Merit Ratings – Handle With Care

Keeping track of merit ratings is horribly fascinating, I find, and usually ends in some sort of rant – before I am shot down in flames for not considering weight-for-age, race conditions, and so forth.

This explains my excitement when spotting a recent article In Sporting Post which began:

“The NHA Handicapping Panel is cautioning all stakeholders, especially the Betting Public, to be extremely careful when using the Carded Merit Ratings in their assessments.

“Due to the vast number of ‘conditions’ type races, together with a host of conditions attached to the Graded races (mainly on the Highveld), many of the ratings that are published do not reflect the Handicapper’s final assessment of those horses affected by these conditions.

“This issue is especially affecting the current 3yo crop as they are unexposed and open to improvement.”

It was the reference to three-year-olds that really got my attention, but before getting into that you would be well advised to read the original article at

Unfortunately, three-year-olds at Borrowdale are in short supply but, in my opinion, Grand Warrior, who won again on Saturday, sticks out like a sore thumb – and there are surely more attractive ways of referring to an outstanding youngster.

The son of Global View (USA) has now won all his three starts – impressively. First time out, in July, he won an 1100m Maiden Juvenile Plate, beating Testify by 7 lengths. In October, with a Merit Rating of 86, he was in a 1200m Novice Plate, giving weight to a field of older horses, and beat Star Aglow by 4 lengths.

On Saturday, Debra Swanson’s charge triumphed in the 1800m Classified Stakes, giving weight to the field, and winning by 5 lengths. His Merit Rating is now 91.

I couldn’t resist having a look at the other three-year-olds who raced on Saturday…there were only 6 of them.

Testify won the 1100 Maiden Plate beating his peers Walking Thru Time, Elmhurst, Montanna Bay and the unraced Red Top. By Ato, Testify has now had 6 runs for one win and 3 places and his MR is unchanged at 67.

Walking Thru Time, was half a length behind Testify, and she has had 2 runs for 2 places and has not yet been rated. Elmhurst (6 runs for 4 places) remains on 58, while Montanna Bay (5 runs for 5 places) remains on 51. Red Top has not been rated.

The remaining three-year-old to step out at the last Borrowdale meeting was Scala Dei Turchi who ran in the 1450m MR 58 Handicap off an MR of 65. She finished 4 lengths behind Justadoreher and her MR is unchanged. Scala Dei Turchi has run 5 times for 1 win and 4 places.

So, what is the object of this tortuous exercise as I am not suggesting Grand Warrior should not have a MR of 91?

It is just a bit frightening because only What A Dandy (105 – 8yo), Coachella (104 – 9yo), Bugatti Blue (99 – 8yo), Only Him (99 – 5yo), True Beauty 99 – 5yo), Holy Land (98 – 7yo), Lily Blue (98 – 6yo), Why Madera (92 – 3yo) and Mr Greenlight (92 – 7yo), are rated above him.

You will have noticed when reading the paragraph above that Why Madera (MR 92) is also a three-year-old and she has won all her four starts from 1260m to 1600m. The next best-rated three-year-old is Down To Business, who is on 86, having won his only start, beating Scala Dei Turchi by five lengths. And if you have faith in ratings the next ‘best’ is Battle Of Seattle (MR 71) who won her first start beating Testify by half a length, was then beaten by Down To Business by 9 lengths, and on 5 November ran two lengths off Star Aglow.

I am likely to be shot down in flames – again – but it does seem hard that the most promising younger horses are given so much to do.

Photograph by Zimbabwe Equine News: Grand Warrior, owned by The Centaur Syndicate (nominee Craig Danckwerts), trained by Debra Swanson, and with Norbert Takawira up, won the 1800m Classified Stakes at Borrowdale Park on November 19, 2022.

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