The trinidad Guardian / The Arima Race Club indicated in July/August that it would be introducing “modified” benchmark handicaps during the month of September.
The system introduced by the Arima Race Club (ARC) is as follows: for all handicaps, horses with a rating of no more than three points higher than the upper band of the race’s rating band will be eligible to compete with each point equal to 0.5kg.
However, online research indicates that in Australia, where this type of handicap is most popular, a benchmark race is a handicap race based on ratings.
There is no upper or lower limit on eligibility in simple terms, a benchmark race is open to all horses. The weights assigned to each entry relate to the benchmark rating assigned to the race.
In a benchmark 60 race all horses can enter. A horse rated 60 will receive 57kg, a horse rated 61 will receive 57.5kg, a horse rated 62 will receive 58kg and so on.
Each point above the benchmark equals 0.5kg in additional weight. Each point below the benchmark is allowed 0.5kg. A horse rated 59 will receive 56.5kg. This system and the system introduced by the ARC are completely different.
The ARC system does not facilitate, one of the major benefits of benchmark handicaps and that is facilitating more horses competing.
In fact, it may achieve the opposite objective, that is, even less horses competing. Why?
In the ARC system, a 60 to 45 event, really becomes a 63 to 45 event, plain and simple.
Horses who are promoted four or five points having previously won a 60 to 45 event from a mark of 58 will remain eligible to compete and with a claim of 2/3kg can be effectively racing off the same mark.
It is possible that this would deter some of the usual horses in that rating band.
On the other hand, if the ARC had thrown open the entire band, then the possibility of horses rated lower than 45 electing to compete would become much greater. Some may believe weight issues among our jockeys is the cause.
Firstly, light weight is the clarion call for the development of young apprentices.
The increased riding opportunities allowed these jockeys to improve their talent and eventually become the champion riders in their day.
Today, very few of the lighter apprentices/riders receive numerous opportunities due to the weight compression.
Secondly, it is highly probable that owners of younger horses, three year olds in particular, who believe their animals are unexposed, could elect to take advantage of the weight conditions, even if some overweight was required, to compete against higher rated horses.
Thirdly, when one considers that racing generally only takes place three times a month and so the frequency of a race run on favoured distances or surfaces (in the usual rating bands) might be once a month, an owner can elect to run their horse outside of the band just to get their favoured distance/surface.
All of the above suggest that the ARC needs to think further outside of the box and introduce true “benchmark handicaps” and not the modified and ineffective version that they are currently trying out.
In fact, if the experience of the first with the modified benchmark handicap is anything to go by, it has not made an iota of a difference in the number of horses competing.
Maybe for October, they could try out the true benchmark handicapping
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