Handicappers in class struggle

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 September, 2011, 12:00am


Nice to see one of our favourites from recent seasons out bright and early, with the so-called Class One contest at Happy Valley tonight.

It was always going to take something exceptional from the powers that be to muddy up a class rating system in Hong Kong which has always shone as a beacon of clarity through the fog that typifies classing racehorses in most jurisdictions. Class Two is below Class One but higher than Class Three, which is higher than Class Four and so on.

Since the Jockey Club started perverting the rating bands for races, that has frequently gone out the window and there isn't even a solid pattern to the perversion. A spanking here is a whip and chains collar somewhere else.

Extend the top of a Class Four to a 65 rating topweight and what often turns up is a Class Three, with most if not all of the runners huddled around the 60-65 ratings and reducing handicap events almost to terms conditions.

And then you have the twisted race descriptions that have a Class Four extended to a 65 rating still called a Class Four. A Class Three extended to a top rating of 85 is still called a Class Three. But extend the top of a Class Two from 100 to 105 and suddenly it is called a Class One. Which plays merry hell with the simplicity of the up-in-class, down-in-class arrows and indicators in the form guides, designed to make newcomers to racing comfortable with whether horses are rising or dropping in grade.

Tonight's Hong Kong Country Club Challenge Cup is a Class Two field - only one horse is outside the usual 100 upper rating band for Class Two, and only by one point, and the weights are therefore structured as a Class Two.

But you won't get that from looking at the official description of the race, which is actually based on the prize-money level (which is also why those International Sale races, which seem to have gone by the board, were listed as Class Ones when they were in fact Class Three races.)

To take something as clear and logical as Hong Kong's class system and start turning it into a dog's breakfast takes some doing, but there you have it.

And while we are on handicapping - or whatever passes for it - good luck to Ricky Yiu Poon-fai for being smart enough to take advantage of the anachronistic rules regarding the re-handicapping of Fortune Winner.

As he had originally been handicapped for Sunday's race off the 52 rating at entry time, he was only eligible to carry a seven-point penalty after winning at Happy Valley last Wednesday. That despite the fact his easy first-up win had earned him a 10-point rise in the ratings to 62 - last Thursday morning - and rendered him ineligible for Sunday's race in any other circumstances.

Had he been rated 55 last week, won narrowly and been raised to 60 on Thursday, he would have been ineligible for the 60-40 race on Sunday, despite still falling within the ratings band, for he still would have had a seven-point automatic penalty.

But then, it could easily have been a stretched 65-40 Class Four race and he gets in.

We know that particular loophole is not the work of the handicappers and is probably rooted in the mists of history but, in other jurisdictions, maidens which win between the time of entry and the race itself are no longer eligible to run in maiden races and forced to withdraw.

We know the handicapping staff is snowed under with, well, handicapping we suppose, but when they know three days before a race that a horse has become ineligible, isn't it time that something in the regulations was changed?