THE Classic generation of 2012 have been given their school reports and it did not make happy reading, although two precocious Irish-trained colts have received a tentative nod by the official assessors to raise the standard this year.
"A load of ugly ducklings, which turned into ugly ducks," was how Matthew Tester, the two-year-old handicapper, succinctly summed up last season's three-year-olds.
A year before, Tester had highlighted a dearth of talent among the 2011 juveniles and it seems he was right.
Aidan O'Brien's Camelot earned his rating of 124 in the Epsom Derby, but even he came in for criticism. "That (124) for a European champion three- year-old is disappointing," said Phil Smith, senior handicapper of the British Horseracing Authority.
Dominic Gardiner-Hill, who handicaps the milers, said: "The 119 Camelot achieved in the 2,000 Guineas made him the worst European champion three-year-old miler since ratings started, while Mince, on 113, is the lowest champion three-year-old sprinter."
When it was pointed out that O'Brien (below) still insists that Camelot is one of the best he has ever trained, Garry O'Gorman, the Irish handicapper, replied: "We go on what we see on the racecourse. Aidan goes on what he sees on the gallops."
Tester was more hopeful about last season's crop of juveniles. Jim Bolger's Dawn Approach, crowned champion juvenile following a flawless campaign that yielded two Group One triumphs, on 124 is 6lb clear of the next best, Ballydoyle's Kingsbarns.
The panel of international handicappers duly saluted Frankel as "the new benchmark of equine excellence" – but only after downgrading the previous one.
The unbeaten champion heads the 2012 World Thoroughbred Rankings on a rating of 140. However, concern over the standards applied in earlier classifications has prompted their "recalibration" to achieve statistical consistency with those published over the last two decades.
As a result, Dancing Brave has shed 3lb from the pinnacle of 141 he achieved in 1986 – enabling Frankel to leapfrog him as officially the best thoroughbred of the modern era.
The owner of Dancing Brave will certainly not object, for it was Prince Khaled Abdullah who also raced Frankel and his stud is now promoting a stallion whose first book of mares was oversubscribed even at a fee of £125,000.
The handicappers contrived to raise Frankel's rating from 136, as a three-year-old, by evaluating his astonishing 11-length win in the Queen Anne Stakes as the equivalent of 12.5 lengths, on the basis that this fantastically energetic creature was still in his comfort zone, and by treating his seven-length success in the Juddmonte International Stakes as worth 9.25 lengths. But they protest that the methodology has remained consistent – so that the 1.5 lengths by which Dancing Brave won the Arc, for instance, was generously appraised at 7lb.
The first classification, in 1977, exalted 145 horses at 120 or higher; since 1990, no crop has even mustered 40 at that level.
Smith has developed a sliding scale, endorsed by international peers, that trims as much as 7lb off the class of 1977 down to 1lb off the 1991 rankings.
Apart from the usurped Dancing Brave, Alleged plunges from a share of second (with 140) to joint 14th (134) and Shergar (also 140) now slides to joint-fourth (136). El Gran Senor, previously fifth (138), must now settle for joint-seventh (135). Conversely, Sea The Stars finds himself elevated from ninth to joint-fourth. And an unaltered rating of 137 suddenly promotes Peintre Celebre from joint-sixth to third.
Generous, shaved from 137 to 136, actually moves up from joint-sixth to joint-fourth. But he did not enjoy his new status long, the death promptly being reported of the 1991 Derby winner at the age of 25.