In sports, handicapping is the practice of equalizing the chances of winning for contestants with different skill levels and abilities. In horse racing, a higher quality runner is disadvantaged in order to make it possible for a less quality racehorse to participate in the meeting while maintaining fairness.
The practice also serves to foster wagering in horse racing events since all sprinters will have a shot at winning the race if contenders are competing on a more even playing field. Races where this practice is used are known as Handicaps.
In a handicap race, each horse must carry a specified weight called the impost, which is assigned by a trained official. The impost is based on factors such as quality of the horse, age, sex, prior performance, and distance in order to equalize the chances of the other runners. In addition to the combined weight of jockey and saddle, lead weights are carried in saddle pads with pockets called lead pads.
There are several factors to consider when handicapping a horse race. Speed is obviously a major variable, since the fastest horses win the most races. Pace is also an important factor in determining the outcome of a race. Punters and tipsters often classify a horse’s running style, such as front runner, stalker, closer, etc.
To note, jockeys often exercise control in how a runner approaches a contest and the strategy employed in order to give the racehorse the best chance of winning. To be sure, there are good human jockeys and bad human jockeys, and the better jockey can make a difference between a winning horse and one that loses.
Another factor to consider is how well a horse has performed in recent races. Those who appear to have competed in great form could be lined up as a strong contender. However, if the runner has had little “layoff,” the horse may not have had ample rest, and thus, may have a subpar performance.
Finally, a runner positioned nearer the inside of a race track will have a shorter distance to run than a horse on the outside track. Jockeys who place their runners on the inside are also more vulnerable to being cut off by horses that start off faster and head to the inside rail.