In the final part of his two-part special feature, leading Queensland ratings expert George Tafe talks about times, handicapping, fitness and distance.

Many are the arguments about weight and times in racing. The weight that a horse carries is not solely the weight of the jockey, because a horse will carry more, or less, weight in itself from run to run, depending on how fit the horse is, and on how much weight it is actually carrying.

If one is to seriously consider weight as being the SOLE method of bringing horses together, then logically one should weigh both the horse and the jockey together from run to run.

I am not saying that weight does not have an effect; of course it does. But there are many other factors to consider, such as the Class (or quality) of the opposition, the race distance, degree of fitness, jockey ability, barrier position and track bias.

Now to times. I don't know how much reliance the Official Handicapper places on times. Probably, he does not put as much importance on time as I do, but I never claim that time is my basic tool - It is ONE of my tools and I use it primarily to get a first approximation of a horse's ability on the day.

I have stated in the past that 'time and distance are the only absolutes' and that, I believe, is self-evident. The horse races over a set distance in a certain time. This is definitely an absolute. That's measured distance in measured time. Everything else is relative-the going, the weight carried, speed and direction of the wind, fitness and barrier position.

I know that time is difficult to use in classing a race but so is any other method of race classification. My basic contention is that on a fast to dead track, time is a good tool to use in gaining a first approximation of the quality of a horse's performance in a particular race on a particular day, especially when it is compared with the time of all the other races.

I will agree that on slow to heavy tracks, and in slowly run races, time can be worse than useless-in fact, it can be downright misleading. However, when used judiciously it can be a great help. Time handicapping used by itself is poor fare indeed. Time cannot be used in a simplistic manner, relying on 'raw speed' alone without taking other factors into account.

Form and fitness are among those other factors. Let's look at a consistent horse as regard its ratings and I refer to My Blue Kingdom. From its first recorded win on 13/12/86 at no time has its ratings varied by more than four lengths from its peak to its low. If you allow for the fact that two of its runs were 'first-up' and that possibly it was not fully fit for those races, the variation of ability, as assessed in my class ratings, was not more than 2.5 lengths.

There is not, and cannot be, a definitive figure which expresses a horse's ability over all distances and all stages of preparedness. Ability rises and falls with fitness, age, distance and weight.

My ratings are an attempt to measure how well a horse performed on a particular day. They are not a guarantee that the horse will perform the same at its next start. In fact, experience tells us that it is highly improbable that the horse will perform exactly the same at its next start.

The ratings, then, are an honest attempt to measure quality on the day. To expect machine-like perfection is only nonsense. Handicapping and the classing of races is not a science, but an art.

Now, I am going to stick my neck out and make a statement which I cannot prove.

I refer to the Weight-For-Age scale. It may be of some use in comparing horses of like fitness and ability when the horses under scrutiny are in suitable races-BUT many people talk about this piece of lore as if it were a demonstrable scientific fact.

But the WFA scale is not a scientific fact. It is an attempt to assess the differences in ability between good horses of different ages. From this serious attempt to handicap has come much that is useful-but equally, there has come the greatest amount of drivel and misconception one can imagine.

I believe the WFA scale is as useful to race handicapping as astrology is to astronomy. Now, weight is important but it's not the be-all and end-all of horse racing handicapping. I use weight in some of my calculations but I do not use weight as an excuse for attempting to assess logically the rise and fall of the ability of a racehorse from one race to the next.

Summing up, then, my class ratings are a combination of weight, speed, time, class, fitness and distance ability-and anything else that might appear to be useful in assessing a horse's chance on the day. Sometimes, old-fashioned instinct is used in an attempt to understand that which is not always fully understood.

If something fails on one day I will ask myself what went wrong. Did I foul up? Did somebody else foul up? Was the horse hooked? Was the horse doped? Is the trainer mixed up with SP sources? Was the going suitable? Was the distance suitable? Did the jockey try or did he simply misjudge the pace of the race? Were the odds right? Was the horse just in for a training run?

I could go on all day. There is only one way to win a race, but there are many ways to lose.

Click here to read Part 1.


By George Tafe