A spot of myth-busting

09 Sep 15

In his latest blog, BHA Head of Handicapping Phil Smith explodes the myth of high rises for horses running well in non-handicap races, in particular Novices’ Chases.

The summer holidays are often called the silly season in politics. Perhaps it is the same in racing judging by some of the comments around the handicapping of horses recently, in particular in relation to the old myth that the handicappers can be “savage” when it comes to putting up horses for a seemingly improved run in a non-handicap race, especially Novices’ Chases, and that beating a couple of horses who run below par could result in a horse receiving a vastly inflated rating.

No statistics or data exist to support such an assertion, simply confidently written statements which the reader would naturally assume must be true.

I researched all of the non-handicap Chases that I dealt with last season, excluding Hunter Chases but clearly including all Novices’ Chases, Graduation Chases and Pattern Chases for older horses. Below is what I discovered:

Winners Seconds Thirds Fourth Fifths Others Total
Number Increased 27 9 3 3 0 1 43
Total Increase 172 34 7 11 0 1 225
Average Increase 6.4 3.8 2.3 3.7 0 1 5.2
Number Left 21 23 17 12 15 22 110
Number dropped 1 15 24 24 13 39 116
Total drop -5 -39 -92 -104 -55 -154 -449
Average drop -5 -2.6 -3.8 -4.3 -4.2 -3.9 -3.9
All 49 47 44 39 28 62 269
Total change 167 -5 -85 -93 -55 -153 -224
Average Change 3.4 -0.1 -1.9 -2.4 -2 -2.5 -0.8


So, to summarise:

  • 27 winners were raised an average of 6.4lbs
  • Only 9 out of 47 horses that finished second were raised at an average of 3.8lbs
  • Only 3 out of 44 horses that finished third were raised at an average of 2.3lbs each.
  • I raised three horses for finishing fourth an average of 3.7lbs.
    • Of these one won a Grade 2 on its next run.
    • One finished second in a handicap and went up another 4lbs but then won its next race, a handicap off 129.
  • IN TOTAL from the 49 races and 269 finishers
    • 43 were raised a total of 225lbs
    • 110 were left
    • 116 were dropped a total of 449lbs

So the reality is that out of 269 finishers in non-handicap Chases that I assessed last season just over 18% were raised. Only 6% were raised for not winning with an average rise of 3.5lbs. Perhaps I am biased but this hardly seems savage to me.

It is worth nothing that there is the world of difference between a “seemingly improved run” and an actual improved run. It is the skill of the BHA Handicapping team, many of whom have been assessing performances for over twenty years, to recognise the difference between the two.

My handicappers as a team are always prepared to discuss legitimate concerns or questions regarding handicapping and welcome contact from the appropriate individuals or bodies. However, perpetuating old myths as truth doesn’t help the sport as we all want more runners in non-handicap Chases. So please, before making controversial statements about savagely inflated ratings, do seek to contact us first to discuss your concerns, or provide some data to justify the claims.