King George Winner Harbinger Rated 140 - The Reasons Why
Harbinger stretches right away to record a record-margin 11 length win.
Harbinger put up a scintillating display to win the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes by 11 lengths at Ascot over the weekend to earn a Timeform rating of 140. One of the handicappers behind that rating, David Johnson explains the process of how that figure was reached.
"A 140 rating puts Harbinger in the top dozen performers that Timeform has rated, alongside Dancing Brave, Shergar, Vaguely Noble and Sea The Stars, and behind only Sea-Bird (145), Brigadier Gerard and Tudor Minstrel (144), Abernant, Ribot and Windy City(142) and Mill Reef (141)"
As much as many have tried, there is no denying that Harbinger's 11-length win in Saturday's King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Sponsored by Betfair) marks him down as an outstanding colt. Rated 131+ prior to Saturday, his revised rating stands at 140, marking him out by far the best horse in the world currently in training, 6 lb ahead of Rip Van Winkle (134), whose rating comes from his 2009 form.
Timeform fully recognises the historical significance placed on their ratings within the industry, and a rating of 140 certainly wasn't arrived at lightly and without due diligence. We continue to hear of 'yardsticks' when people are discussing handicap ratings but, assigning a horse as having run its race and basing the entire assessment of the race on that premise, isn't the way we handicap races at Timeform. References like 'Youmzain is just about as solid a yardstick as can be found' is surely bogus, as even that horse's record in just the King George - beaten four lengths by Dylan Thomas in 2007, nine and a half lengths by Duke of Marmalade in 2008 and now fourteen and a quarter lengths by Harbinger - will testify.
Rather than try to guess which of Harbinger's rivals 'ran their race' or is 'the one to rate the race around', the first thing we do is produce a 'standard' for the race that objectively takes into account the difference at the weights of the runners and makes an adjustment for the likely strength of the form through the field size. The standard for this year's King George compared to the last 5 runnings of the race is 138/135/138/140/138 (most recent race first).
However, it could be argued that this year's King George was rather different in make up to those of recent seasons as it is the first year since Alamshar won in 2003 that there has been a meaningful representation from the classic crop. A standard compared to the years of 2004 to 2000 would read 138/140/140/139/143. Either way, whether looking at the race through a five-year or ten-year perspective, a rating of 140 for Harbinger isn't hard to justify.
Race standards are an excellent guide to rating horses with a limited amount of form to go on, but races like the King George are contested by horses we know quite a bit about, and we can use their previous form to calculate a different standard for the race (more on this can be read about in greater detail here). Using this methodology to rate the King George would suggest a rating of 142 for Harbinger.
The third key aspect we have for helping us to compile as accurate a rating as possible for any individual race is the overall race time. Form is probably a more key component than time in the ratings that are printed in our racecards and Black Books these days, but the time of a race is still very important in giving support to how solid a form rating is. You'd be far happier to expect a horse that finished fifth in a Lingfield maiden with a form rating of 72 and time figure of 70 to be able to reproduce that form rating than a horse with a similar form rating but a time figure of just 27. The timefigure for Harbinger returned at 'only' 135, is still one of the best over the last 20 years, and it is because the timefigure is unable to fully back up the form rating that we are happier to rate Harbinger 140 for the time being rather 142.
Using the overall race time in isolation though sometimes has its flaws and it is a pity that a flirtation with sectional times being produced and placed in the public domain has ultimately come to nothing in British racing. However, that doesn't mean that you can't produce your own and I am grateful to Simon Rowlands for sharing these. An analysis of the time recorded for the last 3f of each contender compared to the overall race time they recorded suggests that Harbinger was the only runner in the King George to run evenly.
Expressing the horses' finishing speeds as a percentage of their average overall speeds comes up with figures of: Harbinger 99.7%; Cape Blanco 95.5%; Youmzain 95.4%; Daryakana 95.4%; Workforce 93.7%; and Confront 91.4%, where a figure of around 100% would be optimum. This seems to confirm that the overall margin of victory was exaggerated somewhat by the beaten rivals running an uneven pace.
Poundage allowances for margins beaten need to be sensitive to the conditions under which they occur, and the pounds-per-length we used on Saturday - on good to firm ground and with the horses running at fast speeds - was greater than would usually be the case at a mile and a half. However, the evidence of the sectionals is that the beaten horses need to be rated a minimum of 5 lb better than the result. In practice, this is why Harbinger's master rating is 140, having recorded a performance figure of 140 in the race, Cape Blanco is 125/120 and the rest are further below form than simply allowed for by their closing sectionals, with Youmzain 123/113 and Daryakana 119/110.
In terms of a historical significance, a 140 rating puts Harbinger in the top dozen performers that Timeform has rated, alongside Dancing Brave, Shergar, Vaguely Noble and Sea The Stars, and behind only Sea-Bird(145), Brigadier Gerard and Tudor Minstrel(144), Abernant, Ribot and Windy City(142) and Mill Reef(141). Here's hoping he stays fit and well, as he has the form to carry all before him at middle distances for the rest of the year.