Things We Learned » Were they really worth the weight?

Were they really worth the weight?

So the Grand National weights are out again, the tweaking and the twirling have been done and we have arrived at a set of weights that oscillate around the set of weights that we would have had if each horse just been set to carry the weight that corresponded to its handicap rating. 

There are several anomalies this year though, discretionary tweaks.  Like the Gigginstown House/Gordon Elliott horse Don Poli, who was given a Grand National rating of 163, despite the fact that his official mark in Ireland is 161.

We have heard the argument before, that Don Poli may be rated 161 in Ireland, but that he is rated 165 in Britain. 

Firstly, that is an unusually large discrepancy for a proven top class horse at that level of the handicap.  And secondly, it is difficult to see how he has a rating of 165. 

Don Poli’s published rating in the Anglo-Irish Classifications at the end of last season was 165.  However, he was rated 161 in Ireland when he made his debut at Down Royal this season. 

He has run three times this season so far.  He was pulled up at Down Royal on his seasonal return.  On his second run, he was beaten two and a quarter lengths in the Lexus Chase by Outlander, who was rated 160 at the time and who was raised to 164 on the back of that run.  On his third, he was beaten a length and a half in the Irish Gold Cup by Sizing John, who was rated 164 at the time and whose mark was left unchanged afterwards.  In that race, the 154-rated More Of That would have been in among them had he not unseated at the last. 

It is a fair feat to have Don Poli on a mark of 165 on the back of those three defeats.

And there is no ‘Aintree factor’.  Don Poli has never raced over the big fences.

It is Don Poli’s inflated mark of 165 that is apparently skewing the marks of the other Irish horses towards the top of the handicap.  Take Empire Of Dirt.  Like Don Poli, a Gigginstown House/Gordon Elliott horse, he is 2lb higher in the Grand National than he would be in a handicap chase in Ireland.  He has been allotted a rating of 164, not his Irish mark of 162, despite the fact that he is among the top weights and would ordinarily have had his mark compressed.

Remarkably, Outlander, representing the (exact) same connections, has been treated similarly, a Grand National mark of 166, 2lb higher than his Irish mark of 164, which incorporated a 4lb hike after he won the Lexus Chase at Christmas.

So if Don Poli’s mark is higher than it should be, then that leaves the others higher than they should be.  You build your theory on an assumption that is flawed, then your theory is similarly flawed.

The BHA apparently have Outlander on a mark of 168, just 3lb lower than Thistlecrack and 4lb higher than his Irish mark.  Leaving aside the fact that that looks high for now, and accepting that his Grand National mark then is 2lb lower than the mark that the BHA have for this Irish horse, it is just a 2lb reduction for the fact that he is at the top of the handicap. 

When Many Clouds won the Grand National in 2015, he raced off a mark of 160, 5lb lower than his true BHA mark.  His mark was compressed by 5lb.  So why the discrepancy?  Why is Outlander’s mark reduced by less than half the amount by which Many Clouds’ mark was reduced? 

And there is no Aintree factor here either, Outlander has never run over the Grand National course.  He has never even run at Aintree.  He will have clear top weight of 11st 10lb to carry if he runs.  No surprise, then, that Gordon Elliott and Michael and Eddie O’Leary say that he won’t.

Other end of the scale 

There are a couple of other anomalies at the other end of the scale.  Tiger Roll’s Grand National rating is 7lb higher than his Irish rating, Wounded Warrior’s is 3lb higher, Ucello Conti’s is also 3lb higher.

Maggio’s is 4lb higher. 

Maggio’s higher mark means that he is safely into the race, joint 31st in the list and therefore well in under the safety limit of 40.  However, if the Griffins’ horse had been allotted his Irish mark of 146 he would have been joint 53rd, and he still would have been long odds-on to get a run, but he would have had 4lb less to carry.  Last year, number 59 on the list at the same stage got into the race.  The year before, number 67 at this stage got a run.

A little bizarrely, Gallant Oscar has been given a Grand National rating of 143, 3lb lower (sic.) than his Irish mark.  That looks unusually lenient but, paradoxically, it is not a positive.  It leaves the Tony Martin/JP McManus horse down the list, joint 69th and odds-against to get a run.  If his Grand National mark was the same as his Irish mark, he would have been joint 53rd and odds-on to get a run.  If it had been 2lb or 3lb higher, like a lot of his compatriots, he would have been certain to get a run.

By contrast, Highland Lodge has been given a Grand National mark of 148, 8lb higher than his official BHA mark.  That leaves him joint 41st on the list and just about certain to get a run, as opposed to joint 75th, which he would have been if he had been allotted his BHA mark, and unlikely to get in.

It’s great for Jimmy Moffatt, fair play to him.  It must have been agonising to just miss out last year as he did.  However, Highland Lodge’s significantly inflated mark does not make much sense from a handicapping point of view. 

You can cite the Aintree factor all you like, you can point to the fact that Highland Lodge was last season’s Becher Chase winner and this season’s Becher Chase runner-up.  You can claim that it is worth 8lb. 

But, if that is the case, how come The Last Samuri, runner-up in last year’s Grand National and third in this season’s Becher Chase, is getting to race off a Grand National mark that is the same as his official BHA mark?  No inflation for the Aintree factor.  And how come Saint Are, an Aintree stalwart and second in the 2015 National, gets to race off his BHA mark of 147, which leaves him joint 47th on the list and almost certain to get a run? 

There are too many tweaks this year that do not make sense from a handicapping point of view, from a common sense point of view.  It is time to stop the tweaking in the Grand National, allow each horse race off his or her true handicap mark.  Leave the Grand National weights alone.  Seriously.  You can still have the launch party, but let them race off their official handicap ratings.

British Irish ratings 

We have been hearing for a long time now that the BHA keep their own Irish handicap ratings, and we heard during the week that six British handicappers spend an extra three hours each per week exclusively on Irish ratings.

So publish them.

Why not publish them, the BHA’s Irish ratings?  The BHA publishes British ratings every week, updated every week.  The Turf Club publish Irish ratings every week, updated every week.  So why does the BHA not publish their Irish ratings? 

Not only would that solve the ‘confusion’ that reigns when Irish horses are entered in big British handicaps but, in this age of openness and transparency, it is the correct thing to do.  It would mean that Irish trainers would not have to enter their horses in British handicaps in order to find out what mark they have in Britain. 

When British horses race in Ireland, they race off their British marks.  That’s how it is, that’s transparent.

Wrong to shorten River

Strange that Native River’s odds for the Cheltenham Gold Cup were shortened across the board on the back of his win in the Denman Chase at Newbury on Saturday. 

The thin blue that tells you during the Cheltenham preamble that some horse has won some race went all the way across the Oddschecker board.  The 6/1s and 5/1s dissolved, replaced by 9/2s and 4/1s and even 7/2s in a couple of places.

Native River is a high-class staying chaser who has a real chance of winning the Gold Cup.  He improved all the way through last season, his National Hunt Chase form is working out really well, he improved from that to win the Mildmay Chase at Aintree, and he has continued to progress this season, winning a Hennessy and a Welsh National.

However, the strength of his chance of winning the Gold Cup was not increased by Saturday’s performance.  He did all that you would have expected of him in the Denman Chase, but no more.

Bristol De Mai under-performed quite considerably.  Held up, Nigel Twiston-Davies’ horse was deliberate at his fences and he was out to his right on occasion.  He never got into any sort of rhythm and he was well beaten in the end.  It wasn’t his true running.

That left it up to Le Mercurey to mark Native River.  Le Mercurey is a good horse, but he is rated 17lb inferior to Native River, he was receiving just 1lb, and Native River beat him by just over three lengths.  Colin Tizzard’s horse put up a nice performance visually, but it was no more impressive than his previous two performances were, and the time was not especially good.  It was actually 1.7secs slower than the time that Final Nudge clocked in winning the novices’ handicap chase over the same course and distance later on the day.

Native River has a big chance of winning the Gold Cup, but it was no better on Saturday evening than it was on Saturday morning    

Disko dancing

There’s that Grade 1 blue cap again.


© The Irish Field, 18th February 2017