Matt Chapman calls for change in the handicapping system in his latest column

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YORK’S beefing up of the Ebor has highlighted the need for a dramatic change in the way handicaps are treated in the UK.

Indeed, those in charge at the British Racing Authority should immediately alter their current outdated system and introduce Group status for Heritage Handicaps like the Ebor, seen as the creme-de-la-creme of the category.

Matt Chapman
Steward Williams – The Sun

As a handicap, the Ebor has effectively been ruined. It’s simply not the race it once was.

Loads of prize money yes, but a true handicap no. Today’s big race could quite easily be run as a conditions race off level weights and all would take part, such is the huge pot of £300,000+ up for grabs to the winner.

Just 10lb separates this afternoon’s field. When brilliant Sir Henry Cecil-trained Kneller won the 1988 Ebor off 8st 1lb, the third Tender Type ran off 7st 7lb. Topweight Ocean Ballad had 9st 10lb! Now that’s a handicap.

You must understand that this is no criticism of York, whose big race has simply provided an exaggerated example of a ridiculous situation.


It is simply a sign of the times. Handicaps that were once exciting due to their weight range have been compressed. The system has changed, yet we are stuck with ancient categorisation.

Another part of the industry that needs altering is Black Type. It is a means simply of bolding up horses in a sales catalogue that have been placed in Group or Pattern races.

And it suggests the bloodstock industry is super lazy. The legendary Frankel got Black Type, but so now would a horse slipping into the frame in a Group race off a mark of 80. Madness.

Frankel won some black type…but then so could a lowly rated handicapper these days!
Getty Images – Getty

When God Given landed the Group 3 Pinnacle Stakes at Goodwood on June 9, she was rated 105. There was one other horse rated 100, and the rest less than that. The average rating of the eight runners was 94. They all ran for Black Type.

In today’s Ebor, the lowest rated horse is 102, and the highest 112. The average at time of declaration and including reserves was 105.

Yet most people would think a Group 3 race is far higher class than a handicap. It’s nuts.

And it’s not just about Black Type, despite the fact it would attract more top class colts to the Ebor as many handicaps are contested by geldings – and they won’t be having much fun in the breeding shed after racing!

What a week

Away from today’s big betting event, what a week it’s been at York.

There’s no doubt for me the highlights were created by Juddmonte International hero Roaring Lion and Darley Yorkshire Oaks victor Sea of Class.

The former has been brilliantly trained by John Gosden after an iffy start. Remember that third in the Craven behind Masar when he went off at 8-13f?

Roaring Lion was ahead behind the 99-rated White Mocha that day.

I remember tipping him to some friends for the Guineas after that defeat, and suggesting they should not lose hope.

Of course he got stuffed there as well, but is now just about the highest-rated three-year-old over a mile and a quarter.

The William Haggas-trained Sea of Class has an ocean of talent, and it would be very easy to see her emulating her sire (Sea the Stars) and winning the Arc. Indeed, you could imagine her powering down the centre of the track at Longchamp like Dancing Brave in 1986.

Both horses were ridden by fabulous jockeys in Oisin Murphy (RL) and James Doyle (SOC).

Murphy is quickly coming of age, and having never ridden a Group 1 in the UK prior to this campaign, he’s now a regular at the top level.

Doyle’s progression up the ranks is the stuff of a good book, and he deserves every bit of his success.

Naturally gifted, Murphy and Doyle are also fabulous talkers, and their analysis of the game just makes it all the more fun for us. Thank you lads.

It’s about making an important race sound superior. The Group 3 Ebor just sounds better than The Ebor.

In Australia, they get it. The Melbourne Cup is a Group 1 Handicap. It deserves that status because Group 1 class horses run in it.

York deserve huge praise for lifting the Ebor to a new level and breathing new life into such a famous contest.

But at the moment it has a handicap rating limit. So if you were a super horse you could end up carrying 11st!

If the Ebor is trying to become the UK’s equivalent of the Melbourne Cup it needs to be opened up to all horses. And that might result in the weights being stretched a little more.

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