I recently posted about the British Horseracing Authority’s (BHA) changes to the rules regarding Novice Chases. Often attracting only very small fields, the problem was identified as trainers being put off by what they considered a disproportionate rise in weight by the handicapper, when their horse had finished anywhere near a half decent winner.
The BHA working group didn’t seem to accept that there was any evidence to support the trainers’ view, but concluded that perception can be as important as reality. Therefore , in response the BHA stopped any rating increase in weight for age Novice Chases of Class 2 and below. The rule does not apply to horses who have run less than four times over either obstacles or the winner.
The issue was picked up on by Joe McNally in his excellent Lazybet Blog writing about Monday’s meeting at Kempton, where the Novice Chase was contested between two horses and the Graduation Chase (which is really just a variation on the Novice Chase theme) also being literally a two horse race.
I was also struck by trainer, Jamie Snowden’s comments when watching him interviewed at Cheltenham’s Showcase meeting following Double Treasure’s victory in the Royal Gloucestershire’s Hussars Novices’ Chase. Obviously pleased to have won, it was interesting, however, that one of his first remarks was expressing a hope that the handicapper wasn’t casting too watchful an eye. Whilst this was probably at least partially influenced by Double Treasure losing his Novice status on 31st October and having to find new categories of races to run, the point is that it isn’t just non winners who perceive the handicapper’s over exuberance.
The changes came in at the beginning of October, on a trial basis. When I wrote few weeks later, I concluded the jury was still out whether the problem had been correctly identified. My view now is that even if it has, the changes probably haven’t gone for enough to alter perceptions, whether they be justified or not. And it is ultimately the perception that counts. As for the jury, on recent evidence, I suspect it is not too long before a unanimous verdict is returned.