What Are Handicaps In Horse Racing?
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What Are Handicaps In Horse Racing?

Handicaps are known terms for sports punters. You can find handicap markets everywhere – in football, basketball, hockey, esports, and even in some entertainment markets.

While handicaps are present in horse racing, horse racing handicaps are not the same as handicap betting markets. And yet, it’s very important for any punter to understand what handicaps in horse racing mean.

Here is everything you need to know about handicaps in horse racing.

Handicaps In Horse Racing

Handicaps in horse racing shouldn’t be confused with handicap betting markets in football (+/-1.5 goals), League of Legends (+/- 9.5 kills) or basketball (+/-10.5 points). And not because we’re talking about a different competition, but because horse racing handicaps are an entirely different thing.

When we talk about handicap betting markets, we refer to an imaginary advantage/disadvantage bookmakers give to the teams or players relative to their perceived strength or likelihood of winning the game. In horse racing, handicaps are meant quite literally.

Example of Handicaps In Horse Racing

In handicap races, horses are allocated handicaps i.e. different weights (which are displayed on race cards as stone and lbs). These are set according to the horses’ official rating (OR).

So when we talk handicaps in horse races, we’re referring to added weight the horses have to carry, which quite literally handicaps them and their chances of winning.

Known as the “top weight” is a horse which carries the most weight. Each horse after the top weight then carries one pound less for every point their rating (handicap rating)( is lower.

There is no exact weight the horses carry, as it largely depends on the type of the race. In Flat Races, the weight range is typically between nine stone and 10 lbs to eight stone, whereas in National Hunt, the weight ranges from 11 stone 12 lbs to around 10 stone.

How Do Handicapped Horses Carry Weight?

The handicap weight the horse must carry includes the weight of the jockey plus the added kit (including the saddle). The difference between the weight of the jockey + equipment to the handicap weight the horse has to carry is then added with lead weights which get attracted to the horse’s saddle.

How Does Horse Get Handicapped?

Horses get handicapped by the official handicapping body. In Britain, that’s the British Horse Racing Association (BHA).

The BHA sets the handicaps based on the horse’s official rating, which is also known as the Handicap Mark. The mark gets added to a horse once he fulfills one of two criteria:

  • A horse wins a race
  • A horse races three times

The criteria help the handicapping body give the horse an official rating, which is based on their performance. This rating is set primarily on the horse’s performance relative to other horses that already have an official rating and also compete in the race.

How And When Does Horse’s Handicap Mark Change?

Horse’s Handicap Mark is not static but constantly changes – depending on his performances throughout his career. As such, it’s constantly being adjusted.

The BHA or other handicapping body constantly updates the ratings for all horses and publishes it weekly. There have also been instances where the horse’s rating changed even if the horse hasn’t raced, mainly due to the change of rating of other horses the said horse has raced against previously.


Horse 1 is given a rating of 70 after finishing last week’s race two lengths behind Horse 2 (who was rated 72). This week, Horse 2 beats Horse 3 (rated 80) by three lengths and is given an 85 rating.

Since Horse 2 is now rated 85 and has not long ago lost against Horse 1, the handicappers might want to change Horse 1’s rating, considering they’re still rated 70 despite beating an 85-rated horse.

What Is Long Handicap In Horse Racing?

Long handicaps in horse racing is a fairly common term which is added to a race’s racecard. It’s also known as racing “from out of the handicap”.

Long handicaps in horse racing are displayed when one or more horses attending the race have a handicap mark significantly lower than the highest-rated horse. Because of that, the actual weight the horse should carry based on their official rating is lower than the minimum weight allowed by the rules.

However, to allow the lower-rated horses to compete in the race, they must carry more than they would normally have to.

What Is A Penalty In A Handicapped Race?

If a horse is confirmed to enter a handicap race and was already assigned the weight but then wins another race (which increases his rating), the horse will be given a penalty in the form of added weight.

Although it’s referred to as “penalty”, it technically doesn’t punish the horse. Instead, the penalty in handicap races simply means that a horse is given extra weight to compensate for his increased rating after the weight has already been assigned.

Non-Handicap vs Handicap Race

The main difference between handicap and non-handicap races is that in non-handicap races, the weight the horse must carry is not affected by their official rating.

Still, even in non-handicap races, there are reasons for a horse to carry a different weight than another horse. Those include:

  • Concessions (reduction of weight) for being a mare/filly
  • Penalties for winning races above a certain class (or grade)


How does handicap work in horse racing?

Handicaps in horse racing are essentially added weights the horses must carry. The weight is dictated by their official rating (OR), where a higher-rated horse carries more weight than a lower-rated horse.

What is the difference between a handicap and a non-handicap race?

Even in non-handicap races, the horses carry added weight. But unlike in handicap races, the weight horses in non-handicap races have to carry is not dictated by their official rating. Instead, there are other reasons for the difference in weight, including concessions, horse’s age, and penalties for wining races above a certain grade or class.

What does well handicapped mean in horse racing?

A horse will often be described as “well handicapped”, which means that it is tough to be better than the rating it has been given. The term is often used by trainers or jockeys who believe that the horse was given a lower rating than what it deserves.

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