BHA handicapping trial aims to support Conditions Stakes races and provide better balance to race programme

30 Jan 2017 Grassroots Racing/Fixtures

  • In 2017, following the running of one of the around 40 eligible Conditions Stakes races run during the flat turf season, the handicapper will only be able to increase the rating of the winner of the race, or any horses who have had less than four runs in their career
  • Trial to ascertain whether a new approach to handicapping of Conditions Stakes races will boost field sizes and allay trainer concerns about running horses
  • Longer-term aim of providing alternative options and better balance to race programme which has become dominated by handicap races 
  • Trial has support of the Racing Group and the sport’s Executive Committee

The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) has today, with the support of the Racing Group and the sport’s Executive Committee, announced the trial of an innovative approach to race conditions regarding handicapping in flat Conditions Stakes races.

The premise for the trial is that there are limited opportunities for many horses to run outside of handicap races. The proportion of handicaps within the flat race programme has increased annually since 2004. It is acknowledged, however, that Conditions Stakes races, which would be the main alternative to handicaps, have continued to suffer from small field sizes, and the number of races being programmed has reduced as a consequence. In 2017 just 43 Conditions Stakes races were run, compared to 67 in 2012. The average field size in these races in 2016 was 5.72, compared to 9.60 in handicaps.

Through ongoing dialogue with trainers it is felt this is partly because of trainers’ preconceptions that running in close proximity to a higher rated opponent on less favourable terms in a Conditions Stakes race may result in a significant rise in a horse’s handicap rating.

While this is not borne out by handicapping data, the Racing Group felt that perception can be as important as reality and to encourage more horses to run in Conditions Stakes races, trainers’ preconceptions of the handicappers’ reaction needs to be addressed.

The Racing Group and Executive Committees, which contain cross-industry membership, have therefore approved a proposal that, as of 1 April 2017, following the running of a Conditions Stakes race, the handicapper will only be able to increase the rating of the winner of the race, or any horses who have had less than four runs in their career.  All beaten horses that have had four or more runs in their career must have their rating either unchanged or reduced. The trial will run until the end of the flat turf season on November 11. The All Weather Championships finals at Lingfield Park on 14 April, as well as the Queen Alexandra at Royal Ascot and the Epsom Derby Trial will be excluded from the trial.

From 171 eligible British runners who ran, but did not win, in the 40 Conditions Stakes races which would have fallen under the trial in 2016, only 14 horses had their ratings increased compared to 81 horses who had their ratings decreased. 76 horses had their ratings left unchanged.

Richard Wayman, Chief Operating Officer for the BHA, said:

“As the Flat race programme has become increasingly dominated by handicaps over the last few years, for many horses there are now few opportunities to run in any other type of race. We would like to provide a greater variety of options, particularly for the group of talented horses that compete just below Black Type level and who regularly end up being sold overseas.

“We recognise that Conditions Stakes races often suffer from small fields and this trial should help identify whether removing the preconception of the handicapper’s reaction would make such races more appealing. If it proves successful, our longer term aim would be to develop the programme of Conditions Stakes races, supported by competitive levels of prize money, to provide an alternative to handicaps.

“It is an innovative step but we want to be bold, progressive and try new ideas. We have spoken to horsemen and the racing public and listened to their concerns over a number of years, and this trial is designed to address those concerns.” 

Phil Smith, Head of Handicapping for the BHA, said:

“This initiative should encourage trainers to enter horses in conditions races and thus increase field sizes.

“In reality only 14 non-winners had their handicap marks raised in Conditions Stakes races in 2016, but we are aware that the perception is the issue that is preventing trainers from running their horses, and this is what the trial seeks to address.

“As an important part of the trial we will be considering the effect that this has on handicap races.”

Trainer Ralph Beckett said:

“This is an excellent initiative, so the NTF Flat Committee wholeheartedly supports the trial. Hopefully it will have a dual effect, and benefit all stakeholders. It should cater for horses that connections feel are in the grip of the efficient Handicapping department. At the same time, it will give variety to a programme that has become dominated by Handicaps.”

Simon Rowlands, Chair of the Horseracing Bettors Forum (HBF), said:

“The Horseracing Bettors Forum welcomes initiatives, like this one, which explore ways of increasing the competitiveness of racing and the appeal of betting on the sport.

“If successful, then it could lead to greater variety in a race programme which has become dominated by handicaps in recent times, and that is likely to play well with those who follow, and bet upon, horseracing.”


Notes to Editors:

1.  A flat race is a Conditions Stakes if it is a flat race which has not been awarded pattern or listed status and it is none of the following
•    a Handicap Race, Classified Stakes or a Novice Race,
•    a race restricted to Maiden Horses,
•    a race governed by selling or claiming provisions, or
•    a race confined to Apprentice Jockeys or Amateur Riders in respect of which the Total Prize Fund is less than £7,500.

2.  Around 40 Conditions Stakes races will be programmed in 2017 which will be affected by this trial. Conditions Stakes races above the value of £50,000 have been excluded from the trial, namely the All Weather Championships finals at Lingfield Park on 14 April, as well as the Queen Alexandra Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Epsom Derby Trial.