Updated: October 2019

How to Bet on Handicap Horse Racing

26 April 2019

Handicaps make up around half of all horse races every year, so it’s imperative that punters understand handicap horse racing and know how to give themselves the best chance of winning.

Handicap Racing Explained

A handicap horse race is a race where each horse running will carry varying weights in order to level the playing field.

Each horse is given an official rating, with ratings given out either after their first win or after three novice races (as long as they haven’t finished all three tailed off).

Once a rating has been awarded, the horse is free to run in handicap company. There are seven classes of handicap, with class one being the highest and seven being the lowest.

Flat Racing Handicap Classifications:

• Class 1 – Listed Handicap races for horses rated 96-110+
• Class 2 – Different rating bands for this class are 86-100, 91-105, and 96-110
• Class 3 – 76-90, and 81-95
• Class 4 – 66-80, and 71-85
• Class 5 – 56-70, and 61-75
• Class 6 – 46-60, and 51-65
• Class 7 – The lowest handicap class for horses rated 0-45

The ratings are a little different in National Hunt racing:

• Class 1 – Pattern (Grade One, Two and Three) and Listed races
• Class 2 – Open Handicaps and Handicaps 0-140+
• Class 3 – 0-120, and 0-135 and Novice Handicaps 0-120, and 0-135
• Class 4 – 0-100, and 0-115 and Novice Handicaps 0-100, and 0-115
• Class 5 – 0-85, and 0-95 and Novice Handicaps 0-85, and 0-95

To explain fully what a handicap race is and how it works, here’s a racecard from a recent handicap race in the United Kingdom.

Racing Handicap

As you can see from this example, the race is a Class 4 handicap with the highest rated horse being 80 and the lowest rated at 66. Taking a look at the weights shows how this official rating impacts the amount the horse will carry.

The highest rated horse is also the top weight, carrying 9 stone 7lbs, while the lowest rated horse only carries 8 stone 7 lbs. And indeed, the weight carried gets lower according to the horses official rating.

How to Bet on Handicap Horse Racing and Win

Now you know what a handicap race is and how it works, you need to know how to be able to win betting on these type of races. Here are a few tips.

1) Form

Now, it goes without saying that every punter should take a look at the form guide before placing a bet on a horse race. But, you need to look a little deeper when it comes to handicap racing. Look at how the horse has been running. Has it been held up? Has it ran differently to how you would have expected? Could the horses connections have been trying to get the handicap down to a winning mark?

Consider all of these possibilities and more. Knowing how a horse has been running, as well as where it has been finishing in races, is key to being able to back that horse with confidence.

2) Bet Against the Favourites

There are a lot of people out there who only back the favourites, they lump big sums of money on the market leader hoping to make a small profit. However, favourites do not tend to perform well in handicaps.

If a horse wins, the odds on it winning again will fall and it will go off as favourite more often than not. What the punter needs to take into consideration is that the horse will either be carrying a weight penalty for that win or its handicap mark may have been risen too high for it to perform the way it did last time out.

3) Winning Marks

With the idea of being marked out of winning, it’s always a good idea to look at every horses previous highest winning mark. If a horse has a highest previous winning rating of 75, it is probably worth overlooking it if it is now rated at 80.

Some horses may not have won for a long time and could be available at a big price, but have fallen below their last winning mark. This gives a solid opportunity, especially to each-way punters, of making a healthy profit.

4) Drop in Class

Another tip is to look at the class of handicap race the horse has previously been running in and how well it has performed in the class it is next racing in.

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