On the Rails
with Alan Aitken
Maybe it was more random acts of inconsistency or perhaps the handicapper was punishing Rich Unicorn for his innocent part in Sacred Kingdom's defeat when he lifted Rich Unicorn's rating five points for running fifth in the Sprint Cup and earning HK$105,000 prize money on Sunday.
It was the usual slap in the face for the horse participating in a Group race of an unsuitable rating, and probably helping the Jockey Club out by helping to fill what would have been a miserably small field without him and the other 103-rated runner, Leading City.
We don't actually have a serious issue, most of the time, with these ratings hits for fourth and fifth in Group races when a horse is unsuited by the conditions.
You roll the dice running them, you take the consequences, which may be a nice slice of stake money or it might not, as in this case.
The intent of the re-handicap hoist is to address the form from the race when the runners meet in different circumstances at handicaps at some subsequent stage. After a wide run, Rich Unicorn was just under two lengths off the 108-rated Multiglory, who got an eight-point rise for the win, as he should for the HK$1.71 million that jumped in his kitty.
The proximity of third-placed Final Answer to horses rated much higher meant he was lifted three points to 111, which presumably led the handicapper to feel Rich Unicorn should be brought up closer to him and the others off higher ratings who finished just in front of him.
What we do have an issue with is the apparently arbitrary nature of the ratings hoists.
Leading City, knocked sideways at the start before running home to finish a half-length behind Rich Unicorn and within spitting distance of the winner, suffered no change to his rating. And if it's about squaring them up for next time, let's face it - Rich Unicorn and Leading City are probably more likely to meet at handicaps next time than Rich Unicorn and Sacred Kingdom.
The Sprint Cup was a moderately run and sub-par Group race, the tempo flattering the lower-rated horses who ran well. The handicapper might just as easily have taken that into account and left the ratings where they were.
Yet, later in the afternoon when Sapelli, rated 107, finished just over three lengths from Ambitious Dragon, in the thick of it with much higher-rated horses in what was a legitimate Group One race, he emerged unpunished and there was no attempt to bring him closer to the others.
One up, one down for John Size horses then, but that revision has relevance as it will get an immediate test at handicap conditions in the Queen Mother Memorial Cup this weekend, when Mighty High will meet Sapelli 15 pounds worse for the two and a bit lengths between them.
Or was it one up, two down for Size horses? When Mandarin was getting flogged earlier this season and was beaten a total of 443/4 lengths for four very well beaten runs since his win in May last year, his rating dropped a whole three points. But come out and win again on Sunday and up 12 was the handicapper's revised view.
No wonder people are confused, and some of them aren't the handicappers.