Australian Horse Racing
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The two new restricted race class structures are what we will call
1. The Benchmark Events and
2. The Ratings Based Events.
Both basically use the same approach with slight variations. Benchmark events will be considered first.
1. Benchmark Events
The NSW handicapping crew introduced their system which they called the Benchmark Programming and Handicapping System, BPaH for short.
It is a merit based assessment process using mathematical (computer-based) calculations from proprietary software developed by Racing & Sports Pty Ltd under contract to Racing NSW.
It uses such things as population averages, race quality, recent and historical individual performances, age and sex allowances, head-to-head comparisons, form cycle, track grading and race conditions from multiple years to determine the original figures and then updates are made to these allocations after future racing.
Merit based handicapping is distinct from ‘handicapping on potential’ which is used in some elite race handicapping and other events.
In merit based handicapping the handicapper reviews the quality of a race performance and then assigns a benchmark figure without consideration towards anticipated or expected performance improvement.
All horses in the NSW racing population were initially allocated a benchmark figure before 1 October 2009.
These benchmark figures after subsequent racing were then adjusted according to such things as a review of race film and steward’s reports, race quality and strength, internal and overall race times, beaten margins and weights, track condition, recent and historical race performances and then the results were assessed against the entire NSW horse population.
It’s a tough but fair approach introduced to overall simplify the handicapping system and provide clear pathways for trainers and/or owners along with information for punters, breeders and other interested parties.
It provides transparent information on every runner – each horse has its own benchmark figure and this figure can be used as a guide for potential future racing.
Generally winning horses will have their benchmark figure adjusted by between 1 ½ and 2 ½ kg (that is 3 to 5 rating points) but larger/smaller winning margins may affect these adjustments.
Horses finishing in the placings and only narrowly beaten may have their rating increased depending on the performance quality but will generally still be eligible for future same rating races. This makes placed runners in a given class somewhat advantaged compared to the winner of the event but often a winner has ‘something up its sleeve’ in terms of overall performance.
As already mentioned rating reductions are not simply given following poor performances but uncompetitive horses in a class may lead to a benchmark reduction of 0.5 to 1 kg (1 to 2 benchmark points).
Some anomalies in the system: horses that are obviously well suited over more ground will not have their benchmark figures lowered following a poor sprint performance. So a Melbourne Cup winner in a 1000m sprint is unlikely to get a benchmark reduction from a poor run.
Similarly a horse found to be lame, suffering a bleeding attack or injured during the running of a race, falling or being brought down, running off or failing to finish or losing its rider would not lead to a rating reduction.
Additionally, consistent provincial and country performers that are uncompetitive at a metropolitan level will not necessarily have their benchmark figure reduced following a poor performance at a higher level.
A 55 rated horse running in an open handicap will not be re-assessed after a last place finish. In other words, this is a merit based system with both merit and demerit being earned not simply given.
Allotting Weights for Future Benchmark Races
In an actual race, horses with benchmark figures lower than the advertised benchmark rating of the upcoming race will be allocated 0.5 kg less weight for each benchmark figure under the nominated race benchmark. This amount is subtracted from the maximum top weight of 59 kg down to the limit or minimum weight as set for that race. (The nominal top weight value may change.)
Examples from the Racing NSW Benchmark Programming and Handicapping Policy highlight this information:
Example 1: In a Benchmark 70 race a 5yo gelding with a benchmark rating of 65 is nominated. Since the horse is 5 benchmark points lower than the benchmark rating this horse will be allocated a weight of 59 kg – 5 x 0.5 = 56.5 kg
Benchmark races allow horses with higher than the benchmark figure to compete with other lower rated runners. Horses with benchmark figures higher than the benchmark level of a race will be allocated 0.5 kg more for each point their benchmark figure exceeds the race benchmark figure.
Example 2: In a Benchmark 70 race a 5yo gelding with a benchmark figure of 75 is nominated. This horse with a benchmark rating 5 points above the benchmark rating for the race will be allotted 59kg + 5 x 0.5 kg = 61.5 kg
In all mixed sex races, fillies and mares receive a weight reduction of 2 kg compared with the open benchmark figure. So in Example 1, a 5yo mare will carry 56.5 – 2 = 54.5 kg (This weight may be increased to the limit weight if below the allocated race limit). In example 2, the same mare will carry 59.5 kg
Minimum top weights are also maintained. In Example 1, all weights would be raised by 2.5kg if the example horse was the top weighted runner.
Three year olds being somewhat immature at the start of the new racing season receive a weight allowance which changes as the season progresses. A 3yo will receive a weight allowance in NSW open age races for distances of 1800m or longer according to the following table:
|3yo Weight Concessions|
Shorter distance events lead to a 1kg reduction in these allowances. Generally 3yo’s do not perform well in open aged races in the early part of a new racing season and hence the rather healthy weight discount.
In some races, the top rated runner will be of a lesser quality than the initial benchmark figure.
For example, a Benchmark 72 event may attract a variety of rated runners with perhaps rated runners including benchmark figures of 75, 78 and even 80 but at the time of final acceptances, the top rated runner has only a benchmark rating of 69.
The race will subsequently be reduced in quality to a Benchmark 69 with all weights increased to give a minimum top weight of 59 kg (or whatever the minimum top weight is set at that time). This benchmark reduction does not occur in all Australian states.
In this system, handicaps are determined according to the benchmark figure for each horse at the time of nomination with the computer rankings internally reviewed by experienced form analysts.
Therefore in most cases weights are allocated using computer software.
Many other minor distinctions apply to this weight allocation system and minor changes may occur at any time but ultimately the handicapper is responsible for these allocations with the final weights published daily.
Some set weight races ignore the benchmark ratings to some extent and often well priced winners can be found by scrutinising the handicappers figures against the weights carried.
2. Rating Based Events
Rating Based Handicapping (RBH) is undertaken in Victoria and other states and is classified as a ‘fixed’ rating system.
Some of the information in this article is from the Racing Victoria Limited Handicapping Guide (August 2009) and so Victoria will be used as the primary example. The same basic plan applies in all states.
In essence, horses with a benchmark rating equal to or lower than the rating ‘band’ or ratings range for the upcoming race qualify for a start. As in any race, the ballot system applies.
The following table from the Racing Victoria Handicapping Guide illustrates the different rating bands: (Different bands are used in other states but the basic approach is the same.)
Horses with a Rating equal to or below 58 by close of nominations are eligible.
Horses with a Rating equal to or below 62 by close of nominations are eligible.
Horses with a Rating equal to or below 68 by close of nominations are eligible.
Horses with a Rating equal to or below 72 by close of nominations are eligible.
Horses with a Rating equal to or below 78 by close of nominations are eligible.
Horses with a Rating equal to or below 82 by close of nominations are eligible.
Horses with a Rating equal to or below 89 by close of nominations are eligible.
Horses with a Rating equal to or below 95 by close of nominations are eligible.
Similarly horses racing in 45, 50, 55, 60, 65, 70, 75 and 80 ratings events will only consist of horses with ratings equal to or less than the base rating of the event.
Weight carried by each runner is determined by their benchmark figure compared with the race rating of the upcoming race.
Allotting Weights for Future Ratings Based Events
The approach to weight allocation is the same as already discussed for the Benchmark events. Simply no runner can have a higher benchmark rating than the benchmark of the upcoming race.
Example 1: In a Ratings 0-68 race a 5yo gelding with a benchmark rating of 65 is nominated. Since the horse is 3 benchmark points lower than the race benchmark rating this horse will be allocated a weight of 59 kg – 3 x 0.5 = 57.5 kg
Example 2: In a Ratings 0-78 race a 4yo mare with a benchmark
rating of 63 is nominated. Since the horse is 15 benchmark points lower than
the race benchmark rating and is a female campaigner she will be allocated a
weight of 59 – 15 x 0.5 – 2 =49.5 kg
Further in this race, the top rated runner is set to carry 56 kg which is 3
kg less than the required 59 kg minimum top weight. All weights are therefore
further raced an additional 3 kg.
49.5 + 3 = 52.5 kg.
In this particular race, the limit weight is set at 54 kg and so therefore the mare will carry 54 kg. The 5yo mare’s final weight allotment is 54 kg.
As can be seen from this second example, weight handicapping can become quite complex. Fortunately the handicapper takes care of all the adjustments which are mainly mechanical in nature.
In restricted class races in Victoria, each race will have a minimum top weight of 59 kg. As already suggested in the previous example, given a race has a nominal top weight of 56 kg, that event will see all weights increased by 3 kg.
The most important feature is the maintenance of the minimum top weight with the lower weights adjusted up accordingly.
This minimum top weight may vary.