Chief handicapper unravels Durban July form
South Africa's chief handicapper Lennon Maharaj has looked at the Vodacom Durban July through the public eye this year and offered some pointers.
He first addressed the three-year-old issue: "There is little question that Covid-19 and the national lockdown have impacted on the development of the three-year-olds' Merit Ratings. Last season Soqrat ran second in the Grade 1 L'Ormarins Queens Plate at WFA terms behind Do It Again providing the Handicappers with a good yardstick. Hawwaam also quickly established himself as a dominant force and this season it was not until the Daily News 2000 victory of Got The Greenlight that the best middle distance horse of the crop was known.
I have more questions than answers about the three-year-olds this season and the July will provide the answers. However, unlike handicappers who are post-race analysts, tipsters and punters have to analyse the race beforehand and try and predict a winner. One question they should be asking is how do the three-year-olds compare with recent three-year-old winners and how comparatively tough is their task?
2012 winner Pomodoro (55kg) beat Grade 2 Smanjemanje (57kg) and Grade 2 winner Chesalon (58kg).
2014 winner Legislate (56 kg) (after a successful objection) beat Grade 1 winner Wylie Hall (57,5kg) and Grade 2 Winner Tellina (58kg).
2018 winner Do It Again (54kg) beat Grade 3 winner Made To Conquer (53kg) and Grade 2 winner Elusive Silva (56,5kg).
How do the older horses they beat stack up against Grade 1 WFA winners like Do It Again, Rainbow Bridge, Vardy and Soqrat? The fact that we have been able to keep horses like those four on our shores has surely strengthened the quality of our national horse population over the last few seasons and consequently sets the three-year-olds a tough task, even if they do prove to be undervalued by the interrupted season.
Maharaj then gave some pointers to punters, in layman's terms, on how to unravel the handicap. He began by saying that a successful handicap was one where there was the perception that every horse had an equal chance of winning, so the task punters should be setting themselves would be to find horses that have been undervalued by the handicapper and/or over-priced by the betting market.
He continued, "Imagine a line graph based on the MR profile for each runner in the July. You will find that all horses good enough to participate would have been and may still be on an upward MR curve but the more exposed among them might now have reached their peaks and have flattened curves. In theory if all the July runners are weighted to finish in a line, with the exception of the horses under sufferance who are still behind the line, then surely the smart money should be on the horses that are weighted to finish in the line but with room for improvement i.e those who are still on an upwards trajectory or who are perhaps under handicapped.
Belgarion should be outright favourite for the July. His official rating of 119 is only due to a specific condition of the WSB 1900, in which he achieved a 122 rating, so he is under handicapped. We could have weighted Belgarion off his achieved 122 rating as this is permitted by the conditions of the race, but we opted not to break precedent. Belgarion is clearly on an upward trajectory. He has a winning attitude and is in theory ahead of the Handicapper. The fact is that we don’t know how good he is or whether he will cope with the rise in class in the July. However, he has a theoretical edge, especially if you believe that the other runners have reached their peaks.
Maharaj then spoke about Rainbow Bridge, Do It Again and Vardy. "Statistics clearly show that the top weight band outperforms all other weight bands in ordinary handicaps where the weight spread is from 60kg to 52kg. The July weights favour the top weights more than that due to the 7 kg spread to the bottom weighted male (53kg) and 8 kg spread to the bottom weighted female.
Rainbow Bridge is in the form of his life and was ridden more positively when producing an eye catching second in the Sun Met, beating the rest of a high quality field including Hawwaam by more than 3,5 lengths and more. There is absolutely no questions about his class and having implemented these positive tactics he may still be on the up. He will have to produce a 135 performance to win.
Last year’s champion Do It Again has been beaten four times in a row by Rainbow Bridge this season but did produce a better effort in the Gold Challenge. Is he back to his best? A 134 or better performance is not impossible for this champion.
Vardy is a class horse with incredible acceleration. Will he be as effective over the 2200m and how will he cope if the race is run at a fast pace? Can he produce a 135 performance over this trip?
Soqrat is a muscular, classy horse whose latest run was encouraging. At his best he is quite capable of a 134 performance.
Twist of Fate's rating has risen to 129. He has run close to Hawwaam on several occasions and would have received 3,5kg from Hawwaam had the latter participated. Was he undone by the slow pace in the Gold Challenge?
Bunker Hunt may have some stamina doubts but possesses great acceleration and has run with the best in the land. What is your assessment of his Drill Hall win?
Tierra del Fuego also has form with Hawwaam and may still be on the up.
The race doesn’t end there and we haven’t even touched on other factors such as pace."
Maharaj concluded, "Hopefully there are some clues in this article to help you unravel one of the most debated July's in recent years.
And us Handicappers? We will have all the answers after the race!" - David Thiselton