Lack of homegrown star leads to slight dip in standing
Scott Burton examines the seemingly poor showing of the top domestic performers
On the face of it the fact that no British- or Irish-trained horse features among the top five in the world gives statistical ballast to the thoughts of more than a few commentators that the 2016 Flat season was not a vintage edition in these parts.
With Arrogate and California Chrome fighting it out for top spot on the West Coast of America, while Winx, Maurice and A Shin Hikari all posted strong showings for the eastern hemisphere, Almanzor was the sole European-based presence in the upper echelons of the Longines World's Best Racehorse standings.
The question arises – based on the rankings as determined by the IFHA – of whether 2016 is a historical outlier, or did British and Irish horses perform broadly in line with historical norms, lacking only a Golden Horn (or indeed a Frankel) to break through on to the podium?
On a rating of 124, Found and Postponed were the respective top-rated horses for Ireland and Britain, languishing fully 10lb behind Arrogate.
While connections of both horses can have few regrets about a season that brought glory aplenty, 124 is the lowest mark awarded to the champion in either country going back to 2009, the year when Irish-trained Sea The Stars was the world's best with a mark of 136.
Overall numbers are also slightly down, with Britain having managed either two, three or – on one occasion in 2011 – four horses in the top ten in each of the last seven years, including world champions Harbinger (2010) and Frankel (2011/12)
Reasons for optimism
One theme that emerged during the course of 2016 was the persistent presence of illness in a number of high-profile Newmarket yards, a problem that also blighted part of the year in France's main training centre at Chantilly.
That has led some in the handicapping community to suggest there may be plenty of untapped potential waiting to be unleashed in 2017.
A second possible explanation for such a poor showing was the relatively meagre bequest from the 2015 rankings.
With Golden Horn (130), Free Eagle and Muhaarar (both 123) retiring to stud, the next highest-rated British and Irish horses heading into last year were Order Of St George (124), Jack Hobbs and Fascinating Rock (both 123)
That in turn had a knock-on effect to the ratings potential of any budding three-year-old stars in 2016, with only French-trained Almanzor and multiple Group 1 winner Minding (equal 18th on 122) able to make their mark against the older generation.
One note of caution
The growing inequality in prize-money between the British Isles and racing powers such as Japan and Hong Kong must be a source of concern.
With both nations now providing regular entries in the top echelons of the Longines WBRR, the question of where wealthy individuals and breeding operations choose to base themselves is not an open and shut case.