The rationale behind the guidelines as last amended in April 2016 followed from numerous meetings with all stakeholders at which it was unanimously agreed that horses should be protected from over aggressive adjustments and so ensure that they could achieve their fair share of wins.
Maximum caps were imposed on all maiden winners, and maiden winners older than three years were capped in such a way as to ensure that, generally speaking, a horse which struggled for some time to win a race would not be forced to compete in a handicap substantially above its capabilities. In essence, this allows maiden winners to start at the bottom of the ratings pyramid.
It has been a long established practice that winners of ordinary handicaps could not be raised more than eight MR points, excluding any sufferance and/or overweight. This especially protects horses whose winning performance by a wide margin could be flattering or once off.
All winners of Plated, Conditions and Assessment races (except in the case of compulsory runners in terms of the Assessment Plate rules now in force on the Highveld) cannot be raised more than six MR points where applicable, while placed horses cannot be raised at all, except at the request of the connections.
The specific conditions of certain individual races do impose further limitations on the Handicappers ability to adjust ratings freely.
Thus there are many opportunities for connections to expose to the handicappers the true ability of their horses, by placing them correctly, without any risk of the horses ratings being adjusted to those achieved levels. This is not an ideal situation and can amount to beating the system, but the rationale behind it is understood and applied by the Handicappers.
All of these restrictions in essence can make it very difficult or even impossible for the handicappers to correctly apply NHA Rule 47.3.2, which clearly defines the meaning of a handicap race.
All of the above has led to an imbalance to the Merit Rating system, with considerable congestion at the lower end of the ratings pyramid. At present, more than 72% of the horse population are rated 73 or below, notwithstanding the fact that numerous horses in reality have shown themselves to be capable of a higher rating.
When assessing Graded, Listed or Non Black Type Feature races, the handicappers reserve the right to deviate from the Guidelines where they believe that it is in the best interests of conforming with NHA Rule 47.3.2 to do so, with particular reference (but not limited to) unexposed horses. The handicappers will however tread cautiously when a more exposed horse puts in a performance which is substantially out of sync with its previous form and apply discretion when assessing such horses, as they see fit.
The handicappers will also give due consideration to factors that could account for a sudden improved performance, including amongst others equipment changes, race distance changes, recent gelding, and any other factor which it is felt may account for an improved performance.
The fewer restrictions that exist on the system, the more sustainable the handicapping system would be. A literal adherence to the guidelines works against this and is largely responsible for the congestion at the lower end of the population pyramid and renders it very difficult to secure a thriving middle or upper division. Deviating from the guidelines in Graded, Listed and Non Black Type races (which are by definition contested by a better class of horse) allows the handicappers to offset this imbalance to a considerable extent by stretching the gap between higher class horses and run of the mill performers.
The National Horseracing Authority Handicappers have initiated a series of Roadshows to further explain handicapping rationale and engage in questions and answers sessions. The first such session took take place at Kenilworth Racecourse after the last race yesterday.
Further Roadshows to follow:
Port Elizabeth: Fairview Racecourse 10 May, 2019 after the last race.
KZN and Highveld dates to be confirmed.