Things We Learned » Need for uniformity

Need for uniformity

It makes no sense that there is still no uniformity among bookmakers in the treatment of reserves from a betting perspective.

This issue usually raises its head when there is a big handicap in which a relatively short priced horse does or does not get in as a reserve.  It can happen with the Galway Plate, it can happen with the Thyestes Chase, and it did on Thursday, when ante post favourite The Crafty Butcher was third reserve, and didn’t get in.

In summary, some bookmakers treat reserves as runners when they are posting their morning prices, and then, if the reserves do not get in, they are treated as non-runners.  So there can be a Rule 4 deduction to winning bets.  

Others treat reserves as non-runners when they price up the races in the morning.  They do not price up reserves.  So, if reserves do get in, bets placed at morning prices are settled without the reserves – so, win or come second to a reserve (or third to two reserves).

The latter course of action is the fairest.  If you have an 18-runner field like the Thyestes Chase, you price up the 18 runners in the morning.  You simply ignore the reserves for the purposes of betting at morning prices.

If you do price up the reserves, you are betting on a 21-runner race, which the Thyestes clearly was not, nor was it ever going to be.  You know that there are going to be at least three non-runners.  The safety limit is 18.

This is an Irish issue more than a British issue because, in Ireland, reserves are not withdrawn until 45 minutes before the first race on the day.  In Britain, insofar as a reserves system operates, they are withdrawn the day before the race. 

Perhaps that is why there is no consistency in the rule here.  Or perhaps it is down to the fact that it is not an issue until there is a well-fancied reserve in a high-profile handicap.  Whatever the reason, it is not a satisfactory situation.

Some bookmakers priced up the reserves in the Thyestes Chase on Thursday morning, and did not invoke a Rule 4 deduction when The Crafty Butcher did not get in.  Fair play to them, but it is not enough that this is a concession from certain bookmakers. 

We have been here before.  There is a need for uniformity, there is a need for standardisation.

Opinions polarised

Few horses have polarised the opinions of handicapers on either side of the Irish Sea in recent times as significantly as Rashaan has.  This is up there with the No Where To Hyde case in February 2006, 11 years ago, when the Christy Roche-trained gelding was given a handicap rating of 132 by the British handicapper in advance of a proposed tilt at the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury, despite the fact that he had been beaten in the Pierse Hurdle off a mark of 119.

The bones of the story are thus.  The Colin Kidd-trained Rashaan beat Apple’s Jade and Petit Mouchoir and My Manekineko in the Grade 2 WKD Hurdle at Down Royal in early November, after which the Irish handicapper raised him from a mark of 131 to a mark of 139.  However, when his trainer went looking for a handicap rating in Britain, Rashaan was given a rating of 154 – 15lb higher than in Ireland.

At a rudimentary level, it makes no sense that there is a discrepancy of 15lb between a horse’s handicap rating in one jurisdiction and his rating in another.  The British and Irish handicapping systems are broadly the same, the handicappers are looking at the same horses, the same races. 

It appears that the British handicappers have taken the form with Apple’s Jade and Petit Mouchoir quite literally: Rashaan has beaten the 153-rated Apple’s Jade by a length and a half, giving her 2lb (including the mares’ allowance), with the 147-rated Petit Mouchoir another length and three-quarters back in third, ergo he is a 154-rated horse. 

That conclusion ignores myriad factors.  Firstly, it is probable that both Apple’s Jade and Petit Mouchoir under-performed on the day.  Both horses are obviously hugely exciting young hurdlers, both horses have won Grade 1 races since, but both were making their seasonal debuts at Down Royal, and both were racing for the first time for new trainers. 

Timeform ratings put their respective performances at Down Royal into context.  Apple’s Jade performance was given a Timeform rating of 132, her lowest rating since she arrived from France and 22lb lower than the rating she was awarded when she won the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle last month.  Petit Mouchoir was given a Timeform rating of 131 for his Down Royal run, 26lb lower than he was given for his Fighting Fifth Hurdle run when he fell, and 32lb lower than the rating he was given when he won the Ryanair Hurdle last month.

These are objective ratings from a tried and trusted source.  To presume that the two Gigginstown House horses ran to form and to rate Rashaan accordingly makes little sense.

There is also the My Manekineko factor.  James Nash’s horse was rated 123 going into the Down Royal race, and he finished fourth, a total of eight lengths behind Rashaan.

Two things here.  Firstly, My Manekineko finished six and three-quarter lengths behind Apple’s Jade and five lengths behind Petit Mouchoir.  If you were taking the form literally, as the British handicappers have with Rashaan, you would have raised My Manekineko’s mark significantly from his mark of 123.  Remember that the Gigginstown House horses were rated 153 and 147 respectively. 

Yet the British handicappers didn’t.  They had him on 126, 3lb higher than his Irish mark, which is the mark off which he raced at Musselburgh on New Year’s Day, in the race won by Superb Story in which the first three home finished within a length of each other.  So a mark of 126 for My Manekineko looks close enough.

Secondly, if the British handicappers are happy with My Manekineko’s mark of 126, how can they raise Rashaan’s mark to 154, 28lb higher, given that he only beat James Nash’s horse by eight lengths off level weights?

On the subject of My Manekineko, if you are looking for a horse through which to rate the Down Royal race, as handicappers do, which do you think is a more solid marker: one of the young horses who are running for the first time this season and who have raced, respectively, five times and six times over hurdles, or an eight-year-old who has raced 15 times over hurdles and who is race fit?  If you answered the latter, go to the top of the class.

So, if you are rating the race through the 123-rated My Manekineko, as surely you should, a mark of 139 for Rashaan (16lb more for beating him by eight lengths) looks a lot more realistic than a mark of 154 (28lb more).

Even taking Rashaan himself, he was racing for the 11th time over hurdles at Down Royal, and his handicap rating has been consistent.  Rated 133 when he was first given a mark last January, he had oscillated between 131 and 135 before he ran at Down Royal.  Of course, horses can improve, but to jump from 131 to 154 in one go after your 11th race is extraordinary.

One more thing.  At its base level, if there is such a discrepancy in handicappers’ opinions, whose opinion would you take?  The handicapper from the jurisdiction in which the horse has run all 11 of his hurdle races (and four flat races), for whom an understanding of that jurisdiction is at the very core of his role, or the handicapper who is looking in from the outside from another jurisdiction in which the horse has never run? 

Power loss

The news that Annie Power would miss this year’s Cheltenham Festival was greeted with universal glumness on Wednesday.  Willie Mullins said that it was a knee ligament, which would take six to nine weeks to heal.  She could be back for Punchestown, which would be something.

Annie Power is a remarkable racemare.  She won her first two bumpers for Jim Bolger with Patrick Mullins on board. “There was a two-fold advantage to that,” Bolger would say later.  “I had a top pilot and I had a customer afterwards.” 

Then she won her third bumper for Willie Mullins with Patrick Mullins on board, and she won her maiden hurdle for Willie Mullins with Patrick Mullins on board.  Indeed, she has rarely been beaten.  Just once, actually, when she stood up, out-stayed by More Of That in the World Hurdle in 2014 on her only attempt ever at three miles, and once when she fell down, that infamous Mares’ Hurdle fall in 2015 at the last when she was clear.

She has won 12 of her 14 hurdle races, 11 of them under Ruby Walsh, five of them Grade 1s.  And it is arguable that her last win, when she beat My Tent Or Yours and Nichols Canyon by 18 lengths and nine lengths in the Aintree Hurdle last April, was her best.

Hopefully she will get back for Punchestown now but, if she doesn’t, hopefully she will be back for next season.  She will be nine rising 10 next season, but, all things being equal, there should still be more to come, as evidenced by the fact that she recorded the highest Timeform rating of her career on her latest run. 

And remember, Quevega won her sixth (sic.) Mares’ Hurdle as a 10-year-old. 

Going west

Champagne West put up a scintillating performance to win the Goffs Thyestes Chase at Gowran Park on Thursday.

It was a big help that David Mullins was able to kick him out of the gate and get him settled in front by the time they reached the first turn.  The Thyestes is a race in which, generally, you don’t want to be too far back, unless they go bananas up front.  That said, such was the magnitude of Henry de Bromhead’s horse’s superiority on the day, he probably would have won regardless of where he had settled in the field.

He travelled supremely well in front throughout and, with the exception of the heart-in-mouth fourth last fence, his jumping was brilliant.  One, two, up.  Metronomic.

He coasted to an easy win, with the field strung out behind him, and the winning time was very good.

It was ample compensation for his owner, trainer and rider (Roger Brookhouse, Henry de Bromhead, David Mullins) after Stellar Notion’s agonising defeat in the Leopardstown Chase on Sunday.

Gold Cup talk for Champagne West is not outlandish.  The Westerner gelding won the Thyestes Chase easily off a mark of 154.  On His Own won the Thyestes (his second) off a mark of 142, then won the Bobbyjo Chase and was beaten a short head in the Gold Cup.  Djakadam won the Thyestes off a mark of 145, then finished second in the Gold Cup. 

There is precedent.

Thought for the week

If the Leopardstown races were moved forward by 10 minutes tomorrow, they would clash with Fontwell, and that would not be good.


© The Irish Field, 28th January 2017