After Steve Cauthen had won the Epsom Derby and was well on his way to become champion jockey in the UK later in the season of 1985, I remember having a conversation with the late Kenneth Stewart on the subject of front running tactics. Common place in Cauthen's native US, but far from often used in the UK by others than Lester Piggot, Kenneth was convinced that the days had come for the US style of racing from the front to take over in the UK.
When winning first the Derby Trial at Lingfield, then the Epsom Derby, Cauthen defied convention by employing front running tactics nowadays frowned upon in the UK. Shoemaker was the only other who had attempted to do so in recent years (he was collared only in the last strides on Hawaii's son Hawaiian Sound in 1978). American jockeys are of course used to races being run at a good pace throughout.
The logic behind it is extremely simple: a horse racing from the front at a pace suitable to cover the distance in the fastest possible time is virtually impossible to overtake. Anyone wishing to come from behind will have to cover that distance in a faster time, which in most instances is a mechanically impossibility.
Horses running behind the front runner may sometimes be better in ability, but they simply cannot run faster than their bodies allow them to. All that is required is for the jockey to have excellent judgement of pace, something at which the Americans and Australians are masters. The distance over which races are run is really immaterial, although shorter distances are usually easier to handle for the jockey from a pace point of view, and weight plays far less of a role there, too.
Whether Kenneth was right in his assumption or not is hard to say at this point in time, but recent events in South Africa seem to point at similar changes. I am referring of course to the Millard horses. Both Millard and Coetzee like their horses to be handy, we knew that well from previous years, but virtually all major races Millard has won in recent months were won with front running tactics.
The most impressive of these was in the Champion Stakes where Fools Holme led from start to finish to win in a good time. Clearly Coetzee wished to avoid the slow pace of the July, even though he could not have done it without the horse. Good horse that Fools Holme undoubtedly is, the winning distance may not exactly be a correct reflection of his ability. The tactics employed must to a large extend be responsible for the devastating defeat of the others. It will be interesting to see how the other trainers and jockeys will attempt to beat Millard and Coetzee at this game - it certainly will make for good racing in the season ahead if someone for once gave it a try.
On the subject of Fools Holme, regular readers of Winner's Circle will by now be well aware of our feelings about the use of Racefigures in South Africa. There is a place for racing under the Racefigure system, no doubt about that, but there is a place and time for everything. A balanced diet is the best one.
One of the problems we have with Racefigures is the way they are used and applied. The treatment of Fools Holme, for instance, must have had even the staunchest supporters of Racefigures sit up in surprise. To us it was merely confirmation of the fact that handicappers appear to be totally confused about the application of the system, for which rules apparently do not exist.
Fools Holme, after his first 5 wins, must have had a Racefigure of about 52. Another win, his 6th, in the Cape and his first in the A-Division, might have increased that to 58, or 60 at a stretch. By then Fools Holme had been penalised an average of 7 points per win.
He then won the Schweppes, at Weight for Age, before meeting with his first defeat in the July. When the weights for the Champion Stakes were published, however, Fools Holme's Racefigure was shown as 77 - an incredible 17 point increase for one win and a second (the latter in the country's premier handicap, carrying 51 kilos). If handicappers want to apply a Racefigure-system in favour of real handicapping, they must stick to rules. They cannot chop and change as the whim takes them and penalise a horse on the grounds of just one race (the Schweppes, at WFA) - and a false run race at that!
Compare Fools Holme with Occult, for instance, who incurred a penalty of 13 points after his wins in the Republic Day and the Rothmans July, both handicaps, where handicappers clearly had every opportunity to display their hand. Occult ended up with a Racefigure of 72 for the Gold Cup, as a 7-time winner. Fools Holme, beaten by Occult at level weights in the July and at a Weight for Age disadvantage at that (he is an April foal), after the July had a Racefigure of 77 as a 7-time winner, a good 2 kilos more.
Or compare Enchanted Garden, a winner of 10 races, beaten a length by Fools Holme in the July, giving him 2.5 kilos; she incurred no penalty at all for her win in the Natal Oaks, nor for her July run - she has a Racefigure of 70, or 74 on a comparable level if sex-allowance is taken into account.
How can anyone justify these figures when seen in relation to each other? And please note, the fact that Fools Holme won the WFA Champion Stakes afterwards has nothing to do with this - we are talking Racefigures, not "real" handicapping!
Since the introduction of Racefigures in the Cape, connections of Cape-horses have not been shy to take the Cape handicapper to task. More than one official complaint has been lodged, with outcomes showing that Racefigures are as misunderstood in the Cape as real handicapping is.
Handicappers, like all other racing officials, are licensed by the Jockey Club and as such follow the "Rules of the Jockey Club of South Africa". Rule 1.1 states as the definition of a handicap "a race in which the weights to be carried by the horses are allocated by the handicapper for the purpose of equalising their chances of winning". Racefigure handicaps clearly do not fall in this category (for starters Racefigures do not take WFA into account, and they certainly are not used to equalise chances of winning). Since Racefigures or Racefigure Handicaps are not defined in the Jockey Club rules, handicappers who handicap with Racefigures are in breach of the rules of the Jockey Club, simply because they do not attempt to "equalise the chances of winning".
The task given to handicappers, and especially those in Natal, to set weights in races where such enormous amounts of money are at stake, is an awesome one. It seems surprising that the Owners and Trainer's Associations have never officially queried the Jockey Club's Rules - owners and trainers are the ones who stand to lose most. In our view the Jockey Club might do well to clarify the issue of Racefigures publicly, and incorporate the appropriate definition in the Rules. We all have a right to know where we stand.
The excellent media coverage of the major races in Natal during the season deserves a mention. The effort produced by the Natal clubs to grab every opportunity available to promote their wares on radio and TV certainly has paid off, if turnover is anything to go by. We had missed the major races in SATV news broadcasts for quite a while, but someone clearly managed to pull the right strings. The Cape clubs certainly, and yes, even the Rand clubs with all their Autumn effort, should take note.
Editorial – Winner’s Circle September 1986
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