Ever since Andy Beyer and Howard Sartin’s speed theories were imported from the USA into Australian racing, a doting band of time and speed aficionados have chipped away at weight-based principles, debunking long held tenets and what they see as heresies in weight related issues.I thought I’d read it all on Internet discussion lists until I came across a claim that weight no longer makes any difference to a horse. As proof of this, adherents of the claim pointed out that:

(1) Most winning horses do so carrying more weight than their previous start rather than less.
(2) The spread of weights in handicaps is often a mere 4kg to 7kg.
(3) Horses often jump up in weight from one run to the next and improve their time, or speed.

So, what gives? Are they correct in claiming weight makes no difference?

Ever since the late and great Don Scott flamed time and speed believers as heretics with a chapter in Winning titled, Weight is Right: Weight is Always Right, the speed brigade have been sticking voodoo pins in effigies of weight-rating purists. Their arguments and evidence have improved but not the proof. Take each of the three points above:

Exhibit 1: Most winning horses do so carrying more weight than at their previous run. Scott pointed out a long time ago, as did Rem Plante in his famous Australasian Racegoers Guide, that this paradox is due to training effect. Improving horses are fit horses and the effect of training and fitness often enables horses to surmount many obstacles including the impost of more weight following a win.

It is not a coincidence that a horse with upward trending form has more weight to carry next start. If it is going through its classes extra weight doesn’t stop consecutive wins or a string of good performances.

A horse rising 2.5kg to 5kg from one race to the next does not drive weight raters to despair or belief it can’t win. In fact, early in a preparation a switch from a higher grade of race to lower one on the tail of a strong run (or a win) is a sure sign a horse can probably overcome the additional weight it will get for the class switch.

At the other end of the form patterns is the horse no longer showing an improving trend and possibly needing a spell. Its weights will be static from race to race or beginning to drop. Lack of condition is not offset by weight drops.

These horses are not going to lose because weight makes no difference but because their fitness is beginning to vary or decline.

Exhibit 2: The low spread of weights in handicaps. Now, 4kg to 7kg may appear to be a narrow weight range but does it support the time theorist’s claim that weight makes no difference?

The short answer is still “no” – class still tends to prevail. Trainers still nominate horses just to see what handicappers will allot them, and scratch and carry on at perceived unfair allocations accordingly.

They still use claiming apprentices to lighten the weight burden of better horses and seek out the protection of special conditions races, set weights or WFA races as horses tend to have signature weight carrying limits.

The spread of allocated weights may be narrow but seeking weight respite is always on. Mares and fillies are granted a uniform 2.5kg discount all year round under the WFA scale and its principle in handicapping. Trainers take advantage of it. They wouldn’t do this if weight was irrelevant. Weight does matter.

Even though 53kg and 54kg minimums are not unusual any longer, or topweights have not moved upwards in the same proportion as limit weights have risen, in essence Australia still runs a handicap system based primarily on weight.

We do not have the USA system of dirt surfaces and even narrower race weight spreads of 2kg to 3kg between all runners. The real spread of weights is usually obscured by policies of higher limit weights in Local Rules of Racing.

Exhibit 3: Horses often jump up in weight from one run to the next and improve their time, or speed. Does this support the claim that weight makes no difference? Like Exhibit 1, winning while carrying more weight, fit horses are also able to run faster as their fitness increases.
So long as track speed remains in the good-fast range, it is entirely likely that a fresh horse can carry increased weight and improve its times. This doesn’t mean weight is of no consequence. The greater the weight, the greater is the slowing effect still.

Improvement in times with increases in weight can be a bit misleading as it is difficult to know if all conditions were identical from run to run.

WEIGHT TRUTH

The passing of Don Scott and the onset of the Beyer-Sartin-Brohamer revolution have seen pace, speed and time claw their way to pre-eminence in form analysis, unfortunately.

Why unfortunately? Well, pace is a “relative scale” measure. Pace doesn’t use standard units like weight does. And speed is not much better off. Consider for example a 1200m race run in, say, 70.13s. For starters most horses don’t scrape the rail so runs for 1200m are actually about 1202m, minimum.

Then there are the times for real but unknown 1207m or 1210m runs which may appear as 70.32s or 70.45s for 1200m but which in reality could well be for anything upwards of 1202m. Only the most fastidious of time data gatherers will ever really know the true distance their individual runner time refers to.

But it isn’t even this type of rubbery figure that bugs time, because with good speed modelling software this type of difficulty can be accommodated. The real hassle for time is water absorbed in the track with non-uniform effect on the going...and gah-gah effects on speed and pace.

The beauty of weight-measured performance over time or speed-measured performance is that weight is independent and absolute. ABSOLUTE – a word that burns like a cross before time werewolves.

Absolute means unconditional, without external control, in and by itself, not relative or comparative, unqualified, self-existent and conceivable without relation to other things, etc.

On the other hand speed...has major dependency problems, especially on distance, weight, wind and track condition. The reason weight is such a valuable commodity as a measuring stick of performance, is its absolute and independent quality

Weight is a single, scalably uniform dimension variable. It can therefore act as a neutral reference point against which performances can be quantified, since its effects are entailed in, but not “dependent” on any other variable.

Put another way; with weight-based quantifying of a performance in a race, you have, or can get, a true zero origin scale for the performance, and, in standard units. This is infinitely superior to modelled processes that use relative units, which are dependent on other variables. Times may go up or down, the pace of a race and the speed of track may vary. Prizemoney may increase, but none of it changes what weight measures or its independence from other variables.

By Tony Acciano

PRACTICAL PUNTING - NOVEMBER 2004

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