The Rob Waterhouse 2YO Free Handicap

3 min read
Form analyst Rob Waterhouse provides TDN AusNZ with his rating analysis of the current crop of 2-year-olds and an explanation of the 'free handicap' system.

It is Golden Slipper time in Australia as the all-important 2-year-old race is but a month away, to be run on March 23rd. The race is Australia’s “breed shaper."

If the winner is a colt, he’ll likely be acquired by a stallion station for around $40m. I don’t think there are many other races in the world where that could be said. Future sale-toppers will be bred from the Slipper stars.

Consequently, all the racing discussion is of the relative merits of this year’s 2-year-old crop. Form students, like me, like to publish their 2-year-old “free handicap” or set of ratings. I must warn you, we all disagree.

Defining the Free Handicap

Interestingly, the expression “free handicap” comes from the 3-year-old handicap race, run in April (at the very start of the season) at the Craven Meeting at Newmarket for the last ninety years, called simply the Free Handicap. The weights, based on their 2-year-old form, are declared each January, their winter after the 2-year-old season has closed.

By definition, handicaps are supposed to make all horses equal chances. The Newmarket Free Handicap is normally won by the horse making the most improvement from being a 2-year-old.

Fascinatingly, the word ‘handicap’ comes from the ancient practice of the nominators (normally in match races i.e. two runners) having to place their hands, holding the nomination stake, in the cap (of the handicapper) as the weights were declared. If unhappy with the weight he awarded, a nominator would abandon that stake in the cap. If the other runner ‘accepted’, he received his opponent’s forfeit. If both were dissatisfied, the handicapper was rewarded with both stakes. Rare to find a business where you are only rewarded when everyone hates your work!

Of course, form students have strong views of how a Free Handicap (FH) should be done. Most include a weight-for-age component (WFA). I don’t really approve of this as most horses don’t make the allowed or expected for weight-for-age improvement.

In any event, I idiosyncratically produce for myself four different ‘FHs’: one orthodox or traditional (with WFA), one without WFA, one with a cleverer WFA and last just on time ratings. Time ratings for 2-year-olds are very important.

Here is my ‘composite’ Free Handicap:

Time To ReignPortelli114Colt
Dawn PassageWaterhouse/Bott114Colt
Catch MeSnowden113Filly
I Am ImmortalFreedman110Colt
Unite & ConquerWaterhouse/Bott 109Colt
Brooklyn HustleWarren104Filly

By way of comment

1. Four points can be added to the fillies, because that is what they’ll receive in races, i.e. two kilos. This makes a big difference.

2. At the moment, the filly Exhilarates is, after adding the four points, clearly the best 2-year-old in my book.

3. The Slipper favourite, Tassort, whose only race start was in the spring in a four-horse race, in my view, is presently over-rated. The time was sound but not outstanding. His three opponents have all been subsequently beaten. His trial was good last week at Rosehill but he has to make more than normal weight-for-age improvement to justify his place in the Slipper betting.

4. Conversely, last Saturday’s winner, lightly-raced Microphone, is underrated, I say. A great race time.

5. What a good job Cummings has done to have four horses in the list.

6. I think this season’s 2-year-olds are about par at this stage with other years.

Having written all the above, I know my good wife will raise her eyebrows and say, “it will have to be a good horse to beat Faretti in the Slipper”. American Jon Kelly’s Faretti (I Am Invincible) is a dual trial winner but is lining up in Saturday's Silver Slipper. Gai might be right, again.