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Benchmark Handicapping in Australian Horse Racing

Part 2


By Paul Segar

Benchmark Handicapping System has matured nicely in Australian horse racing. Learn more about this horse racing system in this second article written by Paul Segar and brought to you by Pureform.

Contents

Introduction

The System at Work – NATURE STRIP, FIDELIA and CRAFTY CRUISER

Rating Based Templates

Ratings comparing Benchmark and Class 1 to 6 Events

Race Class Movements – Further Discussion

Maidens

The Racing Challenge

Introduction

The benchmark system of handicapping racehorses in Australia has been in play now for some time and has matured quite nicely with most horses handicapped according to their ability and graded with a benchmark rating. Although some horses are badly handicapped at times, e.g. maiden winners moving up in class, the system overall works quite well.

Most runners are rated according to their first win or runs in non-maiden higher classes with this initial rating adjusting after every performance. Ratings movements both up and down are based on performance, or lack thereof. A horse that wins a race and receives a 62 rating then runs unplaced at its next few runs might drop a point and then another point for each subsequent unplaced run. If the same or another horse wins its rating might jump up by 3 points. The rating will either continue to climb for the improving type or level off after a series of runs. This is of course why two and three year old races are tricky events. Many young horses rapidly improve resulting in a massive rating increase especially with increased distance catching both the handicapper and unaware punter alike.

There are a multitude of different race classes with horses in events varying from maidens to open handicaps, from non-TAB benchmark 45s’s to benchmark 90’s, from a class 2 to the top weight for age champions and more. The good and bad of the system is money can be made, and lost, on each and every event. The best of good things can be found in that major carnival or in the year’s worst race with that alternate and often wagered result leaving little more than worthless tickets or a series of online receipts. Simply following benchmark ratings will not produce any huge success but a better understanding of these ratings is one part of a multi-pronged approach in gaining an edge in Australian horse racing.

The system is quite broad and rates horses across Australia using the same basic approach with focus on many aspects of the new benchmark system producing concepts and misconceptions a plenty. That’s what makes racing that fickle love hate affair that is hard to live with, and you can’t back every horse in a race and make a profit!! I think the late Don Scott did brag of doing that in one of his books. The keen modern day operator charged with todays’ technology can quite easily organise a small profit in many events but this is not the aim of the average punter.

The benchmark system produces banded horse racing with ratings in the 60-80 range perhaps the best for consistent racing and predictable racing results. Higher benchmark races for provincial, country and mid-week city racing are effectively the old open handicaps with a little bonus of some additional basic class information. So a BM72 race is in theory of a lesser quality than a BM78 event and so on. Previously these events would all be classed as open handicaps or some other variation, Flying handicap was used quite often for short distance race events. Since these "open" handicap horses have all worked their way up through the grades and as a result have been carefully graded, the standout wager is often well hidden or in many cases, completely hidden. The standout wager in those lesser style open handicap events of yesteryear was likewise well hidden.

The list of performers in a BM 78 race gives an idea about the quality of the gallopers and for many races the benchmark figures are included in the formguide; generally horses entered will be around the 78 grade and weighted using the sliding scale as disussed previously.  A R 0-78 event may consist of horses of lesser quality than the maximum grade of 78 but certainly no horse entered in that race will be of higher grading than 78 standard. So generally a benchmark race will be of a higher standard than the equivalent ratings based race. So a R0-89 race will most likely be of a lesser quality than a BM89 event.  As with anything in racing, any generalization is limited and all you can hope for is something that frequently works. So rule number 1 is horses moving from a benchmark event to a rating based event of the same level are generally down in class. Weight movements will often indicate if a horse is up or down in class. A non-winning runner moving up in weight is usually down in class. Assessing a winning performer is a little harder as a win usually results in a weight penalty quite apart from any class movement.

 

The System at Work – NATURE STRIP, FIDELIA and CRAFTY CRUISER

Here are a few examples of horses that have improved significantly through the benchmark rating system and as such make the system difficult to interpret along with an old-timer who has been racing well within this racing system.


NATURE STRIP

Nature Strip at the time of writing seems to have been around forever but as a five-year-old gelding has only had 18 starts for a rather impressive 11 wins. He is one of those out and out sprinters best suited over around 1000 m, preferably on a track with a little bit of give.

This horse is one of those classic examples of the benchmark system not exactly keeping up and starting with a maiden win at Mornington where effectively its benchmark rating was 0 he moved very quickly to 63, then 66, 71, 77 and finally 84.

Now the horse just didn’t improve 20 odd benchmark points or 10 kg. The horses was already that good when it started. This is of course a reason why benchmark ratings aren’t terribly effective in places like the hallowed turf of metropolitan Sydney. The horses there are lightly raced steeds that are rapidly  improving and so like Nature Strip the Sydney and other metropolitan track horses can improve maybe 10 or even 20 benchmark points. For Nature Strip, in a period of just 8 months.

Many horses simply peek out and don’t continue to improve, so the 84 rating for Nature Strip was pretty good. In the subsequent next 5 starts or so the horse moved from 84 to 105. He then took a few more runs but at the time of writing has a benchmark rating of 113.

As anyone can probably see, Nature Strip  has moved from a rating of 63 after the first win to 113 improving some 50 benchmark points or in weight terms, 25 kg.

FIDELIA

FIDELIA has improved significantly over the time of its racing and is another example of where the benchmark figures are of lesser value.

Taking a look at the image from the Ratings Calculator with Benchmark figures:

FIDELIA


FIDELIA over her recent racing ran first up at Caulfield in April 2019 then went about winning 4 races all around the benchmark ratings between 60 to 70 ratings and in fact the last win was in a 69 level race.

Back from a spell in August 2019 she is now running in 100, 97 and 98 level events, admittedly without winning. So basically the horses improved not quite 30 benchmark points or 15 kg from April to August. Clearly the horse didn’t improve that much, it was always that good but the benchmark figures clearly did not keep up with the horse.

At the other end of the scale there are many three-year-old’s and older that show promise but do not progress beyond 70 benchmark rating race. For this type of horse, the benchmark figures are a great guide to their chances in some races.



CRAFTY CRUISER

As if we could forget the old stager CRAFTY CRUISER who in his last year of racing in 2019 is a great example of the benchmark system in action.

Just about anybody having had a bet on the in Victorian races would have at some stage run across the old stage,

Crafty Cruiser. The horse now rising 12-year-old is due to retire at the end of this season has had 155 starts for 13 wins and almost 60 places and prizemoney of a tick over $1 million.

Crafty as everyone knows is a stayer who took six runs to win his first race and from that race received a rating of 58. He pretty much stayed on the rating for about another 10 gallops before winning a couple of distance races at Sandown, rating up to 70.

This took the best part of 20 starts to get to the 70 rating so compared with Nature Strip Crafty was not the star but certainly a very game individual. He worked his way up through the ratings and made it to a top rating of 99. Not too bad at all.

That was a few years ago. As of writing Crafty just ran a placing at Mornington where his rating is now back to 57. So the rating system has had him move from his first rating of 58 all the way up to 99 then all the way back again to find more suitable races, admittedly he hasn’t won since April 2018.


Rating Based Templates

There are many templates produced by the various handicappers showing the relationships between the different classes but some have only ratings based figures. Queensland still runs both benchmark and the class 1 – 6 system simultaneously and use a template as shown at the Queensland Ratings Based Handicapping Template 

This is a very useful template and shows the relationship between the various classes. Basically they have a nominal 1.5 kg (3 benchmark points) increase as a horse moves from class 1 to 6 with the other classes melded somewhere in between. A BM75 is rated as being 2 kg stronger than a class 6 with a class 6 city Saturday event rating 2kg stronger than the midweek equivalent and a No Metro Win being 1.5 kg weaker, a One Metro Win event being 1 kg weaker and a Two Metro Win event being 1 kg stronger. This event is then still rated 2.5 kg weaker than a BM95 and 4kg weaker than an open handicap.  

Confused? Take a look at the template for a better understanding of the figures but be prepared for some serious study. Download the template and take a closer look if interested. It is probably more useful to the potential horse trainer weighing up placement options than for a punter making class change calculations.

Ratings comparing Benchmark and Class 1 to 6 Events



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