An initial handicap mark will often be the best performance figure that a horse has achieved in (what will usually be) three qualifying runs.
If a horse has a performance figure of 70 on each of its first three races, then it will probably be given a handicap rating of 70. An initial handicap rating is not usually higher than the best performance figure to date and it could be lower if the horse has been below form recently or absent through injury.
It might also be a lower figure if we have doubts about the reliability of that highest performance figure (perhaps due to how that race has initially worked out) or if we think the horse might have been flattered by the result (for example, in a slowly run race).
Sometimes we can allot a horse a handicap rating before it has run three times. In this and in other ways, there are differences between the qualification procedures for Flat and Jump racing, outlined in the sections below
On the Flat
Most horses must run three times on the Flat in order to qualify for a rating. However, a horse that wins on its debut is eligible for a handicap mark after its second start.
Due to the effect of Covid-19 on the race programme, handicap qualification rules for Flat races have been modified and those interim rules can be viewed here.
We can usually incorporate foreign races into our qualification calculations, although for 2yo races 2 of the 3 qualifying runs need to be in Britain and/or Ireland.
Some Flat horses have a different rating for turf and all-weather racing because they show markedly better form on one type of surface. We usually wait until several runs on each surface have made for a strong case.
Separate Flat turf and all-weather handicap ratings
Just as some horses perform better on firm or soft turf, some horses show a different level of ability on the sand-based surfaces of Britain’s all-weather tracks.
If a horse seems much better or worse on all-weather compared with turf, we have the option of allotting a separate handicap rating for each surface.
For example, at the time of writing Alpha Tauri had won 11 handicaps on the all-weather. He had also run 30 times on turf, coming close to winning only once. His handicap rating for all-weather races is 64 and for turf races 38.
About 8% of Flat horses have dual ratings. We consider both ratings after each race whichever surface the horse races on.
Horses usually need to run three times over hurdles or fences, or a combination of the two, in order to achieve their first handicap rating over Jumps. National Hunt Flat races , point-to-points and Flat races do not count.
However, Jumps horses can alternatively obtain a handicap mark after only two runs provided they have finished in the first four on both starts and we have enough evidence, as outlined in the above sections, on which to rate them.
We can also give a handicap mark to a once-raced winner over Jumps if that horse is no longer eligible for novice races. For example, a horse that wins one hurdle race yet remains without a hurdles rating would not be eligible for novice contests from the following season onwards. We would therefore allot that horse a rating to enable it to instead race in handicaps.
The exception for novice eligibility is that any horse winning its first hurdle or chase in the last two months of each Jumps season (March and April) retains its novice status until the end of October to enable it to gain a similar amount of experience against its peers as a horse winning its first hurdle or chase at an earlier stage. However, due to the effect of Covid-19 on the race programme, any Novice that won for the first time between 1 February and the end of the 2019/2020 Jump Season (25 April) will remain a Novice until 30 November 2020.
Jumps horses can also have two different handicap ratings, one for hurdles and the other for chases (section below)
The link between hurdle and chase ratings
Races over hurdles and chases present different challenges. We therefore produce separate handicap ratings for each discipline.
Most horses making their debut in chases have already raced over hurdles. To avoid starting the qualification procedure over fences from scratch, we apply a horse’s hurdle rating to handicap chases. However, it must start over fences in a novice event, either in a weight-for-age contest or a handicap.
Where a horse continues to race over hurdles and fences and therefore holds a published mark for both codes, each mark is reassessed whenever it runs. Its performances in each discipline may be taken into account for either rating. Of course, this applies as much to dropping a horse’s mark as it does for increasing it.
Some horses do not revert to hurdles once they go chasing, so after thre consecutive chase starts we delete the hurdle rating. If such a horse is entered in a hurdle, we will provide a figure at this point. This is also available to trainers at any time on request.
By keeping in regular contact with our foreign counterparts, we do our best to help British trainers racing horses formerly trained abroad. We will allot a handicap rating whenever possible but in some cases we might ask to see the horse take part in a non-handicap in Britain before we can commit to a figure.
If a British-trained horse races abroad, we discuss its form with the handicappers from that country before rating that performance. We also assess foreign-trained horses that race here, although their domestic handicapper is in charge of publishing any revised ratings.
We keep our own ratings for all Irish Jumps races, as well as many French ones, because these populations frequently integrate with British horses at various levels of competition.
One horse’s rating can differ between countries due to variances in our systems. For example, we have a different Jumps weight-for-age scale from Ireland. However, Britain and Ireland reach an agreement on our best horses at the end of each season for the Anglo-Irish Jumps Classifications.