Racing: St Jovite the saviour of an ordinary vintage: Richard Edmondson on the annual assessments of the international handicappers

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The Independent Online
AS A vintage year, the 1992 Flat season had all the allure of a bottom-shelf bottle at the corner shop, according to yesterday's International Classifications.

Official figures suggest both the juveniles and three-year-olds of last year were sub-standard, while the season's premier races, the Derby and the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, were among the worst examples since records began in 1977.

Exonerated amid this relative deadwood were four two-year-olds and the year's outstanding racehorse, St Jovite. Jim Bolger's colt 'comfortably attained the criterion required of true champions', according to Geoffrey Gibbs, the Jockey Club's senior handicapper.

St Jovite's place on the clapometer makes him worse than Dancing Brave, El Gran Senor and Generous, but better than Slip Anchor, Reference Point and Zilzal.

Gibbs admitted that separating two-year-olds Zafonic, Armiger and Tenby - along with Lyric Fantasy the only outstanding juveniles - was virtually impossible as they had not encountered one another. Zafonic, by dint of beating a good field in the Dewhurst Stakes, was given the nod.

This judgement again emphasised the subjective nature of interpreting live performances. The sort of quandary that confronts the judges of the Eurovision Song Contest.

Racing takes itself far more seriously than that though. At the Mostyn Hotel in London yesterday, over 20 journalists, some of them private handicappers themselves, traded opinions with Gibbs.

Amid the esoteric questioning of the quizmaster, much of which revolved around minute adjustments to a horse's numerical rating, was the poser: 'Did you have Ivanka running to a 110 in the Racing Post Trophy?'

The statistic that did most to impress in this sphere - like a 147 at The Crucible, or a 180 at the Lakeside - was the 135 St Jovite recorded at Ascot (in the King George & Queen Elizabeth Stakes).

Gibbs, unreasonably, has to defend the rating of a horse others judge on a single, below-par display. Form, and the judgement of form, turns almost into a science, which if it did exist, would mean an empty room at the Mostyn Hotel next year and little space in betting rings.

That is not to say that the International Classifications are without import. To be given championship status is an honour which can have financial repercussions at stud. Comfort then will be available to those behind category leaders such as Sheikh Albadou, Selkirk, Environment Friend and Rock Hopper.

The chest-puffing horses for the officials this year were Rodrigo De Triano and Marling, who progressed from highly rated juveniles to reproduce their brilliance in their Classic year.

But in this same department comes a horse with a one-word name to shake all those in the business of making predictions. Arazi. Twelve months ago, the little chestnut was considered the best two-year-old to have visited us.

'This time last year the racing world was still buzzing following the outstanding two-year-old campaign of Arazi,' Michael Byrne, the chairman of the International Classifications Committee, said. 'The world would be his oyster in 1992.' His speed would be an oyster's as well, unfortunately.

The officials still believe their estimation of Arazi was correct, and cite the horse's injury problems and demanding programme as reasons for his downfall. 'Too much was asked of him,' Gibbs said. 'They were asking for miracles.'

As we all are to first ratify accurately, and then predict futures for, horses who are consistent only in letting us down.

(Photograph omitted)

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