Turn It Up! Ratings system problematic, but necessary

Last week harness racing trainers gave a damning report on the country's ratings-based handicapping system in this paper.

The comments seemed certain to get industry participants talking, and they did not disappoint.

Clearly there needs to be some kind of change to harness racing handicapping.

While I certainly back the need for change, I can also see why that is difficult.

I believe the current handicapping system is just one part of what is a dark reality for harness racing.

And it is likely that it could be the same case for other codes, countries and jurisdictions.

The current ratings system actively rewards horses for getting beaten.

Run down the track and lose rating points, and a horse can compete at a lesser rating in its next start.

It sounds like a terrible idea to most.

However, the cold and dark reality of this is that the wider industry actually benefits from this scenario.

Harness racing has a shrinking horse population, and needs as many competitive horses in racing as possible.

Simply put, the industry simply needs and wants horses starting to provide a betting product.

Some will win, some will lose, and the industry will bank its cut of the turnover.

I do not like it, but it's part of the demise of a once-thriving industry.

The ratings system is simply a reflection of the entire harness racing game.

Fewer horses are in work, fewer horses are being bred and the ratings system, which is designed to help the industry deal with that, is the fall guy.

Because of that scenario, the ratings system is likely to be here to stay.

It needs to provide a platform for any horse to be competitive, regardless of its age, experience or previous record.

The current system has revived the careers of many horses who would have been uncompetitive under the previous system.

That is a good thing.

The message from trainers is that some of the good from that is coming at the expense of other horses.

They contend that once a horse is out of the maiden grade, its career prospects are immediately bleak if it is not a future top-liner.

They contend that the very system that is designed to extend a horse's career is limiting it.

That sounds like a major flaw!

The question is: why is this the case?

The answer looks simple.

Obviously the system has some flaws, and the way it assigns points needs adjusting.

One of the most glaring flaws in the transfer of points is the current system not awarding points to placegetters.

If it does not penalise placings, the system can not be considered to be a true ratings system.

It may still be a rating system by name, but it is a far cry from the properly-designed ratings systems which are used successfully throughout the world.

Why the removal of placing points was allowed to happen is baffling.

What were the committee that oversee the system thinking?

They need to admit defeat on this point and other flaws the system has in the interests of harness racing.

And two things should happen.

Firstly, officials should not give up on having a ratings system because the current one is a shambles.

A properly-designed system should benefit the industry.

So, officials, associations and individuals should put all of their past agendas and manoeuvres aside.

The industry needs to admit the current system is not working, and work to rebuild a better one.

Look overseas - that is where these ratings systems were born, and where they thrive.

Let's get rebuilding this thing, and quickly... before any more young horses end up on the scrap heap.

Happy trails.

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