Australian Horse Racing
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Ratings comparing Benchmark and Class 1 to 6 Events
As with everything, a rating based system built using your own ratings is only as good as your last winner and it is very easy to still miss the winner/placegetters even when the ratings are correct.
Such is modern racing.
Therefore ratings can only be used as a guide in assessing race form and contribute perhaps one fifth of the total picture. One of the major strengths of ratings is that the figures when done well can be considered to be part of the "facts" for a race, similar to other facts like weight carried, barrier draw, jockey, trainer, track and so on.
As a result, ratings in many races can act as a strong pointer to the likely winner/placegetters and often to that false favorite.
Some states restricted class racing consists of only ratings based events but many states like Queensland still run a hybrid system including class 1 to 6 races, no metropolitan wins and other variations just to make that overall mix a little more muddied.
Some locations have fewer quality horses to consistently run higher ratings based events and so the class 1 to 6 events prevail and this overall is very positive for the punter.
The mixture of systems makes for interesting and flexible racing. (The template from the last section allows for comparison of the various classes.)
The big problem for most punters is how to compare say a class 2 event run at Gatton on a Saturday and a BM 60 at Narromine on a Monday or more specifically which is the stronger event? And by how much?
Is a horse moving from a BM60 to a Class 2 up or down in class and if down in class how much extra weight is a fair increase or should there be a weight decrease?
This is the $64 question, to coin an old cliché. You can look at the template for the answer but that isn’t the answer you need. The answer is knowing which horses are advantaged the most, the least and which one is a strong winning/losing chance.
A number of people have requested a basic table comparing the two different racing systems and the following table attempts (but does not succeed completely) to compares the two.
A brief explanation.
Benchmark ratings are given in half kilogram increments and so ratings given in kilograms are half the benchmark rating figure. So a quality rating 68 event would have a base rating of 34 and so on. This is strictly speaking not an accurate assessment of the class of the race but as with anything in horse racing an approximation is about as close as you can get.
The ratings in the new ratings based system are based from the top down, that is the horse rating 68 in a 68 event will carry the top weight and weights will decrease by half a kilogram for each rating point decrease. Don Scott style ratings used by most are based on a base rating with the weight added to the base rating, bottom up, if you like.
So a Ratings 68 event will not have a base rating of 34 as this is the top rated runner and unless all the horses were rated at 68 clearly the base rating will be lower.
For this article a rating of 34 will be used for a ratings 68 event but as you can see there is already a compromise.
The table shows benchmark races and so the ratings based events would generally be 1 or 2 kg weaker. A complete re-think of how ratings are done is quite likely required but that is beyond the scope of this article and so the comparisons not the numbers are probably most important.
|Class 1||27||BM 50||25|
|Class 2||29||BM 55||28|
|Class 3||31||BM 60||30|
|Class 4||32||BM 65||33|
|Class 5||34||BM 70||35|
|Class 6||36||BM 75||38|
Variations (+-3kg maximum)
In some states a class 1 event can rate around a 30 rating with the other classes increasing by roughly 2kg but a equating with BM system, a slightly lower rating is probably more accurate. Often a lightly raced improving type uses a class 1 or 2 as a stepping stone and is simply a superior galloper. These ratings apply to less lightly raced horses.
Race Class Movements – Further Discussion
Some analysis of the table.
As already written, there are no definite answers in horse racing and there would be no more horse racing if there were.
Clearly a horse that wins a maiden event will have a much higher rating than a horse racing in a BM45 and in many locations a maiden winner will automatically jump to a rating of 63 which makes winning that next race a very tough assignment (and only possible for the very best maiden winners).
The ratings have to start somewhere and maiden races are the logical starting point.
BM45 events are perhaps the lowest grade of race available in the benchmark system (excluding class A, B, C and D events run in some locales and picnic events run in the warmer months) and although there is no real comparison between the two, a horse running unplaced in a weak maiden probably has around the same rating as an unplaced runner in a non-TAB BM45.
Horses racing in BM45 events may have won 10 or more races or never won a single race like those running in a maiden. The difference is maiden winners are often improving and nearly all the horses racing in a 3yo maiden for example that continue racing go on to win races.
BM45 competitors are way out of form or at the end of their career but still racing competitively but clearly weaker than the likes of Fidelia and more like Crafty Cruiser and panels short of Nature Strip.
These figures do not mirror the handicappers figures as for most locations a first starter is rated at 60 (a rating of 30kg) or more.
A first starter has to rate somewhere and in the case of Fidelia it was onwards and upwards; for the other two examples a more steady improvement was recorded (or in fact 60 was about the highest rating achieved).
The above table only rates a maiden event at 22 (some 8 kg lower than a first starter base rating). The 22 rating is for a fairly average maiden with stronger events graded perhaps up to 30 and this is probably low for some. More discussion on maidens further in this article.
Why such a low rating? Usually it’s about experience. It is amazing how often a maiden winner will seemingly rate so high winning almost like a champion but then move up in class and fail, often miserably.
In many cases, the failure is simply from lack of experience and the horse improves with racing. Sometimes a horse wins when everything goes right that one time and then perhaps races another 10 or 20 times before finally winning another race, like in the case of Rembetica as used in other examples who was successful in an early maiden victory but took many tries to win again.
Some horses quickly reach their full potential and progress no further. Some maiden runners finish second beaten a nose in a race and then race another 20 times without placing. The mare Mrs Bean, perhaps aptly named on her luck in running, is a great example of this frustrating result running a very close second on a heavy track after 9 starts and then racing another 10 times before winning a picnic maiden. Half of most provincial race cards consist of maiden races.
Many horses never win a race and from 5 maiden events of 10 runners there would be an incredible 45 horses still maidens after the day’s racing.
These base rating figures apply to beaten runners, that is horses finishing second and further back although in reality the figures apply more to the also rans. Black Caviar raced first run as a maiden and could have run in a country event, clearly her rating was way over a base figure of 22.
So a horse beaten in a maiden is around the same rating as a runner beaten in a BM45. There are of course many first class horses that run their first race in weak maiden and go on to future top class wins, e.g. the now retired Lonhspresso.
There are very few horses progressing at all from a BM45.
The next level up, Class 1 is around a BM50 to 55 level but again for beaten campaigners. The term progressive horse is often applied to a runner moving through the grades and a strong class 1 winner may move quickly to mid-week city grade or higher.
Some maiden gallopers race successfully in 58 class events in Victoria but most fail quite badly up in class.
Class 2 is arguably around a 60 rating level but again more often for beaten runners than the horses winning at class 2 level but in fact I would rate these races generally lower than 60 level.
The average class 2 winner will struggle to win again at the 60 - 65 level even though at times the horses in that race were rated higher than 60 class.
Class 3 and upwards become more difficult to grade against the benchmark figures with again many horses making progression through the various classes.
Certainly a horse racing in a BM65 can be considered to be around the same class or slightly higher than a class 3 galloper and given less weight could be considered, all other things, a reasonable chance.
The class 3 winner may be up to 65 class but generally a class 3 event is weaker than 65 class. Handicapping in benchmark and rating’s based races is based totally on the horse’s rating and the same applies in most class 1 to 6 events as well.
Some maiden events and other set weight events are handicapped differently and some open handicap events are weighted at the handicapper’s discretion.
Most races are handicapped according to each runner’s benchmark rating with benchmark figures having taken over almost completely in Australia.
So what is the big difference between a class 3 race and Benchmark 60 event? Basically experience. Many horses winning at class 3 level are lightly raced and have competed in most cases against perhaps maidens, class 1 and class 2 performers (these races generally consist of lesser quality performers).
As mentioned earlier, the weakest of Benchmark events, the BM45 can have horses with perhaps 10 previous victories. This type of horse although not competitive at higher levels is still a professional race horse and does a professional job in the process, at least for most of the race, perhaps fading in the latter stages.
Many races are won at the start, the inexperienced runner misses the kick, gets caught a little wide or is bustled and hustled a little more than required.
The more than capable Western Australian performer Marasco is a great example. He won 4 races in a row and was taking all before him until he stepped up to group 3 open company.
Arguably unlucky in the run Marasco was well beaten in this first tough event only to be victorious at the next run in an even stronger group 2 race.
That first run at higher class was enough to get him beaten but the experience was immeasurable with Marasco subsequently winning another hat trick of races at group level (40 starts for 16 wins, $1.7 million prizemoney is not too shabby).
So the step up in class – net result? The horse loses confidence, perhaps gets a little further back than expected. Losing sight of the lure in greyhound racing can beat a top greyhound and the same reasoning applies in horse racing. No clear running being perhaps the equivalent and that is what happened to Marasco in his first tough event.
All race class comments are general in nature. There is nothing stopping a first starter winning at the highest rating level or a seemingly top class runner back from group racing failing badly in the weakest maiden. Many horses can improve greatly with distance and it is not uncommon to find a horse increase in both distance, class and weight and still be successful.
The average staying ranks in Australia are of a much lesser standard than the average sprinter and so assuming a horse has some ability it can easily be well placed to win a number of distance events before finding its racing level. Modern day trainers have quality procedures to effectively place their charge to advantage and have additional features such as the horse’s weight to use as a further guide.
As they say, nothing in racing is certain, except more racing.
Some horses make progress during their campaign and return better and stronger each subsequent campaign until some peak level is reached and then either maintain or gradually level off at some lesser level.
Many are at their most vulnerable first up with the first up run usually indicative of improvement or otherwise as a result of a spell. Again, general comments. Some horses fail abysmally first up only to win brilliantly at a subsequent run.
The quality horse Spacecraft won a race in April 2014 after a very moderate first up run in an arguably weaker race. This was a great example of sticking with a horse over its best distance but there was more to its winning story.
Spacecraft always struggled in his early career over 1600m or longer but either way predicting the improvement from the first up run was nigh on impossible. The 60-1 odds reflected everyone’s opinion.
Followers of benchmark ratings in that race could have done quite well as although Spacecraft was not the top rated runner (Smokin' Joey and Dany The Fox were 102 top rated), Spacecraft on 94 was rated to carry 102 – 94 = 8 points or 4kg less than the top 2. With the claim, Spacecraft was carrying 7 kg less than the Joey and 5.5kg less than the Fox. He even received a 6kg advantage off Adamantium who ran second in the race so in hindsight, which is always 20/20, Spacecraft was a weight special.
Don Scott, the horse racing entrepreneur and racing expert would have no doubt been on Spacecraft and highlighted him in another book as a weight special, if he was to write another.
Race characteristics often work in the punters favor. Only a brave person would expect Spacecraft, a noted front runner, to lead the flying Adamantium who was stepping up in distance but clearly Adamantium was ridden colder that day to race competitively over the longer trip leaving Spacecraft to run his best out in front in style. Overall time 1:22.34 and a sectional of 34.45 they were fairly flying but similar times were run on the day in other races so the track was quick that day – in nearly every other race the swoopers were successful. So, the general comments at the start of this long paragraph apply but exceptions can be valuable.
Generally chasing exceptions will send you broke and as mentioned early, the winner in these open class events is often well hidden but can be found if you can “dig” deep enough into the form.
Leaving the open handicaps aside (and these have benchmark ratings as well), in most ratings based events there is a spread in ratings of around 9 points – this 9 points equates to 4.5 kg which on a dry track is about 3 lengths. There are a few extra “also rans” handicapped to carry the minimum touting only low ratings with female and age allowances altering the figures somewhat.
Each runner is handicapped off a top weight value and adjusted downwards for each reduction in benchmark rating. So assuming the ratings are correct, the field is handicapped to finish in a theoretical dead heat for perhaps the top half dozen or so runners with the rest trailing somewhere behind.
Barrier draw, more competent jockey, better track condition or distance, fitness edge or some other factor can give a number of runners an advantage and these are the changes to consider.
The top weighted runner carrying significantly more weight from a wide barrier with an inexperienced jockey over an inappropriate distance is almost certain to be defeated. The horse has the highest rating but still has the maximum weight. The benefit of its ability is negated by the handicap in the new system. A competent claiming apprentice is invaluable for many top weighted runners and this weight allowance can provide a winning advantage (remember Spacecraft).
The same logic regarding weights and ratings can be applied to the rest of the field and generally ignore the bottom unrated or lowly rated performers (there is the occasional runner way down in ratings taking out the event but again general rules are the key in this discussion).
So this typically leaves around 5 or 6 potential chances and of these, most winners are in the market - that is under $10. Considering all these basic features produces the likely three top chances of which some will perform quite strongly.
The new benchmark system with its resultant “evening out” of the field does however make the exotic combinations far more difficult to predict with luck in running often a major player.