As far as the ‘Timeform era’ is concerned, it is important to note that Timeform ratings – which express, in Imperial pounds, the calibre, or merit, of each horse – were not published for National Hunt racing until the early Sixties. Consequently, the Timeform era does not include luminaries of the post-war years, such as National Spirit, Hatton’s Grace and Sir Ken, who collectively won the Champion Hurdle eight times between 1947 and 1954.
However, as Japanese writer Haruki Marukmai once said, ‘Everybody has to start somewhere’ and, as it stands, Night Nurse, who recorded back-to-back victories in the Champion Hurdle in 1976 and 1977, is the highest-rated hurdler of the Timeform era, with a Timeform Annual Rating of 182. Indeed, the 1977 renewal of the Champion Hurdle is often acclaimed as the best ever run and Monksfield, who finished second on that occasion before winning in 1978 and 1979, is the joint-second highest-rated hurdler of the Timeform era. His Timeform Annual Rating, of 180, places him alongside Istabraq, who won the Champion Hurdle three years running, in 1998, 1999 and 2000.
The late Sir Henry Cecil, who died of cancer on June 11, 2013, at the age of 70, is best known as the trainer of Frankel, the highest rated horse in the history of Timeform and World Thoughbred Rankings, who retired, unbeaten in 14 races, in October, 2012. However, while Cecil, who was kinghted for services to horse racing in 2011, may have described Frankel as ‘the best horse I’ve ever seen’, he was arguably one of the greatest trainers in history.
Unfortunately his career was overshadowed by controversy but, in his heyday, between the late Seventies and early Nineties, Cecil was Champion Trainer ten times. Overall, he saddled 25 British Classic winners and was particularly adept with fillies, winning the Oaks eight times, including with Fillies’ Triple Crown heroine Oh So Sharp in 1985, and the 1,000 Guineas six times. He also won the Derby four times, including with British Horse of the Year, Reference Point, in 1987, the St. Leger four times and the 2,000 Guineas three times. Until June, 2018, when Poet’s Word, trained by Sir Michael Stoute, won the St. James’s Palace Stakes, Cecil also held the record for the most winners at Royal Ascot, having saddled 75 in his long, illustrious career.
Obviously, the many imponderables dictating the outcome of any horse race mean that picking a winner is not altogether straightforward. Indeed, even successful punters cannot expect to correctly predict the result of every horse race on which they place a bet and losing runs are inevitable.
Nevertheless, notwithstanding the importance of luck in running, picking a winner essentially boils down to a handful of factors, most, if not all, of which can be determined by analysing the form book. You can often make an educated guess about ability or, in the case of unraced, promising or progressive horses, potential ability by reference to the pedigree of the horse in question and its recent recent performances on the racecourse. Furthermore, certain organisations, including Racing Post and Timeform, publish ratings that express, in Imperial pounds, the ability of each horse in the eyes of their private handicappers, which can be extremely useful for comparison purposes. Recent form, say, within the last six weeks or so, indicates that a horse is likely to fit and ready to do itself justice.
Beyond that, the fact remains that most horse races are won by horses that are attempting little, or nothing, more than they have achieved in the past. Beware of any marked disparity in class, distance, going, value and weight; winning horses inevitably rise in the weights, according to official ratings allocated by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), but the weight a horse carries ultimately affects the speed at which it can gallop.
On October 15, 2011, on the final start of his three-year-old campaign, Frankel ran on powerfully to beat Excelebration by 4 lengths in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, over the straight mile at Ascot, as a result of which he was awarded a Timeform rating of 143+. At that stage of his career, Frankel was rated just 2lb inferior to Sea-Bird, awarded a Timeform rating of 145 after winning the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe by six lengths, although the ‘+’ attached to his rating indicated that he ‘may be be better than rated’. Indeed, Timeform hailed the ‘bold and refreshing decision’ by owner Khalid Abdulla to keep Frankel in training as a four-year-old.
So it proved, because on June 19, 2012, on the second start of his four-year-old campaign and his eleventh start in all, Frankel recorded an extremely impressive 11-length victory over his old rival Excelebration in the Queen Anne Stakes, over the same course and distance, to achieve a Timeform rating of 147+. Frankel did not better that rating when stepped up to a mile and a quarter, and beyond, in the Juddmonte International Stakes at York and the Qipco Champion Stakes at Ascot, but nonetheless remains the highest-rated horse in the history of Timeform.