Handicappers' Blog

Head of handicapping at the British Horseracing Authority, Phil Smith discusses the 2016-2017 Anglo-Irish Jump Classifications and the reasoning behind Many Clouds topping the three-mile chasing division.

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Over the last week or so, several journalists have expressed surprise at Many Clouds being named top three-mile chaser in the 2016-2017 Anglo-Irish Jump Classifications. I am surprised with their reaction as Sizing John was being published on 168 in Ireland for a full 6 weeks before the end of the season. What did they expect would happen in our end of season conference held after Punchestown?

In fact, we increased his rating to 169 from the Cheltenham Gold Cup. We were unanimous that he was a little below form at Punchestown (167) based through our assessment of Djakadam (166). You cannot get him higher from Leopardstown in February for just beating Empire of Dirt (164) and Don Poli (163).

Of course, if we are to get Sizing John to a higher figure then there will be a knock-on effect. If it is from the Gold Cup at Leopardstown then Don Poli has to be higher. If it is from Cheltenham then Minella Rocco has to be higher. If it is from Punchestown then Djakadam has to be higher. I haven’t heard of anybody advocating this course of action.

The reality is that it is just a feeling that Sizing John is better. Some writers have claimed that for winning three Grade 1’s he must be the best three-mile chaser. We do not work that way. We don’t assess the race; we assess the relativity of horse’s positions and their form.

If we assessed the race, then the winner of the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe would always be the top middle-distance flat horse. He or she sometimes is but it depends on who they beat and by how far.

So to Many Clouds. It all boils down to whether you believe that Thistlecrack ran his race at Cheltenham in January. We think he did and was beaten fair and square by Many Clouds. Remember at the time, Thistlecrack was being talked about as the second coming. If he didn’t run his race at Cheltenham then we could/should have had him as the top three-mile chaser from the King George, where you can easily get him higher if you wished to.

Nobody yet has suggested that Thistlecrack should be assessed as the best, it has all been about Sizing John. I could understand and accept the view that we might have had Thistlecrack as top horse.

A couple of people have suggested that Smad Place’s runs at Cheltenham prove that Sizing John is better than Many Clouds. Smad Place was beaten way too far in both races to suggest that he should be used as a guide to the levels of either race.

So is it a surprise that we can get Many Clouds to 171? Well in the last two years he has been 166 and 167. After a breathing operation, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that he could have progressed 4lbs or 5lbs.

However, I am surprised that he has ended up as top three-mile chaser. Not because he doesn’t deserve to be on 171 but because I always thought a staying chaser would exceed that figure at one of the three main National Hunt festivals.

The reality has been that none of the runners in those races has measured up. The proximity of Saphir du Rheu and More of That limit the level of the Gold Cup, a race where the first five finishers were covered by just over a second.

Tea For Two is the lowest rated winner of the Betway Bowl in the last 5 years while the proximity of Djakadam limits the level of the Punchestown Gold Cup. It is not his fault but Many Clouds has ended up as top 3 mile chaser by default.

Finally, back to Sizing John. I believe he will ultimately show he is a better horse than Many Clouds was. If he stays sound, he has all the attributes needed to progress with age and experience. The great thing about top horses is that they find a way to win even when they are below their best and he did that at Punchestown.

Handicappers' Blog
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