Adjusting a handicap rating

We do not normally drop a horse’s handicap mark for a single disappointing run, especially if it ran well on its previous start.

Increasing a handicap rating

If our performance figure indicates that a horse has achieved more than its existing handicap mark, we may opt to increase that rating. This applies to all horses. This may even include horses that have fallen, unseated their rider or run out in the latter stages of a Jumps race

Why we might increase the rating of a beaten horse

Imagine a handicap with ten runners. When we set the weights for that race, we tried to give each runner a fair chance of winning on its best recent form.

The second-placed horse has beaten eight of its nine opponents. It is possible, but unlikely, that all eight ran badly but it is also possible that the runner-up has actually run very well.

If the balance of evidence indicates the runner-up has achieved a performance figure better than its rating, then we ought to raise its handicap mark.

In 2017, 29% of our total revisions to handicap ratings were increases and 71% were drops. Our records show that horses beaten last time out but whose handicap marks we raised have a better strike-rate than those horses whose marks we dropped.

We try to produce a fair and competitive race. If we need to drop a horse’s rating to achieve that aim, we will. If we need to raise a rating to achieve it, we will

Why we might increase the rating of a faller

In jumps racing there will of course be occasions when a horse fails to complete a race and a percentage of these incidents will occur in the later stages of the contest. As Handicappers, we are duty bound to assess where we think these non-completers would have finished in relationship to those horses that did complete the race.

While it may seem punitive to not only fail to complete but to also receive a weight rise, it would go against any handicapping principle to simply ignore the likely outcome. Of course there are several occasions where these decisions result in a horse dropping in the weights, for example a faller at the last may have finished only fifth and below form, therefore allowing a reduction in the rating.

All handicappers use the same guideline. No horse can have its mark increased for anything that happens before the second last obstacle. Once a horse gets to that obstacle it comes down to the handicapper’s judgement whether a rise is appropriate. While this isn’t an ideal solution, a line has to be drawn somewhere to suggest a cut-off point when a race is too far from the finish to suggest a definitive estimate

Dropping a handicap rating

If our performance figure indicates that a horse has achieved less than its current handicap mark, we consider whether to drop that rating.

When a horse performs below its rating, that does not automatically mean it is badly handicapped. There are many other factors at play – such as ground conditions, draw, race distance, the pace of the race, what the other horses did, luck in running, etc. Few horses run to exactly the same level every time.

We do not normally drop a horse’s handicap mark for a single disappointing run, especially if it ran well on its previous start.


Why a handicap rating might change before a horse runs again

Performance figures  are based on all the evidence available to us at that time but new evidence becomes available whenever any of those horses runs again.

We keep checking the evidence and adjust our performance figures for previous races up or down whenever the form tells us this is required. If we change the performance figures for a past race then we may – but not always – want to change the handicap ratings of those horses involved as well.

We call these adjustments collateral changes  or ‘back handicapping’. Trainers sometimes call this “raising a horse for standing in its box” although collateral movements in fact more usually result in horses’ handicap ratings being dropped (looking at the most up to date data, in July 2018, 65% of all collateral changes resulted in a drop of the horse’s rating).

We make these collateral movements because otherwise it would be unfair on a horse’s future handicap opponents if new evidence has already told us that its rating should be higher. Similarly, if new evidence tells us a horse’s handicap rating should be lower, it would be unfair for it to race at a known disadvantage.

Collateral changes (or back handicapping)

BHA Handicappers’ Team Leader Graeme Smith explains collateral changes :

Handicap ratings are fluid and past races are constantly under review to ensure all horses are handicapped as accurately as possible.

Every time a horse runs we review its previous races to ensure our assessment of them remains appropriate. Where evidence emerges that suggests our assessment is too high or too low, we will revise those performance figures. As a result, some horses from that race may have their handicap mark changed without even running.

Races that feature lightly raced horses such as maidens and novices are the most likely to need revising as there’s less form on which to base our initial assessment (we rely more heavily on other analytical tools). It’s fairly common for other races, such as handicaps, to also need amending, however.

In most cases we’ll change our level on a race only after two or more of the runners have raced subsequently and a compelling case has been made. There will be occasions when one horse has had a pivotal effect on our assessment of a race, however, and a subsequent performance from that horse may be enough to justify a collateral change.

There are a number of factors to take into account when making decisions about collateral changes. Just because several horses have run better/worse in subsequent starts doesn’t mean a race should be moved. For example, tactical biases may have skewed the result of a particular race, different conditions in subsequent races could have had an effect, different trips, different tactics, and even the individual profiles of the horses involved. These are just some examples of what goes into deciding whether a collateral change is appropriate.

Each handicapper is responsible for making the final decision on races they assessed, but we work as a team to highlight races that may need reviewing and our internal database also has a feature that helps with this.

Handicap ratings changed as a result of collateral movements are published within the weekly revisions every Tuesday morning. As collateral changes apply to horses that have not raced during the last racing week, we alert their connections with the following notation:

Around two thirds of all our collateral changes to handicap marks are downwards and only one third are increases (looking at the most recent data at the time of publishing, in July 2018, 65% of all collateral changes resulted in a drop of the horse’s rating).

Declining to allot a handicap mark (or refusals)

Our aim is to provide an initial handicap rating that enables each horse to race competitively in handicaps but without disadvantaging any of its opponents.

Wherever possible, we always try to allot a handicap mark but there are occasions when we have to defer providing a rating. This is usually because we cannot with any satisfactory degree of confidence assess the worth of that horse’s form.

On some occasions when a horse has been declined a handicap mark that horse will be required to run again. In other instances, it may be that we need more certainty over the level of form in a particular race and that subsequent runs of others from that race will provide enough evidence on which to allot a mark.

In conjunction with the National Trainers’ Federation, the BHA has produced the following guide to issues that may prevent a handicap mark being allotted.

Horses out of action for nine months or longer

Once a horse has a handicap rating, that rating continues to exist under constant revision unless that horse has been absent from that code for nine consecutive months. In such cases, that horse’s handicap mark is automatically expunged from the system.

If a trainer subsequently wishes to enter that horse in a race, the handicapper responsible for that division will reassess that horse from first principles and provide a re-introductory mark. In some, cases, that mark may be lower than the horse’s most recent published rating.