Hand­i­caps and har­mony?

Irish Examiner - Racing - - CHELTENHAM PREVIEW 2017 - – Daragh O Conchuir

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.

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