17th April 2016
When Byres Road ran at Doncaster (see yesterday’s Blethering), he finished last and I was asked if I could explain the poor performance. Yesterday, at Wolverhampton, Ordinal won by seven lengths and my travelling manager Calvin McCormack was asked to explain the apparent improvement in form.
This makes a bit more sense as, theoretically, an unscrupulous trainer could have sought to ensure that the horse did not run on its merits in its first three starts in order to obtain a low handicap rating.
Nonetheless, I told Calvin to tell the stewards (or more likely, his report would be passed via the stewards secretary) that we could not say that it was an improvement in form. That may seem a little ridiculous, especially as the Racing Post reported that ‘his opening mark is clearly not an accurate reflection of his ability’, but I think I can demonstrate that it is far from easy to say that Ordinal needed to improve to win this race. And it would certainly be unreasonable to expect Calvin to be able to properly assess the performance at the time.
Ordinal’s ten opponents had run a total of 71 times and had only achieved one win. That solitary win came from David’s Beauty (5th in this race) way back on the 15th July last year, in a Lingfield Claimer, and yesterday’s race was his tenth start since without winning. And David’s Beauty and Tombe Girl (9th) were the only two horses in the race to have reached the frame on their last outing.
In short, this was a very poor handicap contested, principally, by out-of-form maidens and it is arguable that, if I had run Ordinal in a similar grade of handicap but against horses with good recent form, the result might have been very different.
It will be very interesting to see how the handicapper assesses the performance. They work by choosing a marker horse that they perceive to have run to its best and then adjusting the others’ ratings, up or down, to reflect their finishing position relative to that horse. I wonder what horse they will choose here. None of Ordinal’s opponents have ever succeeded in winning a handicap which might arguably suggest that they are all over-rated rather than that Ordinal is massively under-rated.
So, I think I was right to tell Calvin to say that he could not say whether the performance was an improvement or not. He assures me that that is what he said but the official report states that “The Stewards held an enquiry to consider the apparent improvement in form of the winner, ORDINAL, ridden by Silvestre De Sousa and trained by Mark Johnston, which had never previously been placed. They interviewed the trainer’s representative who stated that the colt appreciated the drop into handicap company.”