This does come with an advance apology. Much of what follows may be somewhat technical (or, ‘higher grade’, as some may say), but I’ll try to keep it as accessible as possible. It’s not for nothing that I’ve used “mind games” in the title of this post!
On Monday last week, the field was published for the Woolavington Handicap, to be run over 2400m at Kenilworth:
|Deputy Ryder||4yo filly||58kg|
|Desert Swirl||5yo colt||58kg|
|Friendly Tibbs||5yo gelding||57.5kg|
|Parachute Man||4yo gelding||52kg|
|Forte de Ouro||4yo colt||52kg|
|A Time To Kill||5yo gelding||52kg|
|Private Doowaley||6yo colt||52kg|
A handicap is a race in which the horses carry weights – assigned by the handicapper – that will theoretically result in a dead heat. In other words, the weight is used to equalise the relative merit of the runners. However, the South African merit rating system, as used by the handicappers, is something of a blunt instrument, in that horses often end up with ratings so high that they are rendered uncompetitive at the weights they then have to carry.
On this basis, I immediately wrote off Zante and Deputy Ryder, both of which are good fillies, but nowhere near good enough to carry 61kg and 58kg against a decent field of colts.
With the exception of Ovidio, many of these horses met a month earlier, in the Settlers Trophy. I’ll go into the rationale shortly, but immediately upon seeing the Woolavington field, I sent Jono Snaith this message: “I think Ovidio is a big runner if he gets the extra 400m (assuming his 4.5 length beating of A Time to Kill is a fair reflection).” Like Arezzo, Ovidio is trained by Justin Snaith. My interest in all this comes about as a result of my tiny shareholding in Arezzo.
Jono was confident that he would get the distance. My doubts lay in the first two generations of Ovidio’s pedigree, which is loaded with horses who were best up to about a mile. However, his grandam was by Kenmare, a solid 2400m influence. Further stamina can be found in his third generation, but it needed to leapfrog the more immediate ancestors.
Before we get to the actual races that make up this analysis, a bit of background on handicapping. Weight has a drag effect, which is measurable – Newton’s Second Law in action. The conversion of weight to lengths beaten over different distances is not widely publicised. The work of Phil Bull, the founder of Timeform, is key to this, but given that he did his work without the benefit of computers, the conversion rates are in user-friendly round numbers, rather than pesky decimals.
Establishing the data for ‘lengths beaten’ is a minefield of its own, because of the different ways of calculating it. For the sake of this explanation, let’s just accept the data as recorded officially.
Timeform do not publish their pounds-per-length conversion. This is what the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) uses:
5 furlongs: 3lbs per length
6 furlongs: 2.5lbs per length
7f-8f: 2lbs per length
9-10f: 1.75lbs per length
11-13f: 1.5lbs per length
14f: 1.25lbs per length
15f+: 1lb per length
(one furlong is approximately 200m)
Locally, Charles Faull uses these conversions:
1000-1400m: 3lbs per length
1500-1900m: 2lbs per length
2000-2300m: 1.5lbs per length
2400m+: 1lb per length
If we use 2lbs per length at 1600m as the mid-point, then a mathematical suggestion is:
For an apparently scientific view on the same stuff (yielding a conversion of 2.26 pounds per length for a mile run at a pace that results in a time of 98 seconds), click here.
For the rest of the exercise, I’m going to use 1.4lbs per length for 2400m, and 1.75lbs per length for 1800m, which is a kind-of consensus between BHA and an Excel assisted extrapolation from 2lbs per length over 1600m.
Still with me? OK, let’s get into some form study, by looking at the last meeting beween Ovidio and A Time To Kill:
|4th||A Time to Kill||54kg||4.5 lengths||100|
To calculate relative merit, multiply the distance beaten by the pounds-per-length conversion, and then add/subtract the difference in weights (expressed in lbs). Relative merit can be equated to ‘merit rating’, but I haven’t used that terminology here because I’m working with a small group of horses, not the entire racing population.
The form of this race suggests that Ovidio is 13lbs better than A Time To Kill. My message to Jono Snaith was prompted by the difference in weights in the Woolavington, in which Ovidio carried just 3kg (6.6lbs) more than A Time To Kill, making him the better handicapped of the two.
|2nd||A Time To Kill||52kg||1.25||100|
|4th||Forte de Ouro||52kg||2.15||99|
To keep things simpler, I have rounded the decimals when calculating relative merit.
Right, so what did they do when they all raced against each other yesterday (I’ve carried Friendly Tibbs’ relative merit through, using him as the link horse here):
|6th||A Time To Kill||52kg||5.7||95|
The suggestion is that A Time To Kill ran a bit below best yesterday, as well as Ovidio (marginally), but the result more-or-less stacks up with what the horses had done against each other previously, adjusted for weight differences. Perhaps Ovidio isn’t quite as good over 2400m as he is over 1800m. Time will tell.
Arezzo’s jockey thought that he was disadvantaged by a slowish pace down the back straight, as well as losing a shoe, but he finished more-or-less where expected, relative to Friendly Tibbs.
Anyone looking at the result of this race without taking the weights into account would deduce that Zante did not do anything significant. She was, after all, unplaced, finishing nearly seven lengths behind the winner. Under handicap conditions she’s likely to struggle until her official merit rating is reduced. However, the J&B Reserve Stayers, on J&B Met day, is a conditions race in which she’ll carry 55.5kg. Under that weight she’ll be much more competitive.
I find that stayers’ races (e.g. 2400m+) are fairly reliable from a handicapping perspective, because the horses are generally mature, and are therefore not prone to the rapid improvement one sees in young horses.
The analysis I’ve laid out above may look complex, but the point is that analysis/logic is possible. And, even if you aren’t gambling, it adds an entirely different dimension to a day at the races.
I’ve left weight-for-age out of the above analysis, which takes into account the improvement a horse makes as it matures, expressed as a difference in weights carried between horses of different ages. This varies according to distance run and time of year. I’ll do a separate post about this soon.