Does the European handicapping system work?

An earnings-based system rather than one based simply on wins alone is a suggestion put forward by more than one industry expert, but the current system of handicapping has been in place for 170 years, introduced by Admiral Rous in 1851. Rous was appointed the first official handicapper in Britain in 1855 and devised the Weight-For-Age scale, which in theory should afford horses of different ages an equal chance of winning.

Tellingly, it says a lot about our sport that he is still remembered anecdotally for the remark, “I have just gone through the next race and have discovered that I have handicapped each horse so well that not one of them can possibly win.”

We could argue that if it isn’t broken, why fix it? Certainly, many trainers have no issue with the system, other than its interpretation by the various official handicappers in relation to their own horse.

“There has to be a process in place, and if we didn’t have handicaps, a lot of horses couldn’t compete and would fall out of training,” says Michael Grassick, CEO Irish Racehorse Trainers Association (IRTA). “I personally believe that handicaps serve a purpose. Many do feel that in Ireland the handicapper is too severe. After a period of time horses will run to a certain rating and when they go above that rating, they will no longer be as competitive until returning to that rating. The Irish handicapper is felt to be very slow in moving a horse who has gone up through the handicap back down the ratings; we feel that in the UK horses are lowered a bit quicker. While in the lower grades of 45-60, the horses seem to drop quite quickly and drop through the floor and out of the system…