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The handicapper assesses the relative merits of the horses entered in a race and allocates a weight accordingly.
The purpose of a handicap is to give each horse an equal chance of winning a race but in theory there are no more close finishes in handicaps than in non-handicaps.
Every horse that is registered to run has a place in the handicap which ranks horses in terms of proven form. The better a horse is perceived to be the bigger the weight allocation and the higher the position in the handicap.
For major handicaps such as the Grand National there is more focus on the role of the handicapper but generally this is a background job.
A handicap race involves horses carrying different weights and these weights are allocated by the handicapper. The better horses carry more weight, which is a disadvantage against slower horses. When betting on handicaps the key to success is identifying horses carrying weight that has underestimated the ability.
Many handicaps feature horses out of form and/or older and the races are not very valuable. There are some famous handicaps including the Grand National and Melbourne Gold Cup. The handicaps are most competitive at the Cheltenham Festival.
In a handicap each horse carries a different weight and the handicapper decides the weights that are allocated. Past performances and recent form are used to evaluate the chances for each horse but in practice this rarely happens, because some horses are unexposed, having raced only rarely.
To reach the allocated weight lead pipes are used to carry lead weights. The theory is that weight slows a horse down and the practical objective is to give every horse a chance. A weight-for-age scale lists the weight allowances for horses and fillies and mares get concessions from the proven horses.
The handicapping system can be complex especially for big field handicaps and the role of the handicapper is specialist.