01/13/2011 3:07PM

Flaws exposed in World Thoroughbred Rankings


The World Thoroughbred Rankings released on Tuesday serve as the only truly international summing up of the previous year’s racing activity. The list is comprehensive in that it includes all of the world’s major racing jurisdictions, and is broken down into distance, age, and surface categories. Weighing all of the data available presents a monumental task. The WTR committee of national handicappers and racing secretaries is to be congratulated for sifting through it all and coming up with a semblance of accuracy.

Yet there is a caveat that must be raised about the process by which the WTR are determined. While one cannot argue per se with a system that awards a horse a rating based solely on that animal’s best performance, the international racing industry is not well served by the WTR’s lofty position as the determinant of so many national and divisional championships. To put it bluntly, we would be better served with a system that awarded ratings based on each horse’s complete annual record, not just his seasonal best.

The difficulty with the WTR was highlighted this year when the committee rated Frankel and Dream Ahead as co-highweight 2-year-olds at 126. Most observers were aghast at the decision, as Frankel had dispensed with Dream Ahead in Newmarket’s seven-furlong, Group 1 Dewhurst Stakes, beating him by 6 3/4 lengths into fifth place. Yet both horses will go into the record books as European champion 2-year-old of 2010.

This is a gross injustice to Frankel and his connections, owner Khalid Abdullah and trainer Henry Cecil. Such a thing could only happen in the behind-closed-doors realm of the WTR.

This is how it happened.

Dream Ahead received his 126 for a nine-length romp in Newmarket’s six-furlong, Group 1 Middle Park Stakes on Oct. 1. It was a truly great effort coming at the expense of four Group 2 winners. Dream Ahead himself had previously won Deauville’s six-furlong, Group 1 Prix Morny, so he is clearly a very good horse, but the fact that he was trounced by Frankel in the Dewhurst, a race widely regarded as the definitive British, if not European, 2-year-old contest, calls the WTR’s judgment into question.

The WTR committee decided that Dream Ahead’s Middle Park performance was the equal of Frankel’s Dewhurst. That may well be the case, but not everyone agrees. The Racing Post gave Frankel a 127 rating for the Dewhurst, but pegged Dream Ahead’s Middle Park at 125. Timeform is even more emphatic in its support of Frankel rating him 133 with Dream Ahead 128.

If one compares Dream Ahead’s Middle Park and Morny victories to Frankel’s Dewhurst and his 10-length cakewalk in Ascot’s one-mile, Group 2 Royal Lodge Stakes, an argument can be made that they are co-equal. But the thrashing Frankel gave Dream Ahead in the Dewhurst dictates otherwise.

A similar injustice occurred in 1994 when Maroof sprung a 66-1 upset in the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. He was subsequently rated as Europe’s highweight older horse on the International Classification – the name of the outfit that now calls itself the World Thoroughbred Rankings – despite having lost all six of his previous starts that year.

The problem with the WTR is that its system is derived directly from that by which official handicappers of European Jockey Clubs determine the ratings that determine the weights to be carried by horses in handicaps, i.e., rating a horse by his best previous effort. While that system works well for European handicaps, races that rate a cut lower than listed stakes races, it too often turns the unworthy Dream Ahead or Maroof into champions.

Racing deserves to have its worldwide championships determined by a full-year analysis of each horse. That is the way national championships are determined in America, Japan, and Hong Kong. It is time for the World Thoroughbred Rankings to revise itself so that its ratings reflect a Thoroughbred’s overall annual performance.

It is also time for the WTR to begin taking all 2-year-olds into account, not just those trained in Europe. The WTR and the International Classification before it has always claimed that non-European juveniles are not rated because there are no form lines to compare foreigners to Europeans. Apart from being blatantly Eurocentric, that argument doesn’t wash, because older horses not trained in Europe are given WTR ratings. Neither Blame nor Zenyatta ran against foreign horses, yet the WTR committee was able to rate them both. The same is true of Australia’s WTR sprint champ Black Caviar. If ratings can be made for those three, they can certainly be made for 2-year-olds such as Uncle Mo, To Honor and Serve, the undefeated Japanese filly Reve d’Essor, and Crystal Lilly, the filly who beat colts in Australia’s Golden Slipper Stakes.