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Here's the latest Irish raider trying to exploit the handicap system

Joseph O'Brien: saddles Scholastic in this juvenile handicap hurdle
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2.05 Cheltenham
NAF Fillies' Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) | 2m1f | 4yo | ITV4/RTV

Irish-trained runners have dominated major British contests this season and it’s clear the standard of racing is higher on the Emerald Isle. However, the very nature of handicapping means that should be factored into the ratings and there has been a clear failing on that score this season.

If the handicap system was working correctly it wouldn’t have been possible for the Irish to lock out the British runners in handicap races in the way they have done in Graded events. Saturday’s Grand National was the latest example with ten of the first 11 being based in Ireland.

The BHA has already moved on the issue, reporting they will examine the handicap system for fairness to establish whether it might be handing a systemic advantage to Irish runners, but until they conclude that examination the Irish-trained runners may continue to dominate.

Only one Irish runner lines up in this juvenile handicap hurdle and it probably shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that Joseph O’Brien’s representative, Scholastic, is judged to be the joint best-handicapped horse in the race according to Racing Post handicappers.

Joseph O'Brien: found a winning opportunity for Global Equity in the opening maiden hurdle at Limerick

She admittedly owes her position to an unrelated quirk of the handicapping system. It is ten days since Scholastic achieved a Racing Post Rating of 121 when third behind Cheltenham Festival handicap winner Jeff Kidder in a Grade 2 event at Fairyhouse. While RPRs can react immediately, the BHA's procedures mean any adjustments to her mark will not be effective until Saturday.

Progressive is best of the Brits on RPRs. She recorded a figure of 117 when second on her handicap hurdle debut at Musselburgh last month, appearing to improve for better ground.

She is equal to Scholastic when adjusting that figure to the weights and will be suited by the ground again. Although even without the general success of Irish raiders recently, Scholastic's Grade 2 form is sure to be viewed as stronger than Progressive's at Musselburgh.

Race analysis by Graeme Rodway

What they say

Tom Palin, racing manager to Middleham Park, owners of Fiveandtwenty
She's bouncing at home and has come out of Aintree very well. She had a nice break going into that. To go to Aintree and Cheltenham in a week is a fair effort from Donald [McCain] and the team, but she's in great heart and she's surpassed everyone's expectations this season. It will be informative to know whether we're well handicapped and it's the first time she's not on a flat track over hurdles.

Sean Curran, trainer of Talking About You
She's giving Her Indoors weight but I think she's got a nice chance as she's in great order. She wasn't good enough in the Triumph but she's back in her own grade now, against four-year-old fillies, and the ground will be perfect for her. She's got every chance.

Talking About You: won four times this season

Alan King, trainer of Her Indoors
This has been the target for a while. Adrian Heskin came in to school her on Monday and she's in good order. She wasn't disgraced in the Boodles at the festival, though she couldn't really get competitive, and this is more her level.

Joseph O'Brien, trainer of Scholastic
It was a great run from her at Fairyhouse last time when earning black type and we'll be hoping she can pick up some more of that here. She probably doesn't want ground that's too soft. Hopefully if she turns up in the same sort of form as last time she'll have every chance of placing.

Nicky Henderson, trainer of Progressive 
She ran very well the other day at Musselburgh and she'll like the decent ground. It's a competitive race and there will be plenty of pace with Fiveandtwenty in there, so I suppose the one thing I'd worry about is whether she'd get the trip at a track like Cheltenham.

Reporting by James Stevens


Thursday's race previews:

3.35 Newmarket: Godolphin v Coolmore as top prospects clash in Craven

3.00 Newmarket: Oxted bids for back-to-back Abernant wins

2.40 Cheltenham: Newbury winner Bourbon Beauty 'in great order' with conditions to suit


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If the handicap system was working correctly it wouldn’t have been possible for the Irish to lock out the British runners in handicap races
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