote and encourage constructive exploratory discussions, from wherever it originates, on issues of interest as they relate to the betterment of horseracing.

Here we draw attention to one raised by ETHANICITY Research entitled “The 4th Place Conundrum“,  which they posted on their Blog at  https://ethanicity-research.co.za/blog/

They raise a brief and concise interrogation of whether the way the industry records a fourth place should be reconsidered, and they provide the context for doing so, also providing an example  of why a simple blanket recording of fourth place can very often be misleading resulting in a questionable distortion of the perceived racing quality of a horse.

Whether one accepts their reasoning or not, it is nevertheless an interesting fresh perspective and of the type that we all should be raising on the journey toward building a better, stronger, sustainable horseracing industry.


Responsible interrogation of any issue should never be maliciously founded and nor should it carry  an agenda of seeking change for sake of change.

It and must aways be on the basis of whether changing the status quo derives an improvement or benefit, which is what we believe may be so here.

In South Africa a fourth place in a horserace is a matter of record.

Should it be as a general rule?

Hidden in the record of a 4th place is often the achieving of 4th place in a small field and so the question arises as to whether this is a rational record or does it have unintended consequences to an unobservant eye to the extent it misinforms/misleads the opinion of the horses racing quality.

Lets look at a real example, which we will call Horse X – it ran in 12 races and has a record of 2 wins and 8 places indicating an decent horse that consistently runs into the money and earns. However 4 of those fourth places were in fields of less than 10 horse – a 6, 7, 8  and a 10 horse field.

It begs the question as to whether the achievement of a fourth place in small fields, where fourth means running mid-way or worse down the field, is an achievement worth recognising, particularly as the stakes for fourth is low and sometimes absent in small fields.

Should the earning of stakes not be a linked factor to the recording of a fourth place.

If we adjust the record of Horse X by eliminating the 4 small field fourth places, the record then becomes 12 races – 2 wins – 4 places, which represents a significant shift in the final assessment of the horse’s racing quality.

IF Horse X had a record of 0 wins then the impact of reducing 8 places to 4 has a profound effect that substantially changes the assessment of Horse X.

Interrogation of these facts informs that the record of fourth place on a horse’s record should be a matter of concern as it has a direct bearing on the perceived overall rating of a horse.

A supporting and associated argument is as follows – if a horse, lets call it Horse Y, has the same race record of 12 runs 2 wins but only 6 places (incl. 4th places) and one compares this record to that of Horse X, it is fair to conclude that Horse X is better given it has 8 places.

However, what if Horse Y either:

  1. Achieved all its places no worse than 3rd? OR
  2. Ran some of it’s 4th places in fields of 12 plus horses? OR
  3. In its unplaced races ran in a higher division than Horse X? OR
  4. Never ran more than 2 lengths behind the winner when running out of the placings?

Who would be the better horse in this scenario? Incorrectly so Horse X to most observers.    

We suggest that a fourth place should only be a matter of record when the field size exceeds a minimum number size and it is our opinion that that minimum field size number should be 12 – i.e. that for a fourth place to count as a matter of record it must be achieved in a field that comprises at least 12 runners in order to maintain a rational balance to its record that is less misleading.

The lesson is that accepting fourth place in the record of a horse as it is currently recorded carries an undesirable distorting effect on the perceived racing quality/achievement of a horse and therefore that the conditions on which the recording of 4th place  is based requires reconsideration and amending.

In the event that effecting a change as suggested flies in the face of international convention, we would ask the question why SA doesn’t elect to adopt the position of being a Thought Leader and Pioneer on matters such as these in the interests of promoting principle and what is good for the industry.

With modern electronic systems it is not difficult to do so and only requires a leadership adoption.

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