Things We Learned » Handicap ratings

Handicap ratings

So the weights for the handicaps were published during the week, and there was the usual clutch of anomalies.  Like, Blue Hell, rated 137 in Ireland, was given a mark of 146 in Britain.

You can talk about discrepancies in handicap systems if you like, but 9lb is more than that. Barry Connell’s horse was rated 124 when he won a handicap hurdle at the end of November.  His hike then and increments since have taken him up to a mark of 137 in Ireland, 13lb higher than the mark off which he won.  But if he runs in the County Hurdle, he will be racing off a mark that is 22lb higher than the mark off which he last ran, and that is an inordinately significant hike.

You can argue, with the Fairyhouse runner-up Diamond King on a British mark of 149, 5lb higher than his Irish mark, that this pair would meet on terms that were 5lb more advantageous to Diamond King were they to meet in Britain, which is reasonable for a three-length beating.  But Diamond King has won impressively since Fairyhouse, for which he was rewarded with an 8lb hike.  He has proven that he has improved since.  Blue Hell has not run since.

The JP McManus-owned, Gordon Elliott-trained Campeador was favourite for the Fred Winter Hurdle before the weights were published. But he was favourite based on his Irish mark of 133, which looked fair.  He was awarded that mark after he finished fourth in the Grade 2 juveniles’ hurdle at Leopardstown on St Stephen’s Day, 10 lengths behind the fillies Apple’s Jade, who was given a rating of 135, and Jer’s Girl, who was given a rating of 133, to whom he was conceding 7lb.

It wasn’t enough though.  The British handicapper gave him a mark of 141, 8lb higher than his Irish mark. Jer’s Girl was given a mark of 137, 4lb higher than her Irish mark, but it still means that, if the two of them run in the Fred Winter, Campeador will be giving Jer’s Girl 4lb, despite the fact that he finished 10 lengths behind Gavin Cromwell’s horse when they met.

In Ireland they would meet on level terms, which looks reasonable on the basis of their running at Leopardstown.  7lb for 10 lengths.  Jer’s Girl would be 4lb lower and Campeador would be 8lb lower.

Campeador may still win the Fred Winter, he could win the Fred Winter by 10 lengths, but even that wouldn’t justify the lofty mark.  Private handicappers can allow for subjective assessments, but surely the official handicapper should only handicap on the basis of the evidence that is available, not on the evidence that he or she thinks is going to be available.

You cannot handicap retrospectively.  Just because Tails comes up in the toss of a coin, it doesn’t mean that it was value at 4/6.

Media morning at Mullins’

Highlights of the media morning at Willie Mullins’ on Monday?  Ruby was on Min, Patrick was on Black Hercules.  After that, it was hard to tell, the rain soaked the sheet with the numbers on it and it disintegrated.

It was a pity that it was so wet, because there was some array of horses on display, some depth of talent.  It was difficult to appreciate it all when your face was wetter and colder than a Greenland halibut.  The cup of tea in the kitchen was up there with the best cups of tea in the world.

You’ve read all the quotes by now, no doubt: it looks like Annie Power will be supplemented to the Champion Hurdle, which would leave Vroum Vroum Mag to go in the Mares’ Hurdle.  Black Hercules could run in the JLT instead of the National Hunt Chase, or in the RSA Chase, although he didn’t really say the RSA Chase.  Douvan could be the best horse that Willie has ever sent to Cheltenham.

The best?  Think Hurricane Fly, think Faugheen, think Vautour.  They are all horses that Willie has sent to Cheltenham.  And Douvan could be better than them all?  And you wonder why he is no better than 4/9 for the Arkle?

Before we left, Ruby told us what he was going to ride in the Gold Cup: either Vautour or Djakadam.

Similarities uncanny

It is not surprising that Zubayr was immediately put in as second favourite behind Ivanovich Gorbatov for the Triumph Hurdle after his victory in the Adonis Hurdle at Kempton on Saturday.

The similarities between Zubayr and the 2011 Adonis Hurdle winner Zarkandar are uncanny.  Both Aga Khan-bred horses, both sparingly raced on the flat (Zarkandar three times, Zubayr twice), both only as three-year-olds, both trained by Alain de Royer-Dupre on the flat, both trained by Paul Nicholls over jumps.

Both making their hurdling bow in the Adonis, both relatively weak in the market before the Kempton race, Zarkandar an 8/1 shot, Zubayr a 9/1 shot, both the lesser-fancied of two Nicholls representatives, both impressive in winning it, Zarkandar by two and a quarter lengths, Zubayr by three and three quarter, both high in the betting for the Triumph Hurdle afterwards.

Zarkandar won the Triumph Hurdle, then followed up by landing the Grade 1 Matalan Anniversary Hurdle at Aintree.  Over to you now Zubayr.

Bumper not an Irish-fest any more

Be careful when you get to the Champion Bumper at these pre-Cheltenham evenings, be careful that you don’t just figure out what is the best of the Irish and write that one down.

The Champion Bumper is not the Irish-fest that it once was.  There have been 23 runnings of the Bumper now.  The Irish won six of the first seven renewals and 14 of the first 17.  However, the last six renewals have been shared, three for Ireland, three for Britain, and last year British-trained horses filled the first four places.  There are bumper horses in Britain now too you know.


If Killala Quay and Ericht can both win at Kempton when they spend all afternoon jumping to their left, by how much will they improve when they go back left-handed?  They may be able to improve by more than the 3lb and 9lb respectively by which the handicapper has raised them.


© The Irish Field, 5th March 2016