Explaining Handicap Horse Races

When it comes to creating greater competition among race horses and to make the outcomes more predictable, particularly in lower levels of horse racing, many tracks will “handicap” a horse by making it carry a heavier weight to slow it down some and help to make the field more competitive. The race secretary at a host track will go over the field and assess the capabilities of each horse and then decide how much extra weight it must carry as a handicap. The stronger and faster a horse is, the more weight it will have to carry with many tracks limiting the total to 130 pounds. The additional weight carried is called an “impost” and includes the weight of the jockey and saddle as well as the additional amount of weight needed to reach the impost mark. To add weight, lead weights carried in pocketed saddle pads generally are used The race secretary assesses a horse’s size, age and racing history among other factors when determining the handicap weight.