BREAKING NEWS West Lafayette issues mandatory face mask executive order Full Story
STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

Meet the teacher who handicapped the world's biggest races

For all the star names in horse racing, from Queen Elizabeth II to Sheikh Mohammed to Frankie Dettori, the sport's mo...

Posted: Jul 24, 2018 4:08 PM
Updated: Jul 24, 2018 4:08 PM

For all the star names in horse racing, from Queen Elizabeth II to Sheikh Mohammed to Frankie Dettori, the sport's most influential figure over the past 20 years may just be someone you have never heard of.

After handicapping the Grand National for the 20th and final time in his career in April, former British school teacher Phil Smith will retire from the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) at the end of this month.

Phil Smith, head of handicapping, to retire after 23 years from regulatory body BHA

Smith trained as a teacher

Handicapper is in charge of allocating a horse's weight carried during a race

He's the man who has helped deliver competitive racing in Briton, assessing handicaps for races, both on the flat and over jumps, where horses carry different weights, depending on their racing ability. The better horses will be carrying extra weight which will affect the speed at which they gallop.

And having spent the past 11 years as the head of handicapping for the BHA, you could argue that few other people have had a similar impact on their sport as Smith has.

"I never really thought of it that way, to be honest," Smith told CNN by phone.

"You just see it as task you've got to do. You are trying to produce a competitive race, you want all the owners and trainers when they turn up to think they've got a chance," said Smith.

Schoolteacher

Originally from Allerton, a suburb of Liverpool, Smith said he has always had a passion for horse racing. While teaching maths and history at a secondary school, he wrote a statistical book on horse racing.

In 1995, he joined the BHA as a flat racing handicapper. Four years later, Smith was named senior National Hunt handicapper before becoming the BHA's head of handicapping in 2007. Now 68, Smith announced in October that he will be retiring from the regulatory body, the BHA, this season.

Grand National

Of all the races he has handicapped over the years, none have been more special than the one million-pound ($1.4 million) Grand National, which is staged at Aintree Racecourse near Liverpool.

Handicapping the Grand National for two decades has been "a real privilege and an honor for somebody from Liverpool," Smith said.

Watched by more than 600 million people worldwide, the Grand National is one of the sport's toughest races that features 40 horses traveling for four-and-a-half miles over 30 fences, the longest National Hunt race in Britain.

"I want them all to think they've got a one-in-forty chance of winning the race," said Smith. "I really don't want them to come and think they are an absolutely cast iron certainty and I don't want to come and think they've got absolutely no chance," he added.

"The race has been in existence for over a hundred years, and I believe that I will have done more races than any other handicapper," he said.

Criticism

Setting the weights on races with so much at stake -- the National in 2019 will have prize money of -1 million ($1.3 million) -- it is not surprising that Smith has come in for criticism from some owners over the weight allocated to their horses, perhaps most notably from Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary.

"I look at it from the point of view and the fact that I am confident in my own ability to give every horse an equal chance," Smith said. "And I know I've done that."

READ: The female jockey that could become an all-time great

30 lengths

Although Smith has great memories from his years as a handicapper, he still shudders at the thought of the rain-soaked 2001 Grand National race, when Red Marauder won.

The horse was only one of only four to complete the race, with 30 lengths between each one and the third and fourth finishers having to remount after falling off.

"I wasn't really helped by the conditions because the ground was a swamp that year," Smith said. "But I still felt bad afterwards."

READ: Could Brexit handicap the 'mother of all stud books'?

Two careers

Still, it's not been a bad career for a teacher from Liverpool.

Visit CNN.com/sport/equestrian for more news and features

"I enjoyed teaching a lot, but at the same time I am lucky to have had two careers both lasting 23 years," Smith said. "I enjoyed them both equally. It's a great idea to change your job every 23 years."

West Lafayette
Clear
80° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 81°
Kokomo
Clear
75° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 75°
Rensselaer
Clear
73° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 73°
Fowler
Clear
73° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 73°
Williamsport
Clear
76° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 76°
Crawfordsville
Clear
73° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 73°
Frankfort
Scattered Clouds
78° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 79°
Delphi
Clear
75° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 75°
Monticello
Clear
75° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 75°
Logansport
Clear
75° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 75°
WLFI Radar
WLFI Temps
WLFI Planner

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 51612

Reported Deaths: 2760
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion12074693
Lake5650249
Elkhart361860
Allen2952134
St. Joseph214869
Hamilton1708101
Cass16459
Hendricks1466100
Johnson1345118
Porter84038
Tippecanoe7799
Vanderburgh7686
Clark71144
Madison67864
LaPorte62328
Howard60758
Bartholomew60145
Kosciusko5824
Marshall5579
Noble52028
Boone49144
LaGrange48610
Jackson4783
Delaware47552
Hancock46836
Shelby45925
Floyd41444
Monroe34828
Morgan34531
Grant32226
Dubois3096
Montgomery29820
Henry29618
Clinton2903
White27610
Dearborn26523
Warrick26129
Vigo2588
Decatur25632
Lawrence25225
Harrison21822
Greene19632
Miami1942
Jennings17912
Putnam1738
DeKalb1694
Scott1659
Wayne1586
Daviess15117
Perry14910
Steuben1382
Orange13723
Jasper1362
Ripley1347
Franklin1288
Gibson1242
Wabash1163
Carroll1142
Starke1083
Whitley1076
Fayette1067
Newton10110
Huntington942
Jefferson872
Wells821
Randolph804
Fulton731
Jay720
Knox710
Washington681
Pulaski661
Clay645
Rush623
Posey610
Spencer571
Owen521
Benton510
Sullivan501
Adams491
Brown431
Blackford402
Fountain362
Crawford330
Switzerland320
Tipton321
Parke270
Martin260
Ohio230
Vermillion200
Warren151
Union140
Pike120
Unassigned0193

COVID-19 Important links and resources

As the spread of COVID-19, or as it's more commonly known as the coronavirus continues, this page will serve as your one-stop for the resources you need to stay informed and to keep you and your family safe. CLICK HERE

Closings related to the prevention of the COVID-19 can be found on our Closings page.

Community Events