Horse Racing Handicap
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What is a handicap race and how to handicap horses?
A horse race handicap is one that is designed to give all horses an equal chance of winning. This means that the better horses in the race carry slightly more weight than those who are of a lower ability, and the additional weight is worked out to level the playing field between all the runners.
For example, if you have a 12 runner horse race, with 12 horses all rated differently, they will all carry different weight which is worked out on their rating. If a horse is rated 1 better than the next horse on the official handicap then that horse will carry 1lb in more weight than their rival. This is designed to give every single horse an equal chance of winning, and that is why horse racing handicap exist. You don’t have to be the best horse to win a horse race handicap, you need to be the best-handicapped horse in the race to win, and that is all down to the horse rating system given to the horse.
Who is responsible for the handicap?
Each country has a horse racing board and it is this board that employs handicappers to look after the horse racing handicapping systems and horse handicapping methods. These handicapper rate every horse in the country, and it is these horse racing ratings that are used to determine how much weight a horse carries in a race. The best horse carries the most and each of the other horses carries less weight, which is determined by their official rating.
The best horse racing handicappers will watch each race and assess a horse’s performance to decide whether they need to be raised in the horse handicap, lowered or kept the same. This is obviously a very big job, and these people are some of the most important people in horse racing, as their official horse ratings are used as the basis for everything that is to do with handicapping.
Changes to the official horse racing handicap ratings
When a horse receives a handicap rating, that will not stay the same forever. Horses are rated based on their first few runs. If a horse wins a race then they are given a rating based on that, but if not they have to run three times before they can have a rating.
After they have gained their rating, this will then change based on how they perform in their following runs. A win would see a horse raised in the handicap to make it less likely for them to win again, while those who go close to winning will either remain the same or go up slightly in the handicap. Lastly, those who run poorly may be dropped in the handicap to give them more chance of winning in the future, although it is a lot tougher to get a drop in the handicap than to get a raise.
Horse racing handicapping tips and when assessing the handicap
When you are looking at a horse handicap race and the horses running in it, there are certain things you should look out for to give yourself an advantage.
Look for lightly raced, improving horses
While exposed horses are capable of running to their handicap mark and winning when it is their turn, sometimes you will need a horse that is far better than their handicap mark. These are often young, unexposed runners who have not had many runs. There is a chance that these horses have something else to give, and can improve to be better than the handicapper thinks they will be, as he has to evaluate them and rate them based on what we have seen from them, not what they may be capable of in the future.
This is especially the case with horses who run over longer distances, as they may not be seen at their best until they go over those longer distances. Their first few runs are likely to be over shorter, and those are the runs they will be rated off. Once they go over further, expect to see them improve and win races, as they are nicely handicapped.
When looking at races, the first horses you should be taking a look at are the young and unexposed types who could improve past their current rating and win the race before going up higher in the handicap.
Look for horses who have dropped in the handicap
Sometimes you will find a horse who has dropped in the handicap and is left on a mark that they are more than capable of winning off. These horses may be coming to the end of their career, but some may have genuine excuses and these are the horses you need to try and pinpoint.
For example, if a horse needs quick ground, but they have been running on very soft ground due to bad weather then they may find themselves running poorly. This will mean they are dropped in the handicap, although there is an excuse for that, it isn’t because they are decreasing in ability.
When these horses are back running under their favoured conditions, which in this case is the ground, they are worth following as they are well handicapped because of that poor run. This is an excuse you can forgive, and a reason why you should be looking to back a horse. These are much tougher to find, but if you understand how to handicap horse racing, and you know which horses prefer certain types of ground then you can certainly use this to your advantage and find these horses.
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