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Weight Handicapping

Given we are pretty backward in terms of race timing and track consistency the fundamental basis of British form is focused around weight. So whatever your view, whether it's useful or not, it should be understood and you should have a technique of assigning a rating - even if it is to understand why the market looks so wrong according to your speed figures.

Each horse (assuming sufficient number of qualifying runs) is assigned a numerical rating which is designed to represent a horses ability. The higher the figure the better the horse - this may help explain the success of systems based on ratings. These ratings do not take into account a horses ability on the ground, at the trip in any particular race but are a reflection of overall recent form.

So if we have a five horse hurdle race (non handicap) over 2m where each horse is racing off level weights we may have the following:

Horse A: 110
Horse B: 105
Horse C: 101
Horse D: 99
Horse E: 93

All things being equal Horse A would win by 5 lengths, Horse B would beat horse C by 4 lengths etc.

Put the same horses in a handicap race and they would get the following weights:

Horse A: 110, 11-10
Horse B: 105, 11-05
Horse C: 101, 11-01
Horse D: 99, 10-13
Horse E: 93, 10-7

To calculate each horses chance in the race we have to take into account the horses ability (i.e. rating) and then factor in the effect of weight. So although horse A is 5bs better than B he has to carry 5lbs more. So, we would add 5lbs to the rating of horse B to come up with a rating that takes into affect the weights assigned. Basically all the ratings are normalised to the highest weight carried in the race. E.g. Horse C - add 13lbs to it's rating.

So what do we have? A 5 horse race where the result would be a 5 horse dead heat as all the adjusted ratings are 110. That's no good - and this is where your skill comes in.

There are a number of steps that I take to make sure I have an accurate rating. The first is to evaluate a horses true mark.

1) Establishing a true mark: Here I will try and establish a horses ability under it's ideal conditions so we know what we are dealing with. I define a horses ability by the rating at which it can win off in a (theoretically) competitive handicap.

Let's use some examples:

 
 

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Horse A: Last race btn 4 lengths into 3rd off a mark of 110. My first reaction is to say his true mark should be 106 because if he had been running off that mark he would have won. (i.e. he would have been 4 lengths closer to the winner).

Horse B: Last race btn 1/2 length into second off 105. This appears to be a good effort and is a winning rating - because without one other horse he would have won the race.

Horse C: Got beaten by 10 lengths into 4th off 101. I'll give him a mark of 91 (same reasoning as A).

Horse D: Won by 3 lengths off 92. Horse D won easily but has been raised 7lbs by the handicapper. He ran off 92 and won by 3 lengths, so I rate him at 95. But this doesn't reflect his superiority - in my opinion he would still have won by 3 lengths (his ears were pricked, only pushed out) carrying another 7lbs. So I rate him at 102+. The plus meaning he had some to spare and is capable of more under pressure.

Horse E: On his 4th race won all out by a shd off 88. I can only really assign a mark of 89 as he was all out. But I will put a mark of 89p as that is the level of form he was capable of but as he is lightly raced and ran green I would expect some measure of improvement. 

So now the handicap looks like this:

  Off. Rating Weight Carried My rating Adjusted Rating
Horse A: 110 11-10 106  106
Horse B: 105  11-05 105 110
Horse C: 101 11-01 91 100
Horse D: 99 10-13 102+  113+
Horse E: 93 10-7 89p 106p

So now it looks like Horse D should be favourite and he is expected to beat Horse B by 3+ lengths, who in turn would beat Horse E by 4 lengths. A good bet right? Not necessarily.

2) Adjusting the true mark for other participants: Here is where I may disagree with some of you. I think the class of race is no indication of how well a horse is handicapped. A 3 length winner of a 10,000 race is not necessarily better handicapped than a shd winner of a 2000 race. It all depends on how well handicapped the other horses in the race are. You can get a true opportunity here. 

Nick Mordin argues class is important because a classier horse can repel more challengers. What a load of rubbish. We all know game, but useful animals and great but ungenuine animals. (I will however concede that the area of race class does lend itself to speed handicapping - more in another section). 

To carry on the example. We have to establish how well handicapped the horses around the selection where. 

Horse A was 3rd.
The second horse has been out of form and it's difficult to assign a rating. The winner racing off 96 had been beaten off that mark by 3 lengths in his previous 3 races. Therefore the winner's true handicap mark I would assign as 93. He didn't suddenly improve and win up to a mark of 96 - i'd say it was more likely to be a weak race that he won. So not only was Horse A btn 4 lengths he was beaten by a horse that was carrying 3lbs more than his true rating warranted. Therefore I will further adjust downwards his rating by 3lbs. This sin confirmed by the fact the 4th horse (1/2 l away has not got within 10 lengths of the winner in his last 4).Horse A: 103.

Horse B was 1/2l second. 
The winner has gone on to be beaten by a sh hd in another good race carrying 3lbs more. So I would adjust the rating upwards by 2 lbs as he lost to a horse who could then win off a higher mark. That's 107. Furthermore Horse B made a bad mistake at the last costing him 2 lengths - he would have won otherwise. I increase his rating by another 2lbs. HorseB: 109.

Horse C was btn convincingly in a poor race. He just seems out of form and he wasn't eased down. I adjust his rating further downwards by 3lbs. Horse C 88.

Horse D: Horse D beat a really solid yardstick in his race and he beat him well. The horse had been going close in handicaps and was perhaps 1 or 2 lbs too highly rated but I'm happy with my rating. Horse D 102+

Horse E: Horse E beat a number of horses running in their first handicap. The 2l 3rd has run since and was btn by 6 lengths in a good handicap. Therefore I would downward adjust Horse E rating by 4lbs because the other horse was not on a winning rating and he may even have improved in the subsequent race (being lightly raced) further devaluing Horse E's win. However Horse E did win and there could be more. I reduce his rating (what he has achieved) by 4lbs but keep the p as inprovement is possible. Horse E 85p.

Now the race looks as follows:

Off. Rating Weight Carried  My rating Adjusted Rating
Horse A: 110 11-10  103  103
Horse B: 105  11-05 109  114
Horse C:  101 11-01 88  97
Horse D: 99  10-13  102+  113+
Horse E: 93  10-7 85p  102p

Now the race looks closer between B and D but - D still looks better given he hasn't been all out yet. Next step we need to take into account the prevalent conditions for the race in question.

3) Adjusting the true mark for race conditions: All of the above assumes a horse is racing in it's ideal conditions. Lets say this race is 2m in soft ground on a quick track. Don't know about you but I want to assign a rating for this race based on a previous performance under the conditions.

Horse A: Really solid performer under the conditions - all conditions are alike to him. However he has an excellent claiming jockey on board which reduces his weight carried by 5lbs. Rating unchanged but race weight reduced.

Horse B: Hasn't run on this ground over hurdles before. But a look at his flat form shows that his soft ground form was 15 lbs higher than his firm ground form. We have to take into account the potential improvement (although it's not guaranteed) - this is more art than science - lets increase by 4lbs. Rating 113p.

Horse C: Hasn't raced in these conditions in his last 4 races. Last 2 runs can be forgiven because it was over 21/2m. In fact for a known non-stayer running on a stiff track last time was a good performance. 3 runs ago he was tried over fences and fell. 4 runs ago he ran a good 1/2l second, in a good race, in these conditions off a mark of 108. Further more that was a seasonal reappearance and he wasn't 100% fit. No option to give him a 108p (p - for possibly increased fitness) under the conditions.

Horse D: Horse D's win last time came over 2 1/2m on a stiff track. There was a fast pace and the market rivals possibly set too fast a pace - neither were placed after leading most of the race. He likes the ground but his last performance over 2m resulted in a hard fought 1/2l win off 87. There seems no reason for this improvement apart from the new trip and race tactics. I'm happier using that performance to rate him - particularly as he often gets outpaced over these trips and then stays on. Horse D race rating: 89.

Horse E: He is a young horse, he won last time out and connections go and stick bloody blinkers on him. He's never worn them before and pulled hard last time on good ground. That's a worry on the softer ground. His rating becomes 85p?. They think the blinkers will work but he tried hard last time and putting blinkers on a free puller often makes it worse. 

Now the race looks as follows:

  Off. Rating Weight Carried My rating Adjusted Rating
Horse A: 110  11-05 (claim) 103  108
Horse B: 105  11-05   113p 118
Horse C:  101 11-01   108p 117p
Horse D:  99 10-13  89  100
Horse E:  93 10-7  85p?  102p?

Suddenly the race looks different. I'm looking at laying Horse D which is favourite after an impressive performance last time - under different conditions. I can't decide to back Horse B or C but I will be opposing Horse E on a spread match bet because of the doubts about him and the fact he doesn't seem to win by much anyway. I'd oppose him with Horse A, B or C. Being a lightly race winner last time he would likely be favourite in any match bet.

Obviously I have oversimplified it but hope this demonstrates my thought processes when handicapping a race. Most of the time it results in a no bet - but it does allow you to get to know a horses profile which is always useful - especially when laying. 

A few generalities to sum-up:

a) Always try and assign a horses TRUE weight adjusted rating IN THE RACE CONDITIONS.
b) Look out for good claiming jockeys.
c) Always think about how the race will be run.
d) Always look for proof of performance - or non-performance when assigning ratings.
e) Horses raised in the weights for performances under different conditions are vulnerable returning to different conditions under which they were previously unsuccessful.

For some people weight is irrelevant - but it is a useful exercise to undertake to get to know your horses. From this you can move on to speed ratings etc....

Andrew Moraghan


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