Cheltenham 2023 day 1 selections

Official Handicap Ratings – All Weather v Turf

This is an article from the archive, although the examples are dated now the message still stands and in due course we will update this with fresh examples.

This time of year can present a problem for punters when it comes to assessing horses that have been running on the all-weather through the winter and are returning to the turf.

Many horses are able to act reasonably well on either surface and their official ratings reflect this having little or no difference between the two. However some horses come out of the all-weather season retaining a much lower rating on turf. This seems to result in bland statements like he's got a much lower rating on turf for a reason or this horse would be carrying a stone more on the all-weather so it must be well in.

Neither of these views is particularly helpful and I'd like to recount my observations from three recent races that took place between Monday 19th and Tuesday 20th April.

The first of these races was the 5.10 at Windsor (19th)

Beat The Bell was running off an Official Rating of 73. Last time out it had run on the all-weather and been beaten less than three lengths off 87. The previous race to that run was a win off 82. On the face of it he appeared to be around 10lbs well in, and seemed worthy of making further checks on his form profile to try and ascertain why.

He had run seven times on the all-weather since two turf runs last September. His turf ratings were 89 and 85. He had been beaten by some distance on both occasions, but the second run was over 7f and the other was his first run since January. The only assumption to make is that his true AW rating should be somewhere between 82 and 89. His turf rating had plummeted from 89 to 73; apparently on the basis of a poor run when possibly unfit after an eight month break and another poor run over a furlong too far. Conclusion – definitely worth a bet.

Result ~ Beat The Bell won easily at 4/1.

The next race to take a look at was the 6.10 on the same card at Windsor and confirms the danger of making assumptions without checking. Punters had just seen Beat The Bell win easily off a much lower turf rating compared to his AW form, and (not everyone's cup of tea!!) John McCririck duly pointed everyone in the direction of Councellor which was also ‘well in' running off a much lower turf than AW rating.

I think it had been available most of the day at around 9/1 but it was backed in to 9/2 presumably on the strength of the ratings discrepancy taken advantage of by Beat The Bell.

When we look a bit deeper it is obvious that there is no comparison. Councellor has mainly run on the all-weather but had three races on turf in 2008 and four races on turf in 2009.

A simple analysis of the official ratings confirms that he is a different horse on turf and could not be regarded as being well in. He ended the all-weather season in May 2008 on 85, started the turf on 70 and won a race to go up to 74 and subsequently came 3rd and 4th. He returned to the AW in October 2008 on 84, had 10 runs winning two and ending the season on 92. He returned to the turf for four runs between April and June 2009 starting on 78 and dropping to 75, finishing 6th, 7th 2nd and 10th. He began on the all-weather in January off 90 and has finished 5th, 2nd and 7th.

It seems fairly clear from this that he was incapable of winning off 75 last year so why would he be worth backing at a short price to win off 74 this season.

Conclusion not worth a bet and could be considered laying material at 9/2.

Result Councellor finished a well beaten 9th of 11.

The third example is the 2.30 at Folkestone on the 20th April. Thoughtsofstardom was showing 14/1 in the Racing Post forecast and was due to run off a rating of 54 which was 15lbs lower than its last official rating on the all-weather.

The horse's peak official rating was 76 in January 2009. This declined steadily on both surfaces to 49 in September 2009 when it won on turf. Its rating rose throughout the all-weather season to a peak of 72 and ended on 69. It seems that there was a possibility that the horse had actually improved during the winter and could carry it over to the turf.
A more cautious conclusion was that the horse had been capable of winning on turf off 49 and it was not impossible that it could carry part of the improvement over. Just 5lbs out of a total improvement of 21lbs would make it competitive off 54 and it looked a decent each way bet at around 10/1. In the event Thoughtsofstardom finished 2nd at 12/1 and the Betfair place SP paid just over 4/1.

These examples illustrate the kind of things to look for when assessing form on different surfaces. Things are not always as clear cut as these but when the mist lifts after you have checked the figures you can prevent yourself from being involved in dubious gambles and there is often a means of profiting from the knowledge.

Steve Ransford