How handicap weights are determined

The horse with the highest rating carries the heaviest weight.

The amount of this top-weight is written in the race conditions, highlighted left. Using a handicap with a ratings band of 66-80 as an example, broadly speaking, if a horse has a handicap rating from 66 to 80, this would be a suitable race to enter.

In this case it might be 9 stones and 7 pounds. 9-7 is the combined weight of the jockey and his equipment.

The other horses carry less weight proportionate to their handicap ratings. So if a horse rated 80 in this race carries 9-7, then a 70-rated horse carries ten pounds less (that is 8-11) and a 66-rated horse 14 pounds less (8-7).

Trainers may still enter horses rated 65 or lower in this race but the weight carried by those horses in this example would be the minimum of 8-7, the same as for a 66-rated horse. This is called ‘running from out of the handicap’ or ‘running wrong at the weights’.

Trainers can usually also enter a horse rated one or two pounds above the ratings band. This horse can run if there is space for it (See Eliminations section, below.) but it must carry extra weight above the usual top-weight. So in this case an 82-rated horse would carry 9-9. If there are more runners than there are spaces available in the race then these ‘+1 and +2 horses’ have to make way for those wholly within the ratings band.

Eliminations

Every race has a maximum permissible field size (also known as the safety factor). This varies from race to race and from course to course.

Should a greater number of horses be declared for a race than there are spaces available, the BHA has rules to decide which horses are able to run and which are eliminated  or ‘balloted out’.

The sequence in which horses are balloted out can vary depending on the type of race but usually the higher a horse’s handicap rating (where falling within the required ratings band, if there is one) the more likely it will be able to run in that race.

Other weight factors

In a handicap, there are three things other than a horse’s handicap rating that can affect the weight carried:

• allowances according to the weight-for-age scale (WFA)
• allowances for apprentice or conditional jockeys
• penalties

Weight-for-age

Like other athletes, horses start racing before they are fully mature. When young horses race against their elders, they receive an allowance of weight to offset that immaturity.
The weight-for-age scale dictates the allowance received by younger horses. It varies according to the time of year and race distance.
The linked table incorporates revisions made to the weight some 3yos and 4yos now receive from older horses following a BHA study into its racing data. The revised scale became effective from 2017.

There is a separate scale for Jump racing.
Different scales apply to some horses from the Southern hemisphere because their breeding season varies by six months. Again, there are separate Flat  and Jumps scales.

Claiming jockeys

If a trainer employs an apprentice or conditional jockey to ride a horse, the weight carried can be reduced via that rider’s claim. This is designed to offset the rider’s inexperience comparative with fully professional riders and to encourage trainers to employ them thereby ensuring the next generation of jockey can learn their trade.

On the Flat, an apprentice jockey starts with an allowance of 7lb. This reduces to 5lb once they have won 20 races, to 3lb once they have won 50 races and disappears when they have won 95 races.

Over Jumps, there is a difference for conditional jockeys in that their 5lb allowance reduces to 3lb once they have won 40 races and disappears after 75 career successes. Conditionals can also claim up to 10lbs if riding for their attached stable in certain races.

Penalties

The racing week (explained below) runs from Sunday to Saturday inclusive. Any ratings we revise as a result of this week’s form are published the following Tuesday. Those changes only come into effect for races staged from the following Saturday onwards. At the extreme, if a horse wins on a Sunday its revised rating would only come into effect 13 days later.

The BHA permits horses that win at any time during this period to run again from their original rating but requires that they carry a penalty – a set amount of extra weight – in order to meet their opponents on more equitable terms.

Currently, the usual penalty is 6lb in Flat races and 7lb in Jump races, but from January 1st 2019 the penalty structure on the flat is changing and will be based on the horse’s age.

Age Penalty
2yo – 3yo 6lb
4yo – 6yo 5lb
7yo+ 4lb

These amounts are derived from a look into the average amount by which we raised horses’ ratings for winning handicap races. Penalties are cumulative for each win during the period.

There are some exceptions to this rule. Wins in races confined to apprentice or conditional jockeys don’t usually attract penalties other than in another race of the same type. This is to encourage trainers and owners to run horses in such races, thereby providing vital education for inexperienced jockeys.

Over Jumps, success in a hurdle race doesn’t trigger a penalty in a chase nor vice versa. The penalties in some of Britain’s most significant handicap races are often different from those in everyday handicaps. In the Grand National, for example, there is no penalty for winning a race after the weights have been published.

In some Pattern races and conditions races horses are also required to carry a penalty depending on the level of any recent victories. While no horses are required to carry a penalty in a Group 1 race, in a Group 2 race, horses will often carry a penalty if they have previously won another Group 2 or a Group 1. Results from up to 16 (but normally between nine and five) months previous can be considered, but this varies based on the races and the time of year they are run.

How the racing week works

Race day Entries made Weights published Ratings used for weights
Sunday Monday Tuesday Day after entry
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Tuesday’s
Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Tuesday’s
Wednesday Thursday Friday Tuesday’s
Thursday Friday Saturday Tuesday’s
Friday Saturday Sunday Tuesday’s
Saturday Monday Tuesday Day after entry

The ratings are updated on a weekly basis and published every Tuesday at 07:00. These figures take into account all performances in all races from the previous racing week, including British runners abroad. For handicapping purposes, the racing week starts every Sunday and ends every Saturday night.

By Tuesday morning, we have already published the entries and weights for races until the end of Friday. The revised ratings only affect the weights for races from Saturday onwards. This is to enable trainers to race their horses as planned in the intervening days without having to account for any change in rating.

Trainers usually make their entries six days before a race is staged. However, entries for races staged both on Saturdays and Sundays are made on the preceding Monday. This means trainers must enter for those races without knowing what their horses’ revised handicap marks will be.

We encourage trainers to contact us if they need to know a horse’s new rating before making such an entry.

If a horse wins a race and its connections want it to run again before we have assessed the victory, its original handicap rating plus a penalty (outlined in section above) for the win will usually apply. The rules of the racing week mean that on whatever day it wins, a horse can ‘run under a penalty’ until Friday night of the following week. After that, its revised handicap rating will take account of the win.