Understanding Handicaps in Horse Racing

by International Correspondent (UK)

A handicap horse race is defined as a method by which, or a race in which, every horse is made to finish as close as is possible to one another, in an effort to ensure that the races remain as competitive as possible. Horses that run in handicaps do so off of differing weights, with these specifically designed in order to ensure that each animal has an equal chance of winning. Those who study form will understand why handicapping is important, and how it can affect the outcome of a race.


Man studying racing paper trackside before races.

Handicapping in Action

Horse 1 is rated at a handicap of 70, and he is the best racing horse taking part in the contest, with the finest form and the highest level of ability. Horse 2 is rated at 60. He is an average horse, with some ability to perform, but not as good as Horse 1.

We know that Horse 1 is very likely to beat Horse 2 if they run off of the same weight, thanks to Horse 1 being rated as a better animal. Therefore, in a handicap, Horse 1 will need to make a concession to Horse 2 in order to make the event a more competitive one.

In this example, Horse 1 will be required to carry more weight during the race than Horse 1 will. This, theoretically, evens the chances each horse has going in of winning, and makes their respective chances of coming first much closer. Of course, as is the case of any kind of risk, including that posed by the super slots NZ has to offer, this is not always how things work out. This is why betting on these competitions is possible, and as enjoyable as it is.


Who is In Charge of Determining Handicaps? 

This will depend on which country the horse and its owner reside in, with the United Kingdom falling under the jurisdiction of the British Horseracing Authority, or BHA. Their work is to watch each horse and assess the animal’s level of ability. If Horse 1 beats Horse 2 in three races, it is possible for the handicapper to safely deduce that Horse 1 is better than Horse 2, and the latter will then receive a rating lower than the former. Thus, when the animals next meet in a handicap, the gulf in the ability of each will be evened out.


How Do Horses Get Handicap Marks

There are very important rules in place that govern how and when a horse receives its handicap mark. The most important two are:

  1. If a horse manages to win a race, it will receive an official rating
  2. If a horse finishes three times, regardless of what position it may finish in, it will receive an official rating

Interestingly, the handicapper retains the right to refuse to give a horse a handicap mark. If a horse has finished tailed off in its first three starts, for example, it is not possible for the handicapper to form a fair assessment of that animal’s ability. In all cases, however, the handicapper will give a horse a rating that is based on the best form that it has shown up to that date.