An interesting test of the racing handicapper’s craft will play out in Race 6 at the Vaal Classic course on Tuesday. It’s a MR96 Handicap in which two promising horses, Dr Doolittle and Apollo Robbins, do battle – along with some other decent horses.
Both protagonists have three wins to their credit in, thus far, similarly brief careers. Yet three-year-old Dr Doolittle, from the Paul Peter yard, has a merit rating of 105, while Fabian Habib-trained four-year-old Apollo Robbins is on just 85.
On the weight scale for this race, the former gets 62kg to lug around the 1800m trip, while the latter is only encumbered by 54.5kg.
The discrepancy is to do with the company they’ve been keeping, with Dr Doolittle having impressed in well-regarded circles and Apollo Robbins slumming it, so to speak.
The objective of handicapping is to equalise the chances of runners of varying talents and form and a perfectly handicapped race would see the whole field in a dead heat. Of course, that never happens, but the intention is to give punters the challenge of calculating which horses are best treated at the weights – and thereby filling betting pools.
So, the question at the Vaal is whether Dr Doolittle is 7.5kg classier than Apollo Robbins.
There are other factors to consider, of course, such as barrier draws, recent form and jockeys’ abilities. Also, younger horses can be slightly less developed in muscle and bone, making a heavy impost a bit more challenging than it would be for a fully mature horse.
The comparative draws in this case are much of a muchness, No 4 and N0 6 in a six-horse field. Current champion jockey Warren Kennedy rides Dr Doolittle and former champ S’Manga Khumalo gets on Apollo Robbins. The form? Again, it’s hard to separate them.
In the end, it is a subjective call on whether you think the three-year-old can carry the weight.
Oh, and then there are the other runners to fit into the mental matrix.
“Whichever you please, my little dear. You pays your money, and you takes your choice” – as was first written in Punch magazine in 1846 and subsequently used by many a writer, including Mark Twain and Aldous Huxley.
And, speaking of cliches, here’s another: Weight stops trains.
1 Barneys Pride, 4 Chief Rafeef, 3 Cavalier King, 11 Safe Passage
3 Golden Aspen, 2 Franca, 7 Rose Of Bayeaux, 9 Take Control
9 Duke Of Sussex, 1 Grimaldi, 7 Light Warrior, 4 Silly Fella
2 Cape Diamond, 1 Miss Venezuela, 5 Zulu War Cry, 14 Woman Of Substance
3 Imperial Master, 8 Humble Tune, 2 Have A Go Jo, 5 Fsquadron
7 Apollo Robbins, 6 Set The Standard, 5 Tyrus Express, 1 Dr Doolittle
10 Godswood, 7 South East, 9 Herstel, 1 Oravar
6 Kwite A Trip, 2 Ace Of Spades, 4 Savious, 9 Lagertha
1,9 x 1,2 x 2,3,8 x 1,2,5,6,7 x 1,4,7,9,10 x 2,4,6 (R900)
2,3,7,9 x 9 x 2 x 3 x 5,6,7 x 7,9,10 x 6 (R36)