What is Handicap Racing?

What is Handicap Racing? Handicap racing is based on the tried-and-tested premise that increasing or decreasing the weight that a horse carries will ultimately affect the speed at which it can gallop over a certain distance. Thus, by allotting each horse a weight proportional to its ability, it is possible to frame a race in which each participant has, at least in theory, an equal chance of winning. Handicap races, Flat and National Hunt, account for approximately 60% of all horse races run in Britain.

Handicap racing was ‘invented’ by Admiral Henry John Rous, who was, at the time, senior steward of the Jockey Club, in the mid-nineteenth century. Nowadays, handicapping is the responsibility of a team of professional handicappers employed by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA). To qualify for an official handicap rating, a horse must run in two or three non-handicap races, so that its ability can be assessed. Thereafter, each subsequent performance is monitored and the official rating may be increased, decreased or remain unchanged as a result. Handicap races are classified as ‘Class 2’, ‘Class 3’, etc, according to the official handicap ratings of the horses are eligible to compete; thus, an improving horse may need to step up in class as its official rating increases.