Ranking system flaw costs Zarkava top spot in world charts

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 January, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 January, 2009, 12:00am

Did you read anywhere that Europe's unbeaten superstar filly Zarkava was the best horse on the planet in the World Thoroughbred Rankings? No? How could you possibly have missed that?

The answer is that you missed it with the help of the handicappers, who as a matter of policy list fillies and mares on their bare rating, without the female's allowance. They become the token females, who face the almost impossible task of being recognised as champions because they are 'handicapped' by three pounds in the official rankings.

In giving Curlin and New Approach the joint 'best in the world' status on a lofty mark of 130, Zarkava gets rudely and inappropriately ignored. Because on the handicappers' own figures, by giving Zarkava a mark of 128, they are saying that if she met Curlin and New Approach at weight-for-age, she would beat them.

And surely, if you can beat the 'champions' at weight-for-age, does that not make you the real champion?

The age and sex allowances at weight-for-age are nearly as old as racing itself. When Europe's best do battle in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in early October each year, the fillies receive three pounds from the colts.

And if a filly wins the race narrowly at the expense of a colt, you never hear anyone say, 'Well, he was actually the winner on merit, she only won because of the weight allowance'. The winner is the winner - racing's always been a game that pays on the numbers.

When Sunline nosed out Fairy King Prawn in that epic Hong Kong Mile in 2000, Sunline is rightfully remembered as the winner, even though she had the female weight allowance that technically made Fairy King Prawn the higher-rating performer. But she won the race, not Fairy King Prawn.

So isn't it about time the handicappers delivered their assessments in a real-world way, that accurately reflects their view and enables mere mortals to understand it?

And their view - regardless of what the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities' press releases might say - is that the Aga Khan's famous filly Zarkava would be beating Curlin and New Approach under weight-for-age conditions and was therefore the best racehorse in the world for last year.