One of the great ongoing debates in the racing world is the question of weight and the effect that it has on horses in a race. I’d like to put a couple of thoughts in your head about this issue, so that you might better understand what it’s all about and why it is such an indefinite thing.

Does anybody remember Rocky Marciano? Okay, what about Jimmy Carruthers? Too young? Try Luciano Pavarotti and Kylie Minogue. Now I want you to think about Don Bradman and Ian Thorpe. And let’s throw in Wesley Hall and Shane Warne.

All very different, but if you imagine them physically, the differences are even more spectacular. Jimmy Carruthers was our first world boxing champion and he was a bantamweight. If my childhood memory serves me correctly that means that he boxed at the allowable weight of around 55kg.

Rocky Marciano was world champion heavyweight. I think he was undefeated but don’t hold me to that. He was built like the proverbial country you-know-what, about five feet nine and 13+ stone of muscle. Wesley Hall and of course wonderful swimming champion Ian Thorpe were giants, strong as oxen with enormous feet and equally enormous bodies to match.

Shane Warne was of a somewhat different shape but still a champion in his field, while of course Kylie Minogue and most of the girl singers (not, I hasten to add, the opera divas) are of slight build. Pavarotti was a big fellow by any standards, whilst the great Bradman was a mere slip of a fellow, frail at times and subject to bouts of illness.

Now that you’re thinking of all of these different people, imagine that each one of them was given a bag containing 10 house bricks and told to carry it around their local area, walking at a reasonable speed, for the next 15 minutes. They would not be allowed to stop and rest, they would not be allowed to pause, and they would be whipped if they slackened off.

Get the picture? Now I want you to think about what you see on the TV monitor or at your local TAB, or even at the racetrack, in terms of horses. That’s right, you see slight little fillies, and you see absolutely gigantic stallions and geldings. I’m the first to agree that this is a generalisation, but that is half the problem. If they conformed to a regular pattern, it would be so much easier to say that the female concession of 2kg from male competitors at various stages of their development is a balanced assessment.

But anybody who saw Makybe Diva, or for that matter a few years back Leilani, my personal favourite (all right, more than a few years back then!), knows that you can’t generalise about the female of the species. Just like our female of the species, they vary in size and shape.

I’m not buying into that one, I’m sticking with horses. Now have you got the picture that I asked you about a bit further up? Imagine Kylie and Shane lugging those 10 bricks, whilst Thorpie probably hasn’t noticed the bag tied to his back. OK, maybe he noticed, but he can carry it.

Now you’ve got it. That’s what it’s all about. Stick 57kg on a big horse, and the likelihood is he can carry it.  Impose it on a smaller filly or mare, and, surprise surprise, she struggles. The trouble is, this isn’t a consistent ruling that I can lay down. Hot Danish carries weight against her own class remarkably well, but put her in the Doncaster with 61kg and see how she goes! The pace and the class, under those conditions, may well do her irreparable damage.
So this is absolutely imperative to understand, if you are ever going to get anywhere with the question of weights: ultimately there will come a point where a horse is anchored by an allotted weight (and here is the crunch), relative to the other horses in that race. Let’s take a really obvious example to drive this home.

Let’s say that I am running against Cathy Freeman in the 400m final at the Olympics. Don’t laugh! Oh, all right, laugh, but take it on board seriously. What odds would you give on me, remembering the day that Ajax was beaten at 40/1 on in a two-horse match race?

I have to agree that apart from those people who would be prepared to risk a dollar at a million-to-one, on the off chance that Cathy had a heart attack somewhere during the race (and that would be more likely to be me), anybody that made that bet would have to be certified or least scheduled. It is an extreme case, but I want you to go back to it, if you can stop laughing, for one very serious moment.

At my very fittest and many years younger, I’d have had no hope, not a hope in hell, of even getting within half the straight of our wonderful Cathy. But now I want you to imagine that I’m going to strap a large bag containing 50kg of concrete on Cathy’s back. How far do you think she get?  Let’s take this one step further.

She still beats me. So I slam another 10 kg on her back. It’s close this time, but she scrapes in. So I penalise her with another 5kg of concrete. That does it. The Optimist wins the Olympic Gold Medal. Come on, I said to stop laughing and concentrate.

It’s just a question of how much weight. You’ve heard so many clichés along this line, such as “every man has his price” and “make the torture savage enough and they’ll tell you anything”. Well, stick more weight on a horse’s back, and sooner or later it will tell. The horse may be right at the top of its form when you do this, and the trainer may run it because the opposition is inferior. He may seek a claiming apprentice to take some of the strain off the animal, but ultimately the horse will get into the weight range where it is handicapped out of the chances.

Its choice at this stage is to try a higher class or to focus on set weight events. The higher class will, generally speaking, mean that the horse receives weight relief. This is not an absolute given, as the standard of the opposition could very well mean the horse at the top of its form cycle will be regarded well by the handicapper, regardless of a slight rise in the class of the race.

However, weight for age races are certainly going to protect animals from carrying substantial weights which are outside 250 years of established practice.

Can weight stop that train? In a word, yes. You saw what happened to Cathy Freeman, and if necessary I’ll do it to Ian Thorpe. In truth, I’ll probably have to hire the whole concrete truck and pour it all over him, but sooner or later it will get to the point where I can beat Thorpie up and down the Olympic pool and win my second Gold Medal. Is this all becoming clear to you? It should be, and if it isn’t by now, and you haven’t done your daily walk, why don’t you go and get a sugar bag from under the house or somewhere, fill it with those house bricks, sling it over your shoulder and take it with you for your usual half-hour stroll?

Take your mobile phone, because you will probably need to call your wife or husband at the halfway mark to come and get you. In a word, you have been handicapped. That’s what it’s all about. A horse establishes itself as better than the others in its class, so the handicapper, with enormous experience in such matters, slams a few extra kilograms on the poor thing. Sooner or later, he stops it winning.

By The Optimist