Timeform ratings express in terms of pounds the level of form a horse has shown. On the Flat they range from below 30 for bad performers to over 130 for the real top-notchers. Over jumps the range is from below 60 to over 165. Horses without recent rateable form appear as a dash.
Great care is taken to keep the level of Timeform ratings consistent from one season to the next (after due allowance has been made for various factors that might alter the overall picture), so that comparisons between different generations can be made.
A horse that achieves a rating of 140 or higher on the Flat can be considered among the greats of the Timeform era. Similarly, only a very few horses are awarded a rating of 175 or more over hurdles or 182 or more over fences.
The following are Timeform's Greatest Racehorses:
|Highest Timeform Annual Ratings (Flat 3yo+)|
|144||Brigadier Gerard, Tudor Minstrel|
|140||Dancing Brave, Dubai Millennium, Harbinger, Sea The Stars, Shergar, Vaguely Noble|
|139||Arrogate, Generous, Pappa Fourway, Reference Point|
|Highest Timeform Annual Ratings (Jumps - Hurdlers)|
|178||Comedy of Errors, Le Sauvignon|
|177||Lanzarote, Limestone Lad|
|176||Bird's Nest, Bula, Faugheen, Golden Cygnet|
|175||Baracouda, Gaye Brief, Salmon Spray, Sea Pigeon|
|Highest Timeform Annual Ratings (Jumps - Chasers)|
|191||Kauto Star, Mill House|
|184||Burrough Hill Lad, Moscow Flyer, Long Run|
|183||Don Cossack, Master Oats|
|182||Azertyuiop, Best Mate, Captain Christy, Douvan, Carvill's Hill, Kicking King,|
|See More Business, Well Chief|
From time to time the question of how the merit of horses should be assessed arises, perhaps in the context of horses that show great consistency at the highest level without achieving a very high rating or when a horse with a single outstanding performance is rated among the best of its generation.
Hawk Wing's spectacularly one-sided victory in the 2003 Juddmonte Lockinge Stakes at Newbury, which he won by eleven lengths from Where Or When, was one occasion where Timeform's annual rating (136) met with criticism. Here's how we covered the topic in his essay in that year's Racehorses annual.
"Hawk Wing's performance in the Lockinge created plenty of debate, not least because it raised fundamental issues about how the merit of horses should be assessed. Many appear to think that handicapping is simply a matter of finding a horse which has run to form--a 'yardstick'--and basing the entire assessment of a race on this assumption...
It is just possible, of course, that Hawk Wing himself was the only horse to give his true running at Newbury and that he did not improve upon his previous efforts. Possible, but unlikely, taking everything, including his timefigure, into account. It could, on the other hand, be argued that our assessment of Hawk Wing is conservative, though his rating reflects a single performance and does not define him as the 'champion' of 2003. Other horses over the year, notably Falbrav, achieved a greater number of top-class performances.
According to some, not enough 'common sense' is used in deciding end-of-season ratings or rankings. One performance proves nothing, they say, and a horse like Hawk Wing should not be rated ahead of a horse so splendidly consistent as Falbrav. The ratings of a good number of the best horses in an annual like Racehorses are, after all, largely of academic rather than practical value. But handicapping in general could never be conducted this way.
Taking account of such attributes as toughness, consistency and versatility when rating horses would be penalising the very attributes that the critics themselves rightly hold so dear. The connections of horses campaigned honestly and enterprisingly would be horrified if they thought these factors were being taken into account in the handicap marks allotted to their horses. Likewise there would be an outcry if a handicapper took the view that 'one performance proved nothing' and allowed a wide-margin winner to go unpenalised while it was given another chance to repeat that form."
More recently, Simon Rowlands took a look at different ways of answering the question, Who Is The World's Best Racehorse? You can also find a discussion of the process we follow in arriving at ratings in "How Timeform Handicaps Horses."