Implementation of Handicapping Review gathers pace with raft of new initiatives announced

04 Oct 2018 BHA Features Racecourse
  • Review aims to ensure handicapping practices deliver fair and consistent results for racing’s participants and customers as well as growth for the sport
  • New initiatives announced include revamped guide to handicapping and BHA web pages and appointment of a data analyst
  • Further implementation of recommendations ongoing as BHA seek to ensure optimal handicapping practices going forward

The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) has today announced further details regarding the ongoing implementation of its handicapping review.

The review was carried out in 2017 by broadcaster and journalist Lydia Hislop and had the following objectives:

  • To consider whether the current aims of handicapping are consistent with the sport’s wider objectives for growth
  • To assess whether the current methodology adopted by the BHA handicappers is the optimal approach to producing handicap ratings
  • To review how the BHA handicapping department works day to day, particularly when dealing with participants, with a view to considering how well current practices serve the sport
  • To consider the internal workings of the handicapping department, including structural issues as well as day-to-day working practices.

Implementation of the review is being led by Head of Handicapping Dominic Gardiner-Hill following his appointment to the role earlier this year.

Amongst the recommendations from the review – which are divided into the aims of BHA Handicapping, its methodology, operational matters and team structure – a number have now been completed. You can read an executive summary of the review and its recommendations here with more detail on some of the completed recommendations below.

Dominic Gardner-Hill

Dominic Gardiner-Hill, Head of Handicapping at the BHA, said:

“Handicapping is a vitally important part of our sport, for those who participate in it as well as those who follow and bet on it.

“I hope it is clear from the original commissioning of this review, through to the stage where we are now beginning to implement its recommendations, that it is a project we are taking seriously and one which we are committed to carrying out in as open and transparent way as is feasible.

“Publishing a condensed version of the review should also allow for what can be quite a technical area to be understood clearly and easily by those who are interested.

“Handicapping practices must be aligned with the wider sport’s aspirations to grow, and the implementations announced today – along with those planned for the future – show that we want to ensure that our approach, methodology and working practices serve the ever-changing needs of British racing.”

New Guide to Handicapping

Amongst the recommendations to be implemented so far is a re-vamped ‘Guide to Handicapping’ to sit on a newly designed handicapping section of the BHA website. The guide has been written with both participants and the general public in mind, and aims to be easier to understand, more accessible and to explain any potentially contentious areas of handicapping policy.

The guide is intended to be an evolving resource which will be updated and changed as other projects are completed. It will also set out the aims of handicapping, which have been re-vamped as part of the review. The new section of the website and guide can be found here.

Independent Appeals Process and Panel

Another change resulting from the review is the introduction of a new online handicapping appeals process, which will be carried out by an independent external panel of experts ensuring all appeals are heard fairly, independently and following due process.

The required information including a guide to the process for trainers can be found on the BHA website here, including a full list of panel members. The process will come into force from Monday 8 October.

Flat Penalty Structure

The handicapping review recommended that a system of giving penalties for handicap winners on a discretionary basis should be introduced to ensure that neither horses carrying penalties nor their opponents were disadvantaged in the short term.

However following consideration of the practical implications of such an approach as well as feedback from stakeholders, it was decided that a more nuanced penalty structure for winners based on age should be employed instead.

As such, penalties for handicap winners aged two and three will be 6 lb, those aged four to six will be 5 lb and those aged seven above will be 4lb. This approach was developed following detailed data analysis including the average ratings rise of horses winning handicaps and was approved by the industry’s Racing Group.

This structure will apply to Flat handicap races from the start of the Flat turf season in 2019.

Data analysis to be provided by James Willoughby

One of the recommendations of the original review was to employ a data analyst to promote a more rigorous, data-driven approach to handicapping practices. It has been announced today that an agreement with experienced racing analyst, journalist and data expert James Willoughby has been arranged to provide these services.

The role will provide data, research and analysis to inform handicapping policy as well as ensure more objective and scientific data-interrogation form part of working practices within the handicapping team. Much of this work will be published on the handicapping section of the BHA website as part of the commitment to deliver a more open and transparent approach to handicapping.

Further recommendations

A number of other recommendations from the review, a full summary of which can be read here have already been implemented, including performance figures being published on the BHA website for all races except maiden and novice events. Also, increased diversity has been introduced in the race programme courtesy of the 10-race optional claiming handicap trial which is currently taking place. These races will be reviewed at the end of the current trial.

The BHA Handicapping Team has undergone an internal restructure to increase accountability. The details of the new structure were announced earlier this year and can be read here.

Further recommendations which are currently being worked on, following the appointment of James Willoughby, include:

  • The improved use of data analysis to better understand how handicapping affects a horses’ career development and the owner/trainer experience
  • Agreeing consistent team methodologies, policies and processes
  • Devising a new pounds-per-length scale based on accurate individual race times
  • Designing a model which could be used to help underpin a possible trial of minimum rateable form on the flat
  • Further increasing transparency via the publication of data analytics which in turn will help better inform, educate and engage stakeholders.

Longer term projects include:

  • Commissioning further research into modern automation
  • Prioritising efforts to harmonise British & Irish Jump handicapping.

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

“Although this was an internal review, albeit conducted independently, the size, depth and scope of this review and its implementation should not be underestimated and I am grateful to Dominic Gardiner-Hill and his team, along with Lydia Hislop and all those who assisted in the original review for their efforts so far.

“We are making good progress implementing the recommendations but there is still some way to go, and not all changes will be felt immediately. It is our aim to ensure that the BHA’s handicapping practices, which are so fundamental to a whole range of aspects of British racing, are optimal for the needs of the sport, its participants and those who follow and bet on it.

“A key consideration, and an area that arguably has not been looked at closely enough in the past, is the impact of handicapping on the sport’s wider objectives for growth, particularly in relation to racehorse ownership. Although there is only usually going to be one victorious owner after each handicap race, we need to better understand if there are any elements of handicapping that particularly frustrate owners and, in some cases, results in them turning away from the sport.”

Notes to editors:

1. The new independent Handicapping Appeals Panel is as follows:

Justin Brandon
Rachel Candelora
Graham Dench
Adrian Grazebrook
Simon Holt
Simon Mapletoft
Steve Mellish
Keith Melrose
Maddy Playle
Clive Reams
Simon Rowlands
Vanessa Ryle
Stephen Smith
Timothy Steele