How does Handicap horse racing work?

handicap horse racing

In Handicap horse racing, the better horses are given a disadvantage. Conversely, the worse horses are given an advantage. This is done by making the horses carry different weights. A handicapper decides the weight (this weight is known as the impost) each horse should carry. The total weight of the jockey, saddle, and weights (lead) will equal the impost. The weights are carried in lead pads (saddle pads). In Great Britain, there is a central system, operated by the BHA who assign weights. Weights can change (e.g. be increased if a horse wins a race). The most famous handicap race in the world is of course the Grand National. Another example is Australia’s Melbourne Cup.

So, if the horses have been handicapped, how do you go about picking a winner?

  • You could look at the horses form (e.g. past performances, giving more weight to recent performances).
  • You could look at the ability of the jockey.
  • Also look at the condition of the ground. If it has been raining recently, the ground may be soft. If there has been a lot of sunny/dry weather the ground may be hard. How do the horses in the race perform under the expected condition of the ground?
  • Look at the weather in general at the time of the race (e.g. winds, rain). Which horses do badly, or well, under the expected weather conditions?
  • If you are there (or can see it on TV) watch all the horses body language prior to the race.
  • You might also get some ideas by watching how odds are changing – this may reflect the opinion of other bettors (but not always).
  • More advanced methods involving studying speed and pace.
  • If you can find out where the horse will start it can help. Inside starts (i.e. close to the rail) mean less distance will have to be travelled. However, inside horses can be cut-off by faster horses from the outside.

Hopefully, you have understood how handicap horse racing works.