The World Thoroughbred Rankings for the 2012 Flat Season are out, and no surprise that Frankel is on top of the pile. His rating of 140, which he achieved twice, in the Queen Ann at Royal Ascot, and also in the Juddmonte International at York, is the subject of some debate though. The debate mostly centers around the fact that, at the time he achieved it, his 140 rating was 1lb lower than Dancing Brave was awarded for winning the 1986 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. This however no longer stands, as after a recalibration of historic ratings Dancing Brave and many others have had their rating reduced, making Frankel the greatest horse since the ratings began. The full re – assessment document can be viewed by clicking the link and scrolling down to recalibration.
The main points are that due to a slippage in the ratings from 1991 onwards, horses rated before then are too high in comparison to nowadays. “In 1977 there was a total of 145 British, French and Irish 3 year olds and upwards rated at 120 and above. By 1992 this figure had reduced to 36 and in 2004 it reached a low of 18.” They conclude that “Between 1977 and 1998 a period of 21 years each of the means dropped by around 8lbs.”
I think the evidence that there was some slippage is indisputable so a more pertinent question might be why it happened. On this point the commission listed ten possible causes including “The International Handicappers became increasingly reluctant to accept the reliability of exceptional one off performances” and “Much easier travel coupled with an increase in valuable International races enabled connections of the better horses to avoid each other” I could list them all, but none of them strike me as very good reasons for such slippages, so I won’t bore you. Phil Smith head of handicapping at the BHA seemingly had a lot of input into the recalibration and he talks of changing handicapping methods as the reason behind the slippage.
What these methodology changes are I don’t know. Does he mean more sophisticated? Are the methods now better? Presumably that’s what he’s insinuating, since it was the previous ratings they downgraded, rather than upgraded recent ratings. Seems reasonable doesn’t it? My problem is I’m very dubious of Phil Smiths methods of handicapping. This is the guy who gave Kauto Star a rating of 193, seemingly basing it on the fact that a horse (Nacarat) who was beaten 40l and finished punch drunk, had run exactly to form. So if Nacarat stopped even quicker and got beat 50l would Kauto have been given 203? Another example of Phil’s basic approach to handicapping horses can be found in his blog talking about the rating he gave Frankel for the Juddmonte International. “My first task was to decide which of the beaten horses had run to his rating. If I chose Farhh on 122 then Frankel had run to an arithmetic 134 not taking into account the ease of his victory (more on that later). Farhh is an improver. He started the season winning the Thirsk Hunt Cup off a mark of 100. Was it therefore reasonable to assume that he had improved again to 124?”
Which horse should he pick to rate the race around, is a recurring theme when Phil explains his methods. Another problem I have with BHA rating methods is the pound per length scale they use. It seems to be about 1.6lb per length at 10 fur. I suggest this is far too little, and the 2.4lb per length that Bob Wilkins suggests in his interesting book Bioenergetics and Racehorse Ratings is a far better estimate. I’d even consider higher than that. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to prove it either. If the BHA scale was correct, then horses at the top of the weights wouldn’t win more often than those at the bottom. They do though. Quite a bit more. I’ll go into this in more detail in future articles.
Frankel was a joy to watch and the only pity is his connections only goal with him seemed to be to ensure he remained unbeaten. I heard a lot of ‘what has he got left to prove’ comments, which I think are ridiculous. He could have proved that he was capable of winning a July Cup and the Arc in the same season. I suspect he could, but what a joy it would have been to see him prove it. Ruling out the Arc weeks before the race was very negative. It wasn’t like asking Usain Bolt to win a Marathon, as some suggested, he’d have gone off at about 1/2 for crying out loud. As it turns out the heavy ground would probably have scuppered an Arc bid, as when he beat the best horse he ever faced, Cirrus Des Aigles in the Champion Stakes, he looked like that was as far as he wants on that ground Him running in the Arc may have seen the winner only coming 3rd though, as Orfevre would have likely had a target for longer.
Back to the rankings and the 119 Camelot achieved when winning the 2000 Guineas makes him the worst European Champion 3yo miler since the ratings began. Hardly surprising. The 3yo milers were a woeful bunch and apart from Camelot I can’t think of one I’d have made favourite to beat solid group 3 horse Famous Name over 8-10 fur. Actually I wouldn’t even have Camelot to short at 8 fur against him. Camelot then went on to achieve a 124 rating for beating a very average bunch of horses in the Epsom Derby before falling in, against a probably just listed class animal in the Irish Derby. Granted the ground was bottomless that day. You could argue that the first time Camelot beat a horse that could win an all aged group one, was in the Arc. It’s unlikely they ran to their best on the heavy ground that day though, and I see no evidence to suggest that Camelot is much, if any better than his 7th placed finish. He’s supposedly staying in training as a 4yo, but I find it hard to think he’s going to justify some of the more far fetched claims his trainer has made about his speed and ability. A win in the usually weak Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh, and the Coronation Cup at Epsom might be all he can manage.
Dawn Approach comes out top on Juvenile ratings, and to tell the truth he doesn’t do a lot for me. He’s workmanlike, and grinds out victories, which is admirable, but if he’s still the best next season it could be another poor crop of 3yo colts. For what its worth I though the best 2yo I seen was Richard Hannon’s Toronado. He’s also a fine looking animal who should train on well. It could be he ends up a 10 fur horse though, so whether he’d be a better bet for the Guineas or the Derby I’m not sure. As an aside, none of top 10 juveniles in the World Thoroughbred Rankings are from US, although Jamie Lynch of Timeform stated on RUK, that Timeform have 8 of the top 10 from the US. I know whose methods of handicapping that I’d place greater faith in.
Plug of the Day: I encourage anyone who doesn’t have an account, to sign up to Sky Bet who are offering a limited time offer, no deposit needed £10 free bet to new sign ups, and a £5 free bet every week till the end of the season if you place a £5 bet out of your own money each week.