Racing: Handicapper throws his weight about

THREE OF the most reliable rules in the world of employment are that coal miners get dirty, lawyers overcharge, and handicappers are unpopular with trainers. If your job is to hand out racing weights, when even a pound can make the difference between success and failure, it is inevitable that someone will always end up feeling aggrieved, and probably willing to tell the world about it.

Rarely, though, does a handicapper come in for the sort of sustained criticism which has been directed at Phil Smith over the past couple of days. Smith recently replaced Christopher Mordaunt as the BHB's senior chase handicapper, having spent several years rating sprinters on the Flat, at the other end of the equine scale in terms of age and distance. Since then, a succession of trainers have expressed annoyance at some of his decisions, such as a rise of 8lb for General Wolfe's four-length victory in the Peter Marsh Chase, and a 20lb increase for Flaxley Wood, who won a novice chase at Cheltenham last weekend, but only after Unsinkable Boxer, the hot favourite, fell.

Toby Balding, the chairman of the National Trainers' Federation's jumps committee, said yesterday that Smith had "a totally new way of handicapping. Our real problem is that he's a relative new boy, and a mathematician who's handicapped nothing but Flat horses. I've been getting lots of messages from trainers who think they're hard done-by, and I think it needs to be discussed."

Balding feels that that the finer points of training jumps horses are being overlooked. "What he hasn't yet taken into account is the peculiar nature of the jumping herd," he said. "Most of them live with injury, lots of them disappear for long lengths of time, and if you're actually lucky enough to get a horse back and to get it winning, you don't want it handicapped out of existence as soon as it's won. A jumper can win by 12 lengths, but the second may not have jumped, or handled the ground. The variables are so much bigger, and distances aren't really what it's about."

As Balding admits, Bob Buckler's complaints about the handicapping of Flaxley Wood are "probably not the best example". Flaxley Wood might or might not have won had Unsinkable Boxer stayed on his feet, but a more important point is that he was racing from 15lb out of the handicap. When a trainer, in effect, personally hikes his horse in the weights, he can hardly complain if the horse runs well and the handicapper treats the form literally.

Some of Smith's other decisions, though, seem to have less to back them up. When Looks Like Trouble, who is trained by Noel Chance, won a novice chase at Doncaster in which only five of the 12 starters reached the finish, and Princeful was among the fallers, he went up 17lb. "He's basically been told, you've got lucky, now that's you," Balding said.

Balding, and any other trainers who care to attend, will be able to air their worries at a meeting with Smith, as well as Paul Greeves, the BHB's racing director, a week today. Greeves, though, is steadfast in his defence of the man he appointed to succeed Mordaunt.

"Change is always a bit unsettling," he said yesterday, "and that's what is happening here. To suggest that Phil Smith is incompetent is just utter nonsense and not worthy of anybody. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out the difference between the Flat and jumps, and that is that the horses can fall over, and the distances of the races mean that the horses can be very tired at the end. But Phil Smith is perfectly well aware of that."

Greeves says that "we are always happy to discuss these matters with trainers, provided they come through the right channels". Whether the trainers will be any happier after next week's meeting is rather less certain - but then, perhaps that simply means that Smith is doing his job.

A recurrence of leg trouble may keep Danoli out of the line-up for the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown on Sunday.

RICHARD EDMONDSON

Nap: Palais

(Southwell 4.20)

NB: Be Brave

(Catterick 2.30)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Content and PR

£35000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Mid / Senior

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing digital agenc...

Recruitment Genius: E-commerce Partnerships Manager

£50000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a newly-created partne...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor