Responding to recent public comments regarding the handicapping of the Randox Health Grand National, Phil Smith, Head of Handicapping for the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), said:
“Far from making it up as I go along, my approach to the Grand National weights has been consistent for the past 18 years.
“My objective this year – and in every previous year when I have set marks the Grand National – has been to compress the weights for the top-rated horses based on their official BHA rating. My aim is simply to encourage the best horses to compete in the world’s greatest jumps race, while making sure the race remains competitive and fair.
“This year has been no different in terms of my approach or in the level of compression. Last year there was a 2lbs compression for horses at the top of the weights apart from Many Clouds (who only got 1lb). This year that compression is exactly the same.
“For example, Don Poli was agreed on 165 in the Anglo-Irish Jumps Classification in May. He has since been 2nd in the Lexus and 3rd in the Irish Gold Cup and was due to run off 163. A 2lbs reduction seems more than fair. Last year he was due to run off 164 and carry 11st 9lbs. Since then he has been placed in five Grade 1’s and is now due to run off 163 and carry 11st 7lbs.
“We have maintained our own set of marks at the BHA for Irish-trained horses for 15 years. In total, my team spend around 18 hours a week keeping these up-to-date. The reason we do this is consistency and fairness. It means that whether a horse is trained in Britain or Ireland, it is the same people using the same handicapping system that sets its mark when it races in Britain.
“We do this because we want our handicaps to be as competitive and fair as possible. And it is no reflection on the competence or accuracy of the handicappers in Ireland. The Racing Post keeps their own ratings, they’re often different from ours. Timeform are often different from ours. Ireland are different from ours. It doesn’t mean they’re right or they’re wrong. What’s important is that you’re consistent with yourself.
“The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Over the last eight seasons, in all handicaps in Britain, 11 per cent is the Irish strike-rate and ten per cent is the UK strike-rate. I’ve no problem with it being higher, the Irish wouldn’t send one over to run out of the handicap with no chance, for instance, but it’s amazing that we’ve been able to keep it consistent for so long.
“The statistics for the Grand National also bear this out. Since 1999, there have been 11 British-trained winners from 530 runners at a strike rate of 2.1%, and 7 Irish-trained winners from 163 runners at a strike rate of 4.3%.
“I think it’s better to look at placed horses due to the larger and more statistically-reliable sample involved. Since 1999, 49 British-trained horses were placed from 530 runners, a rate of 9.2% , compared with 23 Irish-trained horses that were placed from 163 runners, a rate of 14.1%
“There is no evidence that the BHA system is biased against Irish-trained horses. In fact, it’s remarkably consistent and indeed fair, as these figures demonstrate.”