Tuesday, October 07, 2008

International Power

Who is the best horse in the world? That question has been a source of contention ever since the rise of American racing. Is the dominant European horse the best or is it the American horse? In modern times the argument has had to be widened to include Japan, Australia and even Hong Kong.

Rating international stars is very difficult. All across the globe races are run in totally different ways over widely varying surfaces. Even the rating systems in the respective nations differ greatly. The International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA) has emerged as the authoritative source for international ranking. They draw on the expertise of racing experts from all major racing districts to come up with Free Handicap style ratings. Free Handicap style ratings are the oldest type of form rating and are quite popular in Europe. They attempt to represent each horses ability in the form of the weight they would have to carry in order to be considered equal. For instance the IFHA has Curlin rated at 130 and Zenyatta at 120. According to their rankings Curlin would beat Zenyatta unless she was receiving more than 10 lbs.

My feeling is that it's a flawed way to rank horses. A horses best race is used to determine the sum total of their ability. So one good race from a lower quality horse can see them ranked far higher than they should be. Below is the IFHA Top 10, see what you think of the results.

IFHA Top 10

1. Curlin - 130
2. Zarkava - 127
2. Duke of Marmalade - 127
4. Big Brown - 126
4. Monmartre - 126
4. New Approach - 126
4. Papal Bull - 126
8. Tartan Bearer - 125
9. Henrythenavigator - 124
9. Tamayuz - 124
9. Youmzain - 124

They probably have the first few in the right order but there are some real shockers in the top 10. Papal Bull makes it because of his good second place finish in the King George. Duke of Marmalade was given a 127 so Papal Bull who was not beaten by much gets a 126 and that's all it takes to make him one of the 10 best in the world. Forget that he's 0 for 5 this year. Tartan Bearer is another one that sticks out for being ranked way beyond what he should.

Overall I think it's a pretty poor ranking that is biased against North Americans and is simply working off a faulty premise. Just because a horse runs one good race doesn't mean they're actually that good. Every race of their current season has to be weighed into the equation. Consider the list below which is a top 10 based on my own in house Power Rankings.

TC International Power Ranking Top 10

1. Curlin - 50.86
2. Zarkava - 49.61
3. Duke of Marmalade - 48.13
4. Big Brown - 38.84
5. Zenyatta - 34.93
6. Benny The Bull - 31.56
7. New Approach - 31.14
8. Marchand D'Or - 30.63
9. Henrythenavigator - 29.38
10. Well Armed - 27.75

I'm far from an internationally renowned expert but the list these Power Rankings produce looks far more like a real International top 10 should. At least every horse on this list has actually won a G-1 race. The IFHA should look at revising the way they rank horses. If a backyard hack like me can make a much better method than the one they use it's time for a change.


Winston...not really said...

Quite a body of work. Hats off.

I obviously don't know what criteria you use but I don't know that I would place Henrythenavigator so far down the list. He beat New Approach 2 of 3 and has proven himself in better company than Big Brown.

Still your point is well taken and the rankings could use further scrutiny.

Kennedy said...

The "criteria" I use is not all that dissimilar from how standings like those of the TBA are calculated.

These figures are a bit more complex with other factors added but essentially the power ranking figure is the horses total accomplishments divided by their number of starts.

Henrythenavigator would have nearly been atop this list had he not failed badly two starts back and then failed to win last out.