So now we know. Frankel is, as many thought, the greatest thoroughbred we’ve ever seen. Well, at least since 1977. Possibly before, we’re not quite sure. Oh, and not including American horses. Or rather, including American horses since 1995. Confused? You’re not the only one.
The decision of the World Thoroughbred Rankings panel to proclaim Frankel as the best racehorse we’ve seen for 35 years is not in itself surprising, yet the method they used to get him to the number one spot – by keeping him on his old rating and downgrading a host of past champions, including former table-topper Dancing Brave – leaves a somewhat unpleasant taste.
Not only that, but it begs the question: once you agree to start to re-classifying horses, where do you stop? When will the next ‘recalibration’ take place? What if we see a racehorse who wins everything Frankel did plus the Derby to boot? Do we then conduct another review of the ratings and amend as necessary, leaving a completely different top ten?
What we could be left with is Flat racing’s ‘Pick of the Pops’ – brand new at three is Peintre Celebre, sliding two places to seven is El Gran Senor where he’s joined by riser Suave Dancer – which is surely not ‘alright’ and an unsatisfactory outcome for anyone who loves this sport.
What we could be left with is Flat racing’s ‘Pick of the Pops’
In truth, racing probably has more urgent matters clogging up its in-tray than arguing over which horse is better than another horse, yet it is one of those issues that we all have an opinion on.
There was an added poignancy to the rankings as some of the turf heroes in the spotlight have only recently passed away, including Generous, winner of the Derby, Irish Derby and King George in 1991. His old rating of 137 put him joint sixth in the list of top-rated performers, however, under his new mark of 136, he’s now placed fourth alongside Sea The Stars and Shergar. Make of that what you will.
Generous, sadly, features in our horse obituaries on our new look ‘Changes’ pages, alongside former stablemate Ibn Bey, Selkirk, Dublin Flyer and Trapper John. We all have our own favourites that we’ve enjoyed over the years and, personally, those names feature in some of my earliest memories of watching racing.
Returning to the subject of handicapping and trainer Emma Lavelle, this month’s ‘Talking To’, confirms that ratings aren’t just a controversial issue on the level.
The Hampshire handler, who enjoyed a golden Saturday before Christmas with four winners on the same day, tells Tim Richards about her frustration with the present system.
“I sit in my office trying to fathom why someone’s horse has gone up 5lb when mine’s gone up 10lb,” she says.
“The whole novice chase system is not right. What is incredibly frustrating is if you have a horse on 126 over hurdles you can’t run it in anything other than a 0-140 or an open novice chase; if they’re conditions races your horse can be so wrong at the weights. Why can’t the handicapper drop it to 125 and let it in the banding below?
“I’d try to work out a better system as I don’t think there is any logic in the way it is done. A complete review of the handicapping system is badly needed.”
So there you have it, Mr Handicapper: if you want to do something more useful with your time, please turn your attention to the jumps. You could even look at reassessing the ratings of Arkle, Best Mate and Kauto Star if you fancy it. Or maybe not.
With the issue of ratings so prevalent in this issue, it would be wrong not to acknowledge the news that Barney Curley, a man who knew a fair bit about the merits of the handicapping system, is to retire from the training ranks. Curley will now devote more of his time to his Direct Aid for Africa charity and TOB would like to wish him all the best for the future.