When horses in a race are allocated different weights to carry, in order that each horse has an “equal” theoretic chance of winning, it is called a “Handicap” race.
Similar to the animals in George Orwell’s books, some horses are more “equal” than others. Horses vary slightly between races and their form on any given day is somewhat variable, meaning that thankfully, there is usually a clear cut winner in all handicap races.
Horses just like human beings are not always feeling their best.
Handicapping is based on the fact that horses are “allowed” weight against other horses on a “Weight for age” basis and according to the distance by which one horse beats another, with consideration being made for the state of the “going” amongst other factors including the pace of the race.
Weight assessments are roughly based on finishing distances as follows:
• From five furlongs to seven furlongs, 3lb per length;
• From one mile to eleven furlongs, 2lb per length;
• From one and a half miles to 2 miles, one and a half pounds per length;
• More than two miles, 1lb. per length;
• National Hunt races: 1lb. per length.
Over a sprint distance:
Horse A carrying nine stone beats horse B. carrying the same weight by a length;
Horse B is therefore considered 3lbs. inferior to horse A;
In a subsequent race, the handicap therefore should read
Horse A nine stone, Horse B eight stone 11lb.
Official British Horseracing Board (BHB) handicappers carry out handicapping for all races using a central database of information which is very regularly updated.
The computers provide a handicap rating for all horses which are qualified to run, based on a scale from zero upwards for the graded handicaps prevalent in recent times, these ratings give more equal opportunities all round for handicapped horses.
Further down the scales, handicaps may be designed only for horses rated between zero and 70 meaning horses rated above this mark would be ineligible to compete. Handicaps are often organized in this fashion in order that lesser horses can compete against each other.
The really big handicaps like the Cambridgeshire and the Ebor are open to all handicap horses between 0-115
Each week, ratings are revised with significantly changed ratings being published in the sporting literature. It is good practice to keep track of these changes.
Flat race handicap weights vary between 7 stone 7lb. to no less than 10 stone; National Hunt race weights are between 10 stone and 12 stone with the exception of handicaps over 3 miles where the top weight is 11 stone 10lb.
When a handicapper attends to the entries for a race, despite the restricted range, he will allocate weights below the allowed lower limit, as often the top weight is withdrawn, meaning weights must then be duly raised.
The first Jockey Club handicapper was Admiral Rous, generally acknowledged as the best who ever lived. Having finished an especially difficult bit of handicapping he remarked famously “there, now none of them can win!”
Handicaps are “created” instinctively, by good handicappers; they are balancing acts resulting from an array of intelligent best guesses.
Private handicap’s sometimes published in newspapers as “ratings” as well as in the literature such as the Racing Post, give an indication of how a private handicapper’s assessment differs from the official assessment of a horse’s chances and its ability with respect to the other horses in a given race.
There are 2 definitions:
• The official BHB team who frame handicaps.
• Horses that run in handicaps, sometimes in a “stuffy” sort of way as in “he’s only a handicapper”
Second in command of a stable, generally not a “lad” at all.
Head Lad is in fact a very responsible position with duties which include feeding the horses and running the yard.
A competent head lad can mean the difference between success and failure.
There is usually a traveling “head lad” whose main duties include accompanying horses on their journeys between racecourse and stables.
Clive Britton, a highly successful trainer was once a head lad, similarly Barry Hills another top trainer, was once traveling “head lad” to John Oxley.
An example of a highly successful trainer who was once a head lad is Clive Britton while another top trainer is Barry Hills, once traveling head lad to John Oxley.
Not as terminal as one might assume. Fatigued horses often “hang” in towards the end of a race, either towards the rails or more dangerously towards an opposing horse.
The jockey will usually show a horse the whip to correct the situation.
If a horse is unsound in wind then it may have a hobday operation. This operation was pioneered by Sir Frederick Hobday, an eminent veterinary surgeon at the time.
A horse bred at its owner’s stud, rather than through a public auction.
Horses regularly competing in hunts used to be able to get a certificate signed by the master of foxhounds allowing them to compete in Hunter Chases.
Famous Hunter Chases from the past include horses such as “Baulking Green” who won 22 Hunter Chases in his career.
Anti hunting legislation has put this format of racing firmly on the decline.
Horses at the start of their National Hunt careers usually start over hurdles with the intention of later putting them over fences.
Horses must be 3 or over in the July of a given year to begin hurdling, most however are flat racers over four whose flat career is deemed to be coming to an end in the autumn of that year.
With hurdles races tending to be over 2 miles and longer, horses chosen as hurdlers are taken to have a fair ability for “staying” on the flat.
These long hurdles races often represent excellent Betfair “in-play” betting opportunities.
If a horse has never won a hurdle by the start of the current season, then at 3 years old it may start in the juvenile, or novice hurdles.
The rules lay down the specification for hurdles as follows:
• That they must be not less than 3 foot 6 inches in height from the bottom bar to the top bar;
• That they consist of bars of wood, such as willow or oak interspersed with the rich, broom or gorse, and are driven in sections across the hurdles course at an angle sloped from the takeoff side.
The upper part of a modern hurdle is cushioned so that horses do not bang themselves too badly when hitting it; this has reduced the clattering that used to be heard like gunfire around a racecourse during the hurdles race.
Hurdles races are however always spectacular, with noise and danger and the riders often set a furious pace.
Hurdles can sometimes swing back when they have been somewhat flattened causing great danger. Falls are common but less frequent than in the Chase’s, but the hurdlers are often tightly bunched and set a fast pace.
Racing law determines there must be at least 8 flights of hurdles in a 2 mile race, with more flights for each quarter mile over that distance.
Hurdlers and chasers throughout history are always firm favourites with the public and carry great affection.