JUSTICE FOR BATTAASH?
“To me, consensus seems to be the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies. So, it is something in which no one believes and to which no one objects.” With statements like that, it’s no wonder Margaret Thatcher was known as The Iron Lady. Imagine her at the meeting of international handicappers, where calculation makes way for consultation and figures can be foiled by feelings.
The problem with the Longines World’s Best Racehorse Rankings, which were published on Wednesday and featured a triple dead-heat at the top between Enable, Crystal Ocean and Waldgeist, is that the methodology doesn’t match the motive, and then a meeting by committee can override it all anyway. It’s like determining the Premier League on one or two games, then deciding the winner by panel.
It’s not the fault of handicapping, because the very principles and mechanics of handicapping are to measure a horse’s ability one time, and less so over a period of time, such as the year-long perimeter for this particular accolade. Added to which ratings are an objective examination, to a great extent, which is only undermined by a subjective summit at the end of it.
So all in all it’s quite a confused cocktail, one which invariably leaves a bitter taste in the mouth whenever the results of the calculation-cum-cogitation are announced, more so with the 2019 report because of the inseparable stars of the season, the explanations, via contrived commentary, just enough to give the kids a treat.
Reviewing the “World’s Best” three-way photo – between Enable, Crystal Ocean and Waldgeist – through the magnified lens of handicapping, if that was the sole consideration, the answer could only be Crystal Ocean, for the simple arithmetic involved in Enable’s neck and the 3lb mares' allowance in the King George.
Like some kangaroo court, we hear of “cases” being made to rate one above another by individual handicappers, to legitimise the meeting as well as advance the argument that debate has a part to play in the process, despite falling back on the fixed nature of figures when it suits the story.
But there is another individual, independent handicapper who says that the latest search for the world’s best horse that resulted in a King George replay is looking not in the wrong jurisdiction but in the wrong division.
In 2019, Timeform rated Battaash as the best horse in the world, following on from 2017 when he was joint-best alongside Cracksman. It’s all based in the assertion that sprinters are consistently and continually undersold by the official pounds-per-length scale, which is inadequate for reflecting how hard it is to win top-level sprints by wide margins, as Battaash has done with frequency in his career, none more so than in last year’s Nunthorpe when he also broke Dayjur’s track record.
In 17 years of the Longines Rankings, the only sprinter to have been crowned the world’s best was Black Caviar, in 2013, and even then she had to share it with Treve.
Enable emulated Treve by failing in her Arc hat-trick bid, and much is being made of Enable staying in training to having another shot at history. But the gelded Battaash will be letting off fireworks again, too, and maybe this time next year he’ll be honoured for the global giant he is, rather than the co-fifth best as the 2019 rankings reflect him – and that was with a pound found for him at the consensus convention.
TWO FOR THE WEEKEND
Ten To Follow lists are fraught with danger because, in a reverse to handicapping, they’re designed to deal with a whole season, rather than a specific race, but two of my published list of ten are playing out on Saturday, and I’m strong on both.
When King Roland succumbed to Son Of Camas on his hurdling debut at Newbury, it was the biggest and best lesson he could have got: for what he learnt about racing and what his management team of Harry Fry and Sean Bowen learnt about him – primarily that his mechanics call for a pro-active ride rather than a reactive one.
Putting that into practice at Exeter on New Year’s Day, when sent on soon after the fourth-last, King Roland engaged a high gear and stayed in it to win by 19 lengths, which was still the least of his ability.
He’ll be in his absolute element stepping up another two furlongs at Cheltenham on Saturday for the Grade 2 novice (3.00), a race registered as the Classic but now titled the Ballymore, though not the Ballymore, but the Ballymore will surely be next on his hit list if he does what I expect on Saturday, and ante-post odds of 25/1 for the Festival look too good to be true.
I smuggled Dingo Dollar into my Ten To Follow list because the scoring system rewards big handicap winners, and if Dingo Dollar is ever going to bag a big one then it’s the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster (3.15).
He’s arriving the same way as last season, via the Ladbrokes Trophy, in which he shaped equally well this time around, and though he failed to fire in the 2019 Sky Bet, he reaffirmed his liking for Doncaster when runner-up next time in the Grimthorpe, also 8lb better off with Chidswell now.
Everything is right for Dingo Dollar, and the fact there are few apparent front-runners against him – bar Monbeg River – is a positive, as it’s all about the rhythm with him, and the less congested the front end is the greater the chance he can get into the groove.