What is a penalty?

In horse racing, the term ‘penalty’ refers to additional weight carried by a horse as a result of winning one or more races in a specified period. In a handicap race, horses are allotted weight according to their official handicap ratings, as determined by a team of handicappers at the British Horseracing Authority (BHA). However, if a horse is entered for one handicap race and wins another after the weights for that race have been published, it will incur a penalty of, say, 5lb or 7lb, which is added to the weight originally allotted.

The ethos of handicap races is that all participants have an equal chance of winning, so a horse that wins a handicap must, by definition, have improved on its official handicap rating. Penalties account for the fact that a winning horse may be turned out again quickly, before the official handicappers have had chance to revise its rating.

Similarly, if a horse has won a so-called ‘Pattern’ race – that is, a Group One, Group Two or Group Three race – on the Flat, it will incur a penalty, according to the race conditions, if it contests a lower-level Pattern race, or a ‘Listed’ race, within a certain period of time. Again, this reflects the fact that the horse in question has already proved itself at a higher level.