How Official Handicap Ratings Are Made

Why do we have handicap races and how are the handicap ratings created?

Handicap races are designed around the principle that if you put weight on a horse then it will slow it down. By applying different weights to horses of different abilities, a handicap race tries to make the race as equal as possible. Theoretically, if a handicapper has done a perfect job then all horses would cross the finish line at the same time. Of course that is impossible, but it is the ultimate goal of a handicapper.

The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) has a team of twelve handicappers whose job it is to watch every single race and determine how well the horses have performed. In order to perform their analysis they take into account all the factors that went into the race, such as…

  • Weight carried
  • Distance
  • Going
  • Pace
  • Draw
  • Finish Distances
  • And more…

Based on all this information a figure is then awarded to each runner in race which shows how well it performed. Using this performance figure as reference, the handicapper will then create a handicap rating for the horse. This handicap rating determines how much weight the horse is going to carry in a particular race.

There are certain rules that different types of handicaps have regarding the entry of runners into races, if you are interested in these then please check them out at the BHA website.

There are effectively two stages in the handicapping process. Creating performance figures and creating handicap ratings. Let’s look at each in some more detail.

Performance figures are what handicap ratings are built on and so we shall look at them first. To get a performance figure for a horse, the handicapper will first of all find a horse in the race that has run the race to the same level it has run recent races, or has performed to a level similar to its current handicap rating. We need this horse in order to work out how much better, or worse, the other runners in the race have been.

Once this horse has been decided on, the others are then judged based on the distance they are from this horse using what is known as a pounds-per-length process. The table they use for flat racing is…

5f:                    3lbs per length

6f:                    2.5lbs per length

7f-8f:               2lbs per length

9-10f:              1.75lbs per length

11-13f:             1.5lbs per length

14f:                  1.25lbs per length

15f+:                1lb per length

What this means, is that, over a 5 furlong race, if a horse was ahead of the established horse by 1 length, then it should have been carrying 3lbs more. If it was 1 length behind then it should have been carrying 3lbs less.

Unfortunately it is not quite as simple as that and the skill of the handicapper is also heavily relied on. Recent form, consistency of performance and many other factors are also taken into account and this adjusts the performance figure that a runner may be given.

Once the performance figure has been given, the horse then needs to have a handicap rating assigned to it. A winning runner will have its handicap rating raised only if it has been determined that in order to win the race their performance needed to improve. This can be determined by the previous and current performance figures. However, it is not only the winners that can have their handicap rating increased, horses that place also often see a rise in their rating. After all, if they have beaten most runners in a big field where all horses are supposed to have an equal chance, then they have performed better than their current handicap rating.

The opposite of this is true for decreasing a horses handicap rating, Indicating that a horses current rating is no longer an accurate assessment of the horses ability, which has declined.

As you can see, a handicap rating, while being made as formulaic as possible, still relies on the human assessment of the handicapper. And that means…that they can get it wrong!

For us as bettors this means that we can make profits. By handicapping races ourselves we can assess where the official handicappers may have got it wrong before a race, and then bet on those horses that have an advantage.

There is also something else that must be pointed out, which is a slight flaw in the official handicapping process. The pounds-per-length scale that is used, in my experience, is not accurate. Other conditions also need to be taken into account to determine how many pounds a horse should be added e.g. Size of horse, ground etc… Not only that but in reality there are also certain barriers that must also be considered, putting 2lbs on some horses is not going to make any difference at all, while on others it might. In fact there was a book written about this a long-time ago called The Solidus, and while the figures are not necessarily 100% true anymore, the principles behind are very much an important part of race analysis.

Michael Wilding

Michael started the Race Advisor in 2009 to help bettors become long-term profitable. After writing hundreds of articles I started to build software that contained my personal ratings. The Race Advisor has more factors for UK horse racing than any other site, and we pride ourselves on creating tools and strategies that are unique, and allow you to make a long-term profit without the need for tipsters. You can also check out my personal blog or my personal Instagram account.


  1. Good afternoon Michael,

    The Solidus is still used today by Racing sense Simple Software. The website is The software is Free to use you only pay for the updates and the daily declarations provided for at £9.99 per month. Have a look at their website if you have time and let me know what you think. Thank you.

    1. Hi Franklyn, thanks for the links. Very interesting, I still have my copy of the Solidus, it shouldn’t be too hard to code it for a database although, if I remember correctly, there were a couple of sums that would need to be figured out. Not sure whether it is of any value or not without going through all the results and doing some analysis, something I shall look to do if I can in the future.

        1. I have the Solidus sitting on my bookshelf. It is a good book although I remember he left out some of the crucial calculations which I guess you’ve figured out.

  2. Pinciples without figures seems like one could waste a lot of time applying priciples to a race but it would not be any good if the figures were not correct.

    So that brings us to the point ~Guess who has got the figures Who knows the Barriers and Conditions?

    Anyone can go to the BHB website and get the Handicappers take on how a race should be Handicapped.

    The thing is to know which variables to apply to a Handicap Race taking in the points that the official handicapper takes into consideration, there can only be so many others that they do not that can make a difference to the outcome.

    (Like a mole making a dodgey bit of ground for a horse’s leg to bring it and several others down).

    So all things being equal, what do we need to do to find the correct handicap for a race and so begin to read a race the way it should be run and the most likely Winner?
    All things being equal of course is what a handicap is supposed to do. When the Handicapper fails is when money is made by the few and lost by the Many. 2% Can read a race. other punters still have to have a certain amount of luck.
    Guess work is Just that, Luck. But facts and figures are informed analysis of a race so long as they are correct facts and figures, then Luck is eleminated, apart from the Mole factor. which is a Negative. in-as- much as, equality is a balance which must be level Positive and Negatives. Barriers and other conditions what are they?
    Trends also need to be given consideration etc. it goes on and on.

    1. As you say there are many factors that can be considered, and it comes down to being prepared to spend the time to do the research. However you don’t need to look at every factor in every race, this is an easy mistake to make and it makes the puzzle impossibly large. Instead you need to spend the time to determine which of your factors are informative in which races. This takes time and if you have only a few factors you may well find that none are informative in some race conditions, if you have lots then the research will take that much longer.

  3. Thanks for all the information. New to betting and wondered what exactly the handicap meant and how it was determined.
    A ppreciate the help.

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