Horse Racing Handicapping Explained

Written by daniel mcgowan
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Horse Racing Handicapping Explained
Handicapping makes horse racing a fairer sport (Horse Racing image by Wimbledon from

Handicapping in horse racing is designed to make the sport more equal and give each horse an equal chance of winning, according to the British Horse Racing Authority. Handicapping works by making the fastest horses carry extra weight to slow them down. This system gives horse owners the best chance of winning because without them, the best horse would win each event, according to the BHRA.


Handicapping makes horse racing a more equal sport and gives each animal the same chance of winning, according to the Each Day Each Way website. The British Horse Racing Authority website compares it to the record-breaking 100m runner Usain Bolt by saying, "It would take Usain Bolt longer to run 100 meters if we strapped lead weights round his ankles," Different weights are given to different horses to make things equal and give every horse, owner, trainer and jockey a chance of winning the race. The weight put in the racecard is the total burden the horse will have to carry, including the jockey and his saddle.


For most owners, handicaps offer the best chance of winning a race, according to the BHRA. Owners would not enter their new horses into races without them because they would know they had no chance of beating the horses already showing good form and winning races. Handicapping, therefore, opens up the sport to more people.


Horses gain a handicap after three non-handicap races. These are always against other horses that have never won a race. Once a horse has run three times, the handicapping agency will give it a rating--sometimes called a merit--providing it completed each event.


Handicap ratings are measured out of 130 merits for flat races and 180 merits on jump courses. The higher the horse's rating, the better it is. According to the BHRA, the average rating of all horses on the flat is about 60, and the average for jumping courses is about 95. If Horse A is rated at 90 and Horse B is rated at 80, Horse A will have to carry 4.54kg. more weight to make it an even runner with Horse B.


Handicapping agencies work out horse merits after every race. If a horse wins a flat race by one horse length, this equates to 1.36kg. of weight. A similar win in a jump race is worth less added weight. Handicappers also alter merits depending on where the horse finished each race, the distance of the race, the age of the horse and the weight already carried. A handicap will be altered depending on how a horse performs throughout its career. It will be raised if the horse performs above its initial merit, and dropped if it keeps performing below that level.

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