They say “weight will stop a train” and it is fair to say that at some point it will. However, the most over-rated variable in thoroughbred racing simply has to be weights.
From trainers to owners, to commentators and punters, the cry is always “but he has 61kg” or whatever impost the handicapper has assessed the horse should carry.
Forget tipsters, professional punters and the like; some of the best judges in racing are the handicappers. There would be far more #1 saddlecloths hit the line first in racing around Australia than any other number. The reason is simple – under normal handicap racing conditions the top weight is the best credentialled horse in the race.
It is, though, important to note that the same may not be the case in weight-for-age racing, or set weight Plate races and the like, as the horse may be top weight in those races due to it being the oldest runner, and I don’t know about you, but I’m not getting any better at anything as I get older.
Handicappers have been a maligned species since the beginning of time. They are constantly publicly criticised by anyone from within the ranks of trainers, owners and the media, yet they generally get to have the last laugh, after the horse in question has done its talking out on the racetrack of dreams.
Many years ago, the now departed Clif Cary used to put out a publication called Racing Review to his paying client base. He would preach that weight will not single-handedly stop a horse up to and including six furlongs (1200m).
Anyone who took notice of him way back then has reaped a punting harvest over the years, as bookies like to lay the heavily weighted horses and punters try to steer around them with “that big weight”.
The end result more often than not is that the class horse asked to carry the big weight wins yet again, often at good odds – or at least far better odds than everyone thought it would be.
The classic case in point and still fresh in punters’ minds, was Takeover Target at Randwick in the Arrowfield Stud Sprint on December 1.
“He’s got 61kg first-up” they all screamed. What a lot of garbage from many uneducated people. The horse went for a bath in the betting on-course as punters steered away from him, but when they hit the line there he was with his melon in front.
He’d won again and everyone was saying what an unbelievable effort it was.
Sure he had 61kg, but realistically he was one of only two winning chances in the race, the other one being Dance Hero who kept him honest and ran second.
Similarly in Brisbane on the exact same day punters wanted to get on Natural Destiny in a Quality Handicap because he had a weight advantage of 1.5kg over an older horse called Mitanni.
Natural Destiny was backed off the map into $1.40 or 5-2 on in the old language of the odds. Mitanni nailed him on the line after $6 had been bet about him in what was really a two horse race.
Last Saturday (Dec 15), Mitanni and Natural Destiny regrouped and the smarties lined up to get their money back on Natural Destiny. This time he had a 2kg weight advantage over Mitanni.
Natural Destiny is again odds-on and Mitanni is $3.50 in the betting ring and longer ($3.80) on Unitab as all the Pubtab desperates launch into “the good thing Natural Destiny” as tipped by all the urgers.
Oops – all wrong again – as Mitanni wins again, but by much further than he did 14 days earlier.
Track records serve as the barometer of the fastest horse that has ever won at a given track, in often 100-odd years of racing at some of these tracks. Those same track records indicate how correct Clif Cary was with his prognostications all those years ago.
Take the sprinting track records at Brisbane’s Doomben track for instance. One horse, Star of Florida, holds two of the track records – over 1010m at 56.63 secs and over 1110m at 1.02.95 secs.
He didn’t have a problem carrying weight and breaking a track record to boot, as he had 61kg on 23/10/04, the day he broke the 1010m record, and that was after a 3kg claim for apprentice Bryce Dieckmann. The same horse also set a new national 800m record on 9/3/03 at Dalby of 43.87 with 58kg when Danny Craven had the sit.
At Doomben, Takeover Target holds the 1200m record. He set the new benchmark on December 10, 2005 when he ran 1.07.88 secs under the steadier of 59.5kg.
When he went to England later in his career (June 2006) he won at Royal Ascot humping 60kg and beat 27 rivals down the straight 1200m course.
Respected Queensland Racing Chief Handicapper Lester Grimmett recently told me he thought the highest weight he had ever given a horse in a metropolitan race in Brisbane during his long tenure in his occupation was when he allotted Doomben champion Chief De Beers 66.5kg in a Doomben Flying over 1200m on June 27, 1998 on a 52kg limit.
Chief De Beers was coming off a 14th of 20 to Toledo in the Stradbroke Handicap at Eagle Farm some 21 days earlier. A fresh faced heavyweight 3kg claiming apprentice from Toowoomba, Chris Maund, was given the ride, which reduced Chief De Beers weight to 63.5kg. The horse won by a long neck, vindicating Lester Grimmett’s great judgement in assessing weights.
So next time someone says to you “but he’s got a lot of weight” you can bet the weight won’t stop the horse from winning up to and including 1200m, because he has to be a classy horse in the first place to earn the weight he has been allotted in the opinion of the handicapper. These handicapper blokes don’t suddenly wake up filthy on the world and decide to give a horse trained by someone they don’t particularly like a few extra kilos.
There is another saying in racing that has been around since I was a kid . . . “when in doubt, back the top weight” and that saying was founded because if you were going to have a blind stab in a normal handicap race, the handicapper is telling you the top weight is the best horse in the race.
Clif Cary’s words today about ignoring weights up to and including 1200m are as true as when he first wrote them all those years ago, but I will bet you the first thing “they” all do when a good horse gets a big weight again is go “but he has got (such and such a weight) and weight stops trains”.
Well, in the history of locomotives, 60-odd kilos never stopped any train to my knowledge.
By Phil Purser
* Phil Purser runs the popular Just Racing website (www.justracing.com.au), plus associated websites for Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne racing.
PRACTICAL PUNTING – FEBRUARY 2008