What Do They Mean By Handicap In Horse Racing?

The speed at which any horse can gallop will always be affected by the amount of weight it is carrying. In a handicap race, horses are given different weights (based on their perceived ability) in the hope of giving every horse the same chance of winning.

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The weights are allocated by the ‘Handicapper’. It’s their job to look at previous performances and decide how much weight each horse should bear.

The Handicapper will give each horse a rating, which is a number expressed in imperial pounds. This means that a horse with a rating of 142 would bear a total weight (including jockey, saddle and irons) of 142 pounds (10stn 2lb).

If a horse wins a handicap race, particularly if by a wide margin, it is highly likely that the Handicapper will raise the horse’s rating. This means that it will carry more weight, next time out. Conversely, if the horse performs badly, the Handicapper will reduce the horse’s rating. The Handicapper studies races very closely, looking carefully for instances of jockeys not getting the most out of their mounts in order to achieve a lower handicap rating in the next race!

The ‘Handicapper’ would like all of the horses to finish together in a line, but of course this never happens. Nor will each horse begin the race at the same odds, as the market will decide that some horses have been less fairly by the Handicapper than others!

Chief BHA Horse Racing Handicapper Phil Smith
Chief BHA Horse Racing Handicapper Phil Smith

You tend to get very few ultra-short-priced favourites in handicap races, which are usually much more competitive than conditions races (where all of the runners carry the same weight).

Three-fifths of the races run in the UK are handicap events and they are widely-regarded as being good for the sport. Handicaps are popular with punters and their competitive nature attracts a larger amount of bets than conditions races which feature a hot-favourite.

The best thing about handicap races is that every horse has a real chance of winning. Don’t be surprised if the rank-outsider ends up winning the next handicap race you watch!

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