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… making the cut for Cheltenham & Aintree … PPORA Q&As with Phil Smith, Head of Handicapping at the BHA


2017 Cheltenham Foxhunter Field

Photo Courtesy and Copyright John Beasley


…with the New Year upon us sights will start to be aimed on the Cheltenham and Aintree Foxhunters so we asked Phil Smith, Head of Handicapping at the BHA, to explain how he constructs the elimination sequence if these races are over-subscribed – and how to maximise your chance of making the cut. For the detailed race conditions please refer to The Planner.

“Who is qualified to enter?”
You need to read very carefully the Qualifications that are printed in the entry conditions of the races.

“How is it decided which horses run in the race?”
Each race has a safety limit. If the race is oversubscribed I have to research all the horses, give them a rating if they have ever run under Rules and put them in an order of merit to determine the elimination sequence. The higher up you are in that sequence the more chance you have of making the cut and being able to run.

“How do you decide on the ratings given to each horse?”
I will look at the performances of all entered horses that have run under the Rules of Racing and have been assessed by my team of BHA Handicappers. I will look at each horse and make sure I am happy with their current rating or adjust it if necessary.
For example, if a horse hasn’t run under Rules for a period of time e.g. because of injury, I will reassess their rating.
I will often drop a horse’s rating if it has been off the track/not run under Rules for a period of time and the exact amount of the drop will be dependent on numerous factors e.g. most recent performances, length of time absent, age of horse etc.  Please be aware, I will not take into consideration form in Point to Points for a horse’s rating.

To clarify this further, if a horse hasn’t run under Rules for 9 months its rating will have been deleted from our files and it is highly likely that the horse will be reassessed lower than its’ most recent rating under Rules as often the form will not have worked out leading to the rating being dropped.

If a horse has been running in Hunter Chases during the season, they will have been constantly re-assessed either by me or by one of my handicappers so it will have a current handicap mark.
The procedure is exactly the same for Irish horses as we give performance figures for every race run under Rules in Ireland including Hunter Chases.

“What about the Wild Card?”
After reviewing all the horses who have raced under Rules (including in Hunter Chases), I will then look at all horses that have only ever run in Point to Points. For the Cheltenham Foxhunters I am given the option of making a Wild Card Selection. If made this guarantees the Wild Card Horse a place in the race.
The Wild Card is for an outstanding Point to Pointer who I feel has performed to a high level during the season and deserves to take part at Cheltenham.   I will only choose a Wild Card if there is a stand-out horse that I consider merits a run, so it is not a given that there will be a Wild Card every year. For example, if there are a lot of horses who have all been running to the same level and there is no outstanding candidate then I will not choose a Wild Card. The Wild Card can be given to a horse that has only ever run in Point to Points or one that has shown vastly improved form in Point to Points compared to its form under Rules in the past. The Aintree Foxhunters does not have a Wild Card Entry.

“How are horses who have never run under rules assessed?”
If a horse has never run under Rules (including Hunter Chases) it will not be allocated a mark.  All of these horses, with the exception of a possible Wild Card at Cheltenham, have equal ranking at the bottom of the elimination sequence.   If the race is not filled by horses who have been allocated a mark or a Wild Card, then the available places will be allocated based on random ballot of the remaining entries, this is done by Weatherbys.

“How do I give myself the best chance of running in the race?”
My best advice is to run your horse in Hunter Chases during the current season so I can give you a valid, accurate, current rating. Also please do not rely on being chosen as the Wild Card for Cheltenham as there is only a maximum of one.


with thanks to Phil Smith and the BHA

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