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Thoroughbred Handicapping

The aim of the RWWA handicapping policy document is to provide industry participants with a guide as to the weight horses will receive by virtue of their performances as they move up or down in grade, or for that matter remain within the same grade.

It is contended that Handicappers must attempt to provide consistent handicapping, and enable the connections of horses to have a greater understanding of the methods used.

It is an objective of all Western Australian Handicappers to provide industry participants with a greater understanding of the procedures involved in the Handicapping of all races, both in the metropolitan and provincial and country areas of the state.

From 1 February 2019, the WA Thoroughbred Racing Handicapping Policy has been revised post the consideration of the recommendations arising from the Handicapping and Programming review conducted by Mr Dominic Beirne. 

Twenty-two recommendations were provided by Dominic Beirne’s report, seeking to increase field sizes, a positive wagering impact and promoting a more even spread of prizemoney distribution between horses. Eighteen recommendations were specific to modifications to the Handicapping and Programming Policy, the remainder were suggestions to racing office procedures, some of which are already being adhered to.

A review of the applied changes will be conducted after the first twelve months to measure the effectiveness of the changes.

Any queries should be directed to the Thoroughbred Racing Office on 9445 5277 or

Handicapping Amendments

Amendment Expected Impact

Increase Spread of Weights

Increase the minimum top weight (for normal handicaps) to 60kg resulting in a greater spread of weights of 1kg.

  • Weights on the current handicapping template will increase by 1kg.
  • More horses will race in the handicap making more competitive racing and in turn drive punter interest.

Merit Based Handicapping

Introduce larger win and place penalties based on the principles of Merit Based Handicapping

  • Expected to result in average win penalty increasing by 0.5kg 
  • More even spread of prizemoney distribution between horses and consequently owners.
  • More competitive betting races which will in turn increase punter interest and turnover.

Dual Rating System

Adjust Dual Rating System to provide greater relief for Provincial B/Country horses when racing in the Metropolitan/Provincial A area.

  • Outer Provincial/Country horses expected to become more competitive resulting in connections being more likely to bring a horse to Metro and Provincial A.
  • Greater decrease in rating for horses moving from Provincial B/Country to Metropolitan/Provincial A results in a greater increase in rating for horses transitioning in the opposite direction.

Adjust the 2YO & 3YO Age Allowance

Provide greater weight relief to 2YO & 3YO 1600m+ and 1800m+ races respectively.

  • Encourage up and coming stayers to run in all age races.

Programming Amendments

Amendment Expected Impact

Adjust base rating of race types to match increase in ratings over time.

Recalculate rating benchmarks as horse ratings adjust.

3 x Open races and additional BM78+ races already programmed on metropolitan programmes.

  • Rating of race types accurately reflect the adjusted horse population
  • Higher rated horses have greater opportunities in Western Australia.

Maiden Handicaps

Program a trial of Maiden Handicap races

  • Owners have more opportunity to win a race at maiden level by being afforded weight relief under handicap conditions.
  • Horses staying in south west area longer may effect supply of horses to outer provincial clubs.

Discontinue advertising a base rating for open races in Provincial B and Country areas

Advertise Prov. B and Country Open Handicaps with no minimum rating and -classify upon receipt of nominations

  • Greater flexibility to handicap competitive races in line with the ratings of nominated horses.

Quality Handicaps

Apply maximum top-weight in quality handicaps without re-scaling the race.

  • The weight gap between the highest rated horse and the remainder of the field is reduced, providing for less horses to be weighted outside the handicap.
  • Less horses racing outside the handicap creates more competitive betting fields and reduces likelihood of win penalties being required from below the minimum.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is merit-based handicapping? 

As the name suggests, handicapping on merit means that a horse’s allocated weight in a race will have been earned by the measurement of his/her previous performances. This means that the revealed ability of the horse is the primary basis for determining his/her handicap rating. A handicapper’s role is to ensure racing is delivered at a competitive level through the allocation of weights to be carried by each horse in a race with the purpose of equalising their chances of winning.

What is the average/maximum penalty for winning a handicap? 

In merit-based handicapping a horse’s rating is adjusted based on performance. There is no arbitrary or standard penalty. However, a typical penalty can range between 1.0kg and 3.5kg. 

What is the average/maximum penalty for winning or placing in a race under set weights or set weights & penalties conditions?

In races where the weight allocations aren’t based on a horse’s rating, the assessment of the race is a lot less straightforward. In these races the penalty will not be known until after the race is run and it is quite possible that the winner may not receive a ratings adjustment, whilst the placegetters might.  One example of this is the 2018 Winx Stakes which was run under Weight-for-age conditions. Winx entered the race with a rating of 132 and received no penalty as she was heavily favoured at the weights compared to her competitors. Invictus Prince, who ran 2 lengths behind Winx entered the race with a rating of 77 and finished the race rated as 100 for running 2nd. This extreme rating increase was due to beating some of his higher rated rivals under weight-for-age conditions.  

What rating will I go to if I win or place “out of the handicap”?

When a horse’s rating is below the minimum rating of the race, they are considered to be “out of the handicap” as they are not carrying their true weight. When a winner is “out of the handicap”, the penalty may be greater than usual to ensure the correct weight turnarounds when facing fellow competitors at their next start. For example, Juicing Carrots entered a Rating 72+ race at Ascot in December with a rating of 69. After his win, the gelding was taken to a rating of 76 to ensure that he incurs a 2kg weight penalty against his fellow rivals when they meet in the same grade at their next start. 

What factors may contribute to a horses rating not being lowered?

  • racing significantly out of the handicap (rating lower than minimum rating of the race)
  • racing in an unsuitable distance
  • starting first-up from a spell
  • interference in running
  • racing wide
  • being slow to begin
  • unsuitable track conditions
  • saddle slips
  • found to be injured, lame, bleeding

What is a Quality handicap and what weight will I get?

A quality handicap is where the conditions of the race provide that no horse can be allocated more than an advertised maximum top-weight, eg 62kg.  These races provide more racing opportunities for higher rated horses.

Horses are allocated their usual weight based on the handicapping template for the race until reaching the advertised maximum top-weight, with the weight of horses beyond this point then being capped.

What are the benefits of Maiden handicaps?

As with all other handicap races, maiden handicap provide the opportunity for horses to be weighted based on their previous performances rather than running under set-weight conditions only.  This is expected to provide Owners of lower rated maiden horses the chance of winning a race at that level.

Why did the minimum top weight need to increase?

To deliver more competitive racing the need to create a greater spread of weights is vital. The increase to a mandatory top weight of 60kg in all handicaps (except Group and Listed races and 2yo races) allows the handicapper to work with a 6kg spread in the weights in metropolitan and provincial races.  

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