13th August 2014

Jim McGrath, of Timeform and Channel 4 fame, calls it ‘sliderule handicapping’: moving horses a pound or two in either direction while, effectively, leaving them in the same grade. It works in the end, for most horses, as those going down will eventually drop into a class where they are competitive and, as we all know, the handicappers push them up much faster than they bring them down in an effort to make them jump up in class and stop them winning. But I have to wonder why it seems to be beyond the wit of man to come up with a better system.

In this week’s round of handicap changes, Busatto went down 1lb from 92 to 91 having run 9th beaten 12 lengths. What is the point? This change, in itself, cannot have a bearing on his chance of winning next time.

Cayjo also went down a whole 1lb for finishing 7th beaten a mammoth 66 lengths on his first start in a handicap and it isn’t as if there was some previous form to say that the rating of 50 is accurate as, on his only three starts, he has been beaten 14 lengths, 26 lengths and 37 lengths. Having said this, at a rating of 50, a further drop is immaterial as there is no lower grade to run in.

Outbacker is, perhaps, the best example of the subjectivity of handicapping amongst our horses this week. She went down 3lbs to 62 for finishing 5th of 8, beaten 7 lengths at Catterick. But she also went down 1lb to 72 on the All Weather. It makes sense that she should have two different ratings as her form is clearly better on the All Weather but I defy any handicapper to explain, in arithmetic terms, the two rating changes which resulted from this one run. In any event, neither change is likely to make a material difference to her chance of winning (something she has failed to do in her last 12 starts) as she has not been dropped in grade.

Even more ridiculous is the change made to the handicap rating for Travel. Her turf rating of 62 has remained constant but her All Weather rating was dropped 1lb this week to 78. She last ran on 2nd June and has retired.

Conversely, Fire Fighting was raised 5lbs for winning by a head, and surviving a stewards enquiry, with the six runner field all covered by five lengths.

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