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The Weekly Blog

Weights & Measures

There is a saying in racing that “weight stops trains”, which probably used to be the case – although recent experience suggests that nowadays the cause is more likely to be industrial action or high winds.

It’s hard to tell whether the overburdened train that carried me back to Scotland this week, following a slew of cancellations, was delayed due to the additional weight of the passenger-crammed carriages, or whether it was all the additional stops that had to be accommodated along the way. Either way, the point of the saying isn’t really that weight stops trains, it’s that weight slows down horses.

That’s why it’s important that punters know the exact weight that each horse is expected to carry; it’s the reason why every jockey is weighed before a race, and why the British Horseracing Authority was obliged to issue an apology, on Friday, for publishing the incorrect weight to be carried by Lossiemouth in Saturday’s Unibet Hurdle at Cheltenham.

The Unibet Hurdle is what we call a “weight-for-age”, or “conditions” race. The conditions of the race prescribe that each 4 year-old runner will carry 10st 5lb, while horses aged 5 years and over will carry 11st 4lb. Fillies and mares are granted an allowance of 7lb, while the winner of a Grade 1 or Grade 2 hurdle are obliged to carry a penalty of 6lb. The winner of a Grade 3 race, a Premier handicap hurdle or a Listed race would carry a lesser penalty of 4lb, while a graded win in a Juvenile Hurdle would attract only half the penalty allocated to older horses.

If you think that sounds complicated, you might have some sympathy for the BHA who failed to spot that Lossiemouth’s Grade 1 victories (including last year’s Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham festival) were all acquired in Juvenile races – thereby meriting only half of the 6lb penalty that had mistakenly been applied.

Having made the requisite weight adjustment, Lossiemouth’s odds were cut from 5-6 favourite to 4-6 favourite. And while she appears to be the most likely winner, with or without the 3lb discrepancy, that’s not going to make us rich – so we’re looking elsewhere for this weekend’s selection.

Having won the SBK Handicap Chase last year, Malystic returns to Doncaster on Saturday following a series of disappointing runs. In handicap races, each runner is allocated a weight which relates to their BHA handicap rating and Malystic is now back on a mark only 1lb higher than 12 months ago. Trained by Peter Niven in North Yorkshire, Malystic has a good record when he stays close to home (four victories at Newcastle, two at Wetherby, one each at Doncaster and Ayr) but is less impressive when negotiating the traffic to southern courses like Kempton, Ascot, Newbury and Cheltenham.

While it’s tempting to think that Malystic might have dropped to a winning weight, this week’s selection is Traprain Law who, at six years old, has the look of an improving young chaser. Despite being raised 10lb in the handicap for an easy win at Kelso, I suspect the only thing that’ll stop Traprain Law is (like the proverbial train) high winds or industrial action.