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Why are race horses given different weights and what does it mean?

Handicapping in horse racing is one of the most alien features of the sport when you first begin racing betting.

But adding weights to horses is crucial to ensuring evenly-contested races produce the drama and shock wins punters thrive on.

If you’ve read Paddy’s Allowance Race betting guide then you’ll know all about weights in horse racing. But how are weights added ahead of handicap races? And how can you spot it on a race card? Don’t worry, Paddy’s here to help as part of our Demystifying Racing series of guides…

How are horses given weights?

Race horses running in handicap or allowance races will be given a weight before they run. This is a combination of lead weights strapped to the horses saddle plus the weight of the jockey and their equipment.

Weights are calculated using the handicap system and each race has a handicap rating, which is the level horses need to be at to receive the maximum allocated weight. Horses with a lower official rating (OR) will receive a proportionate reduction in their race weight.

The official rating is calculated by handicappers, who look back at the horses previous results to gauge their current form. You will see the OR as a number on the race card, next to the horses weight. The higher the OR, the more likely the horse is to win if there were no weights involved.

Horse racing weights at Ascot

Lead weights are lined up ready to be used before a race at Ascot (GETTY)

So, for example, if a National Hunt race at Perth features horses with OR’s ranging from 77 to 103, those at the top end of the scale will receive a heavier weight. A horse with an OR of 103 may carry a maximum 11st 12lbs, while a horse with a OR of 97 would carry 6lbs (six pounds) less.

How to read weight on a race card

The weight of every horse can be found on the Paddy Power race cards in our horse racing sportsbook. Weights are written in a basic format, such as ‘9-4’. This means 9 stone, 4 pounds.

The OR is also visible on the race card. The higher the OR, the heavier the weight the horse will need to carry.

Paddy Power race card weights and official rating highlighted

The OR and weight can easily be spotted on the Paddy Power race card (PP)

Does weight affect horse racing odds?

Put simply, yes. The weight added to or deducted from a horse is all about making sure its racing betting odds are competitive. If a horse has bad form and a low OR coming into a race, their weight will likely be lower than their rivals, and so then their odds will fall.

Now, this shortening might not be enough to make the horse a race favourite – that depends on other factors too.

But it could be enough to tempt horse racing betting tipsters into backing that horse to a place or even a win.


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