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Understanding Handicap Horse Racing

Updated on July 10, 2010

A handicap is a disability or impediment that makes it more difficult for one person to do something as compared to those who do not suffer from this handicap.  The same meaning applies to horse racing and the term handicap horse racing means to evaluate the factors that seem to be against a particular horse wining a race – the handicaps.  Handicapping is thus the method of studying all a horses strengths and weaknesses to be able to better judge its ability to win races.  Handicap horse racing requires a great deal of information and the starting point for this exercise is the Daily Racing Form or DRF which is a document that give a detailed statistical analysis of a horses performance history including complete records of its racing performance, the odds under which it has raced in the past and how it did in these races, how much money it has won for its owners and so on.

 An important part of the DRF is the stage wise performance of a horse in previous races – how far in front or behind it was at a particular leg of the race.  This punter will have to be use this information in conjunction with the conditions of the race track the race will be run on to see how the horse is like to perform under those specific conditions.  Not everything can be gleaned from the DRF and it is necessary to study the horse itself to see if it is calm and ready to race or if it seems nervous or off form – things which will affect it performance on that day.

 While fast horses win races, this should not be confused with “pace” which is what handicappers use to judge a horse’s likely performance.  Speed refers to the fastest the run can run but pace refers to its running style.  For example, while some horses are fast starters who fade later  in the race, others have the stamina to maintain a steady pace and yet others like to follow a leader until the closing stages of a race and then overtake.  A handicapper will need to study the pace of each horse in comparison to the others it is racing against and see which kind of pace is most like to result in a win.  Handicap horse racing also means keeping a watch on the odds as the race draws near because any sudden changes could indicate a shift in how the public receives the race outcome or that some big bets have been placed – usually on the basis of reliable inputs.


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