In this article, our senior contributor E.J. Minnis continues his series of "questions and answers" in which he replies to queries sent in by PPM readers. We intend making this series a regular feature in PPM. Please send any questions to: The Editor, PPM, PO Box 551, Dee Why, NSW 2099.

Why is it that Platinum Scissors beats Soprana by a short neck and yet the next time they meet Soprano has an additional 3.5kg advantage and, on a similar theme, Northerly beats Dash For Cash by a half neck and the next time they meet Dash For Cash has an additional 4.5kg advantage. In both cases the two horses significantly worse off at the weights won again, please explain? asks Helen Rudwick of North Sydney.

As the stats show, when it comes to good horses they can defy weight, even significant weight changes. This occurred in both instances you mention above.

Most of us know how good a horse Northerly is and he added to that with his fine win in the Caulfield Cup where he beat Dash For Cash by over 15 lengths.

Gai Waterhouse went on record the day after Platinum Scissors beat Soprana home by 3.5 lengths in the Norman Robinson Stakes, stating that it was the best horse she has ever trained.

As part of my own form analysis, I use a self-developed software program that uses weight in a different manner to most other handicapping programs.

The higher the weight, the bigger the rating - it actually rewards additional weight by treating it as a factor of class and that's the way I like it, with the results over a period of a number of years proving the successful nature of this approach.

When developing the program, weight was one of a number of factors that I researched, finding a weight increase a far more positive factor than a weight decrease, as the following statistics, which are based on hundreds of thousands of individual horses' runs, show:

Horses dropping weight by 3.5kg or more: 6.2 per cent strike rate.

Horses dropping between 0.5kg and 3kg: 7.4 per cent strike rate.

Horses carrying the same weight: 7.8 per cent strike rate.

Horses rising in weight between 0.5kg and 3kg: 11 per cent strike rate.

Horses rising in weight by 3.5kg or more: 13.9 per cent strike rate.

These statistics clearly indicate that the higher the weight differential between one run and the next, the more positive a form factor it is, with those carrying 3.5kg or more having over twice the strike rate of those who are going down in weight by the same margins.

The reasons for this are quite obvious inasmuch as those going down in weight will be, in the majority of cases, going up in class, with the bigger the drop in weight meaning the bigger the class rise.

Conversely, the opposite is the truth with those horses rising in weight, as they will be doing so because of either dropping in class or receiving a handicapper's penalty for having winning form, or a combination of both.

Usually those staying within a half kilogram of their previous weight are doing so because they are racing again in a similar class having not overly impressed at their previous start.

As a general rule, don't be frightened off by a horse rising sharply in weight, unless it is too early in its preparation, or it is running at a distance that it has not raced at before, or on unsuitable track conditions.

A good guide is to took back on its previous formlines and see if there is any evidence of its weight-carrying and distance ability.

In the case of Northerly, it was rising to a distance it had never raced at before but it had won on no less than eleven previous occasions carrying the same or more weight than it had to carry in winning the Caulfield Cup.

And it was Northerly, one of the best horses, if not the best, racing in Australia!

Paul Guidara from East Melbourne asks: just wondering if you could help me out – how much does a horse improve in kilograms or lengths after coming back from a spell and does this figure vary with age groups - is there
any rule of thumb?

There are no hard and fast rules on this type of issue. If we are considering mature horses, four-, five- or six-year-olds, then consideration should be given to what they have done at their last one or two preparations – paying attention to best distance range and possible trainer intention. With aged horses, those seven years or older, then there is not likely to be any improvement (applies to six-year-olds to a slightly lesser degree). What you see is
generally what you get.

The most improvement is likely to be with the younger brigade, two and three-year-olds and lightly raced four-year-olds. The problem is that some horses will improve to a far greater degree than others, and others to a lesser degree.

Look for signs of what the horse has done at previous preparations, such as who has it raced against and at what level, i.e. as a two-year-old a horse raced in good company at Group level but was not quite up to the task (either indicating that connections thought that the horse had some ability or that the connections were just too optimistic in their opinions - usually the better stables like Hawkes, Freedman, Connors, etc. will run their horses in what they
consider to be winnable races at Group level and the optimists tend to be the lesser trainers and owners).

If it resumes at a lower level, a marked improvement may be forthcoming.

As a guide, the best tool to use is the WFA scale, i.e. a three-year-old that last raced in November and is resuming in April can be expected to improve by 3kg on average in a race over 1200m; a two-year-old that last raced in April and resumed in August as a three-year-old would improve 3.5kg on average over 1200m, etc.

Donald Forbes asks a question via email: Quick question for you that I'm sure you won't have too much trouble giving me an answer to. I'm trying to adjust race times according to how far the runner finished from the
winner. Have you got a formula you use for how much time equates to lengths from the winner, e.g. say the winning time was 58 seconds and a horse finished 3.3 lengths from the winner, what would the adjusted time for this horse be. Does a length equate to 0.5 seconds, for example?

Beaten margin to time conversions are used both in the USA and the UK to determine the official beaten margins. In both countries they use the standard of five lengths to the second, which is convenient but highly inaccurate, unless racehorses are 11 feet long, which I don't think they are.

While the 'beaten margins to time" conversion will depend for an exact measurement on the speed of the horses passing over the winning line, the standard measurement of six lengths to one second is relatively accurate (a more precise measurement is 6.1 lengths to the second), so therefore using one length per 0.167 seconds is an acceptable measurement and the one I personally use in my margins to time measurements.

In your example above, the horse finishing 3.3 lengths behind the winner would have had a personal race time of 58.55 seconds.

And for a second bite of the cherry, Donald asks a follow-up question: If I could impose on your time and the vast wealth of knowledge you have in the area again, another quick one that I hope makes sense.

Is it possible to adjust the time of a horse for the weight that it carried? Do you have a technique for adjusting the times of each horse in a race so that the weight they carried is taken into account, e.g. a horse may finish third under 60kg in a time of 59 seconds but had it carried only 54kg it might have run quicker? I suppose I want to know whether there is an accepted measure for times according to weight carried.

Various racing experts have different opinions on how beaten margins to weight should be treated, by a variable or a static adjustment.

Don Scott used as a standard the conversion of 1.5kg (31b) to equalling one length, which in turn would equal 0.167 of a second. Others like the UK racing professional Nick Mordin believe that the adjustment should be variable dependent m the distance of the race.

I tend to agree with Mordin more than Scott and use a variable measurement in my own calculations.

However, be very careful when considering weight and time in this manner, as each horse has its upper and lower limits.

That is, once a horse reaches a certain point, its weight-carrying ability and therefore its ability to run "time" will be impaired and the more weight it carries above this weight the more the impairment.

Probably more importantly, less weight will definitely not make a horse run faster, as horses have varying degrees of ability and each has its own maximum speed and while more weight will impair its ability to run at its maximum speed, less weight at the very best will only ever allow it to run up to its own maximum speed.

I repeat a portion of my column from the August PPM when reviewing Nick Mordin's latest book, in which he made four starting and generally unknown disclosures in regard to weight:

  • Horses carrying a greater weight will be slowed down more than what less weight will
    speed a horse up.
  • Once a horse has dropped down in weight to a certain point, then any further weight
    reduction will not make it run any faster than what it is capable of doing.
  • Horses of a higher class generally weigh more than those of a lower class.
  • Weight affects lower-class horses to a greater degree than those of a higher class.

Research carried out in the US would indicate that once the "average" horse is weighted below 52kg, then additional weight off its back will be of little importance, while once a horse reaches 53.5kg or more, weight will start to slow a horse down.

Meaning, of course, that there is a 1.5kg gap where the weight-carrying ability is neutralised.

Unlike other theorist handicappers, Mordin's research disclosed that weight required to slow a horse down by a length is dependent on the distance of the race, according to the following scale:

1000m - 1.75kg
1200m - 1.5kg
1400m - 1.25kg
1600m - 1kg
2000m - 0.5kg
2400m - 0.65kg
3200m - 0.5kg

Notwithstanding that additional weight will slow a horse down, Mordin quite correctly states: "It has always been true that the higher the weight a horse is being set to carry in a handicap race, the more likely it is to win."

Using the table above, a horse racing over 1000m and going up in weight by 6kg would be slowed down by about a half second, i.e. 6kg divided by 1.75kg equals 3.43 multiplied by 0.167 gives a result of 0.57 of a second, which is equal to approximately three lengths.

However, the same table cannot be used in attempting to gauge how much faster a horse will run for the reasons already stated.

By E.J. Minnis