Caulfield Cup winner’s penalty change

It is wrong thinking to change the time-honoured handicapping practice and eliminate the Caulfield Cup-winner’s penalty, if he is already allocated 56kg and never to go above 56kg.

This memorandum seeks to put the case against this move.

It should be said at the outset; this change seeks to solve a problem that does not exist.

Moreover, it would do real harm to the Melbourne Cup (MC).

Cynics suggest this move is to make the Caulfield Cup (CC) a more attractive ‘funnel’ to the MC. If this were the case, such an initiative is abhorrent.

Australian racing has enjoyed the fruits of our heritage handicaps and they have played a large part in making our racing great.

Sadly, it is as though there is a dark, secret force in racing trying to make these great handicaps more like weight-for-age races, so “the best horse wins”. This must be fought.

Handicaps capture the public’s (and owners’) imagination because established-form horse are made to carry more weight, and prove their ability, and ‘up-and-comers’ get their chance at glory.

In concept, a handicap should give every horse an equal chance of winning. In the distant past, handicappers were only recompensed if all owners of runners were dissatisfied and rejected his weights!

The current system of a penalty for CC winners is demonstratively appropriate for two reasons:

  • Since 1991 (post-anabolic era) most Caulfield Cup (CC) winners have run in the Melbourne Cup (MC). This shows CC winning owners were content with the penalty imposed.
  • Those CC winners that have run, notwithstanding the penalty, have invariably, counter-intuitively, started a shorter betting price in the MC. The betting price reflects the public view of the horse’s chance in the MC – it is the jury’s verdict of the penalty; arguably any horse that stats less than a $24 chance is under handicapped.


Year CC winner CC SP MC SP MC penalty result
1991 Let’s Elope 9 4 2.5 1
1992 Mannerism 10 Not entered NR
1993 Fraar 31 21 2 13
1994 Paris Lane 4 3.25 3 2
1995 Doriemus 9 11 3 1
1996 Arctic Scent 21 15 3 12
1997 Might And Power 9 4.5 3.5 1
1998 Taufan’s Melody 67 21 2.5 4
1999 Sky Heights 3.5 6.5 1.5 17
2000 Diatribe 9 8 2.5 11
2001 Ethereal 8 10 2 1
2002 Northerly 5.5 2 NR
2003 Mummify 5.5 2.5 NR
2004 Elvstroem 4 16 2.5 4
2005 Railings 8.5 7 2 14
2006 Tawqeet 17 6 2 19
2007 Master O’Reilly 9 3.37 1.5 8
2008 All The Good 41 2 NR
2009 Viewed 13 6.5 1 7
2010 Descarado 17 13 1.5 DNF
2011 Southern Speed 9 Not Entered NR
2012 Dunaden 14 7 1 14
2013 Fawkner 11 16 1.5 6
2014 Admiral Rakti 11 5.5 0.5 14
2015 Mongolian Khan 5 1 Non runner
2016 Jameka 4.2 8.5 1.5 15


(Note how the penalties have inexplicably shrunk over the period)

It must be added that, if the CC winner isn’t penalised, it is most unfair to all the MC aspirants that finished behind the CC winner. This is an unanswerable criticism to the proposed change. Beaten horses in the Caulfield Cup having to meet the winner on the same or worse terms in the Melbourne Cup is outrageous. How could any rational person justify this unfair proposition for a handicap race?

For the sake of fullness, it should be noted there is no suggestion that any horse has been given an ‘easy run’ in the $3M Caulfield Cup to avoid the penalty to justify this change.

The main justification for the penalty-policy change is fallaciously explained: “History shows it is difficult to win the MC with more than 56kgs”. This reflects a wrong-headed superstition that there is a glass ceiling at 56kgs, which is rubbish. Sir Isaac Newton would be appalled.

To go to the facts, these are the MC weight stats for the 26 years:

Weight over the limit Runners Winners Strike rate % Betting result, which has a 13% margin incorporated
0 43 1 2.3 -31.4
2.5 to ½ kgs 191 6 3.1 -17.2
3 to 6 kgs 252 11 4.3 -18
More than 6kgs 111 8 7.2 -5.9


The above table shows clearly that the handicappers habitually under-handicaps top weights and give too much weights to bottoms weights.

Moreover, since the Cup was first run in 1861, there have been 21 winners who carried more than 56kgs. That is, 21 winners out of 155 runnings. During that period, the limit was as low as 33.5kgs. The Banker won carrying 33.5kgs in the early days. In the 20th century, Poitrel carried 63.5 to win. There have been 7 winners carrying more than 56kgs since 1966. The ease of the wins of some winners carrying less than 56.5 suggests that they could have carried 56kgs+ and still won.

Of course, in the post-anabolic period, Ethereal, Might And Power, Doriemus and Let’s Elope have (ignoring Viewed, which won in a different year) won the double, all with large penalties. That’s four in 26 years – statistically an above average performance (normal would be one!).


What handicapping changes would enhance the MC?

There are two areas should be attended to.

Firstly, the handicapping spread should be increased. The table above shows how advantaged top weights are and how unfair it is to bottom weights. This is easy to correct.

Secondly, Australian horses in the MC are punished by the handicappers. This should be corrected. Since 1991, there have been 177 runners with the Aus suffix for five winners and a 35.7% betting loss. In the same period, there have been 217 runners with Northern Hemisphere suffixes for 13 winners for a 5.3 betting profit (defeating the 13% margin against them). On any view, the visitors ‘get in too light’. It is palpably wrong. Racing must be the only sport in the world where visitors get ‘a start’ over the locals.

From the Melbourne Racing Club’s point of view, they should be delighted the success of their great Caulfield Cup.

But, if they wanted it to be a better MC ‘funnel’, perhaps they should swap their day with Cox Plate day, giving a 10-day bridge to the MC rather than the current longer 17 days. That would produce more MC back-up horses.

Additionally, a financial bonus to any CC runner that wins the MC, would not be out of the question and get all connections attention.

Rob Waterhouse

September 17, 2017


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