Racing: New handicapping won't faze punters

By Michael Guerin

All horses start out with a rating of 50 points when they qualify and then move up and down depending on recent form. Photo / NZPA
All horses start out with a rating of 50 points when they qualify and then move up and down depending on recent form. Photo / NZPA

The best advice for punters confused by harness racing's new handicapping system which debuts at Cambridge tonight is simple - ignore it.

Tonight's meeting sees the start of a three-month trial of a points-based rating system for all North Island harness racing meetings.

But the reality is, particularly at lesser meetings, the system will have little effect on punters.

The system has primarily been brought in to provide more transparency for trainers, and those owners who like to get involved in this sort of thing, in the handicapping and eligibility of horses for races.

All horses start out with a rating of 50 points when they qualify and then move up and down depending on recent form. The worst maidens could end up rated as low as 35 points, the best open class horses on 135.

Most races will be programmed for a specific ratings band - for example, R60 to R70 - and with horses losing rating points for unplaced performances, out of form horses should be able to slide back into more competitive races.

Tonight's meeting is an easy start point as it features no age group stars, who will be the horses most affected by the system.

New Zealand's two and three-year-old handicapping rules in recent years have seen high class two and three-year-olds often sneak into poor races, where they start $1.10 favourites and effectively ruin turnover.

Under the ratings system, the richer the race won the higher the ratings penalty, so a young horse with plenty of money in the bank won't be eligible for what would have been a C1 race under the old handicapping system.

The benefits of that will become more apparent when the best age group horses start to reappear in the spring.

While the ratings systems would appear fairer and provide more flexibility, northern clubs have already been striving to race like against like through open nominations and race conditions. So for punters the simple rule of thumb will be press on as normal, with maybe a caution flag above some of the younger stars when they return to racing.

Tonight's meeting sees the usual Cambridge suspects banging heads but with a $40,000 guaranteed Pick6 and no Alexandra Park tomorrow night it is worth some study.

Recent workouts form and overall career performances suggest Thephantomtollbooth in race four can overcome a wide draw but Pick6 punters also need Twinklingofaneye as she beat the favourite at the workouts two weeks ago.

And later in the night claimers On The Razzle and Stunin Banner (race six) and Franco Nadal (race seven) find themselves well handicapped on recent form.

- NZ Herald

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