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A Test Case – Spain

Updated: Jul 26, 2023

La Zarzuela Racecourse in Madrid, Spain

If you follow me on social media, you may have noticed a lot of posts recently relating to a ratings system. I am inspired by Racing Pundits, a great many of whom I respect and admire, but there is a frequently used phrase that really annoys me. “It is impossible to know what that French form is worth”. Well, No. It isn’t. What you should be saying is “I don’t know what that French form is worth”. Much like form in the UK and Ireland, if you study it carefully, you can understand it. Now that phrase does carry some merit, but the reality is not understanding what the form is worth, it is more about how that form compares to other jurisdictions. If a horse wins a Listed race in France or Italy, is that the same as winning a Listed race in the UK? Good question.

I have spent much of the last 3 years trying to answer it. I still haven’t. However, having spent a lot of time looking at data and time comparisons for French racing, I have developed my own system to try to create a better way of making like for like comparisons between the form of various countries. It’s not easy and it will never be an exact science but having spent most of 2023 working through this method, it is starting to come together, and I am confident enough to start using it on this blog.

At some point in the next few weeks, I will put together a YouTube video to explain the general workings of the system. It’s not that complicated and is simply relies on accurate time and going data to form a rating, so I have no need to keep it a secret. This is one of the test cases I have built for a couple of the races in Madrid, Spain, on Thursday.

Why Spain? Well, firstly I really enjoy watching Spanish racing from Madrid and San Sebastian. It’s a smaller pool of horses and the program is similar to France, so it has been relatively easy for me to follow, but as a test case it’s perfect. I wanted the system tests to be as objective as possible, focussing on the data. For that reason, I chose Spain. I have fewer preconceived ideas about the strength of the form, the trainer, jockey, etc and there are no early betting markets which can also affect people’s opinions of a race. I will not be betting on a horse blind just because it has the highest predicted rating. Using this type of data is about understanding what a horse is capable of and whether they are likely to be able to run to the same level, or a better level, next time.

At the moment, I am still using a pen and paper to check these ratings manually to ensure the data is accurate, so I have chosen the opening 2 races in Madrid as they have small fields (it was less work). Due to the summer heat, this is an evening card, and we have a late start time of 9:10(BST) which was another reason to pick the opening races. We begin with a race over 1,800 metres for the older horses. For now, I am ignoring the official ratings because every handicapper has a slightly different approach and it is nowhere near as simple as just converting kilos to pounds or vice versa, despite the BHA's current approach. The ratings for this race are below and you could be forgiven for thinking Einar is a certainty. He comes out best of the recent ratings after finishing 2nd to Baba Karam on his most recent start and if he runs to that level, on these terms, he should go close. But that run was in December and he hasn’t been seen since. Add in the fact that he hasn’t won since October 2021, and he becomes opposable. I am happy to oppose him with Stour, who was a Dundalk maiden winner for Joseph O’Brien in 2021and has a much more appealing profile. He won over 1,900m here at the end of June and has consistently run to a rating of 75. There is an assumption that Einar will need the run, but that must be considered and even though Stour has weight to concede, he won by 25-lengths in June and this son of Frankel should be hard to beat if he repeats that effort. I will still be watching Einar to see how he shapes after his absence. He is a classy performer in this context and the ratings show that he can run at least as well as if not better than Stour, but the question mark over his fitness is the issue this time.

Ratings for the Opening Race

Moving on to the second race at 9:45 (BST), this time over 1,900 metres and we encounter our first roadblock. We have a debutante, Colaco. With no evidence to go on, it is impossible to form a rating. He could be anything at this stage, for all that making his debut at the age of 4 would suggest he isn’t the straightest horse. That said, we know plenty about the other 4 and certainly enough about Werseiller in his current form to assume he won’t be winning this. Aarash was beaten a distance last time, but that was over 3,000 metres and the return to this trip should help, especially when you consider that he ran an 86 on his penultimate start over a much more suitable 2,200. He has won 3 of his last 5 starts, but all those victories have come over a longer trip and so we cannot be sure he will repeat the same level of form over this shorter trip (he is 1-12 in races under 2,000m).

That leaves me with Belador and Baba Karam. The latter finished ahead of Einar in that December race where they posted some big numbers and he has the highest recent rating too with a 94 posted over 1,500m in April. It’s hard to knock a horse who has won 11-times, including 7 over this trip. Although he was 8th on his last start, he was only beaten by 7-lengths behind the very talented Max’s Thunder, and he shaped like a horse who would prefer the return to the longer distance. He gets my vote over Belador despite the difference in their average rating because Belador shapes like a son of Kingston Hill and looks much more likely to stay further in time. He won here in June, but that race setup perfectly for him to be able to use his abundant stamina in the closing stages and unless he tries to make the running, the same setup seems less likely this time around. Baba Karam has more straight line speed and in a race that could turn into a sprint, I’d much rather be with him.

Ratings for the second race

If you’re keen to learn more about the racing in Spain, I have put a couple of links at the bottom of this article to some excellent sites that promote the sport. I must also thank Edu (@gciturf1 on twitter) who has been so patient in answering my many questions over the last year or so.

I will go into more detail when I produce the video, but there is one last point that needs making. Like all form study, this isn’t an exact science. It is impossible to factor in things like a Jockeys decision at the start or even if the horse is 100% sound. I have trialled this method since the turn of the year and found it to be useful. In time, I hope to be able to extend it to cover more jurisdictions and to give a better like for like assessment of the form, but that is a long term project. Clearly, just because a horse runs to a rating of 90 in Madrid does not mean they will automatically do so elsewhere. At this stage, I can factor in the going, draw and weight carried accurately, but I am still working on suitable ratios for the degree of difficulty for the race itself (winning a handicap in the French Provinces would not require the same amount of ability as a handicap at Royal Ascot as an example, even if the time and adjusted figures suggested the performance was similar relative to the course standards). It’s a work in progress.

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Bloody Awesome stuff, I’m from madrid and go to many races here picking a decent amount of winners. I find one of the biggest factors is the jockey booking. I also study the timings for madrid and San Sebastián races only and find it to be gold. but on occasion after studying video footage I have questions over the integrity of some races. That being said I find French and Spanish racing more predictable than UK races. Keep up the good work, I’m a keen follower and it would be great to have the option to receive a newsletter including predications and tips. lets see how it goes on Thursday! Thanks, Shane

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