Century Mile Racetrack and Casino: How Does Horse Race Handicapping Work?


How Does Horse Race Handicapping Work?

Jan 22,2019

The phrase ‘Horse Handicapping’ may inspire a vision of some shady fellow in a trench coat, sneaking into stables at night. He pulls out from under his coat a long, shiny crowbar, and for the horses that he doesn’t want to win, he gives them a good whack over the shins, Tanya Harding style.

Wow. That’s cold.

Seriously though, if you’re feeling completely in the dark about how horse handicapping works, let’s break it down.


What is Handicapping?

Essentially, the purpose of handicapping horses to make sure that everything’s fair before a race.

There are professionals who are called ‘handicappers’ who spend their time assessing the competition and making handicap recommendations based on their findings.

Horses are assessed by these handicappers, according to several factors, which we’ll touch on in a minute. Once assessed, an assigned weight is attached to the saddlebags as an additional burden for the horse to carry during the race.

This is often designated on the racing form as ‘OR,’ the Official Racing number of that horse. You can easily see which horse is handicapped by the number assigned to them. If a horse, “Phar Lap” has a racing number of 95 and “Maythehorsebewithyou” has a number of 96, you know that Maythehorsebewithyou has extra weight to handicap their race.

Handicappers (not the trench coat guys) are always watching and assessing the performance of horses to update those handicaps. They watch each race and use several factors to make their decision. 


Elements Affecting Handicaps

It’s not just the times of the races that affect how a stronger, faster, or larger horse will be handicapped during a race. The handicapper must look at the following elements to base their decision:

  • Fitness - A handicapper must be concerned with how the horse is doing on race day. Is it tired and sluggish? Or is it chomping at the bit to tear down the track, fresh and ready to go? Fitness or ‘form’ helps a handicapper make a better decision.
  • Conditions – How is the track? If the ground is soft or hard, that could favor a certain type of horse. If it’s wet and sloppy, that could pull one horse down while favoring an underdog.
  • Breed - Each breed has their advantages, especially in particular race lengths. Each breed is assessed on a scale that helps inform the handicapper what to assign each horse. The lineage and genealogy matter in the final decision, as well.
  • Jockey - It DOES matter who is riding the horse because a better connection between horse and rider ensures a better race. If the pair has a long history, it is likely to attract a higher handicap.
  • Racing History - This matters a great deal to the handicapper, checking out the performances of the past 3-5 races. If the horse hasn’t run for a while, it can’t be adequately assessed for a handicap rating. It takes a minimum of 3 races to decide a handicap.

Handicap racing is one of the most popular approaches to racing in North America and the UK, accounting for at least half of all types of races. It’s also the most popular form of betting to try to predict outcomes before the race.

Use the betting form, the odds, and the horse’s form to make your predictions. Whether it’s for fun or for trying to make serious money, it’s worth it to take the time to understand handicap betting.

Best of luck, and we’ll see you in the Winners’ Zone! 

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