Handicaps and harmony?
Q: What’s all this skulduggery with the British handicapper nailing Irish horses?
>> A: Skulduggery is a bit strong but Phil Smith (below) has made it clear that he is taking action to reduce the number of Irish winners in handicaps across the water.
Q: That’s skulduggery! What the hell is handicapping anyway?
>> A: Every horse is given a rating in accordance with its form. In theory, if every horse carries weight in a race in accordance to its rating, they would all cross the line level. Those ratings are updated and published on a weekly basis.
Q: So what’s the problem?
>> A: Just the fact that Brits are going out of their way to stop the Irish horses from winning and in the process, even though they deny it, are calling into question in a very public fashion, the ratings of their Irish counterparts.
Q: Maybe the Irish were winning because they were just better?
>> A: It’s the most likely explanation. Smith says that 11% of Irish horses running in British handicaps win, while the figure for British horses in 10%. He is proud that he has gotten the Irish figure down from what he labelled “a disproportionately high success rate” of 18%. The problem is that the statistics are contrived, the original ones do not allow for the fact that quality of Irish raider was always going to be high, being sent on a cross-channel mission. The best trainers send the best horses for the best races. Analyst Donn McClean has pointed out British-based trainers Neil Mulholland (18%), Tom George (16%), Dan Skelton (16%), Philip Hobbs (15%), Jonjo O’Neill (14%), Nicky Henderson (14%) and Paul Nicholls (14%) all have a far greater success rate with their handicap runners than the collective from these shores. So is Smith planning a new table for their horses?
Q: I’m asking the questions here. Give us examples of what’s been going on.
>> A: The highest-profile case has surrounded the rating of Gigginstown House Stud horses Outlander, Empire Of Dirt and especially Don Poli for the Aintree Grand National. Again, it boils down
to interpretation but when you take into account that the British have adopted a policy recently of constricting the weights at the top to encourage the best horses to take their place at a marginal advantage in the National, the decision to give Don Poli in particular more weight on the basis of his runs this year, was surprising.
Q: What happened?
>> A: Michael O’Leary went postal and withdrew the three horses. This wasn’t the worst case though. Look at Rashaan, who was given a rating of 139 in Ireland but when entered for the Betfair Hurdle, was landed with a whopping 15lbs hike. It was staggering, almost placing the gelding in Champion Hurdle class. He missed thatintendedengagementand won’t be in Cheltenham either.
Then there’s The Crafty Butcher, whose Irish rating of 135 would have been sufficient to earn him a place in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase. The British have decided he is a 132 though and that makes him ineligible. Q: Ah that’s just bitter. Why do they enter the horses though when they know how they’ve been rated so badly? >> A: There’s the rub. Not only do the Brits have they their own ratings for Irish horses, unlike normal ratings, they don’t publish them. So you don’t know until you’ve ponied up the entry fee.
Q : Is there any shred of light for the Irish?
>> A: Yes, actually. Another Gigginstown horse Tombstone was going to be supplemented for the Champion Hurdle until getting a 152 rating from the Brits. Was it an olive branch to the O’Learys? Who knows but it means the horse will now run in a much lower-class contest at Cheltenham. If he wins, the press huddle is the place to be.