If you have only a passing interest in horse racing, the chances are that when the Grand National comes around – and you are tempted to have a flutter – you will be clutching at straws when it comes to your selections.
Maybe you have heard of a particular jockey or trainer before, maybe the horse’s name catches your eye or maybe they have been allotted your lucky number. That’s all fine and good – betting should be fun after all.
But if you want to dig a bit deeper, each horse’s handicap – or the weight they will carry on race day at Aintree – can be an excellent guide to use.
The Grand National weights have hit the headlines this week after it was revealed that Tiger Roll will not be entered in the race – ruling out any hope of drawing level with the legendary Red Rum with three wins in the showpiece steeplechase.
The handicapper, Martin Greenwood, assigned the horse with a 10st 4lb weighting, which is six pounds shy of the top weighted horse and less than the handicap Tiger Roll carried in his prior pair of National victories.
But Michael O’Leary, the owner of the Gigginstown House Stud enterprise of which Tiger Roll is a part, claims that weight is too high for a 12-year-old horse – lambasting Greenwood’s ‘idiotic opinion’ into the bargain.
Who’d be a handicapper, eh?
It’s a job that somebody has to do to maintain the integrity of racing, and from a punting perspective the work of the handicapper is essential to spotting the odd bit of value in the Grand National betting market.
How is a Horse’s Rating Calculated?
The basic building block of a horse’s handicap stems from their rating.
This is a numerical value assigned to a horse that reveals, basically, how fast they are at this particular time. So, the higher their rating, the better they are perceived to be by the handicapper.
The perk of a higher rating is that the horse can compete in more prestigious races on the National Hunt circuit, but the downside is that they are treated more harshly by the handicapper – in the case of Tiger Roll, a horse with a storied history of big race wins, his high rating leads to a heavier weight….which his outspoken owners are not particularly fond of given his small stature and increasing age.
A horse is given its OR – official rating – after winning a race or finishing sixth on at least three occasions, and this rating figure will then rise or fall depending on subsequent performances.
The rating and the handicap weight go hand in hand. The handicapper will analyse how well a horse has run at a particular weight, and will increase or decrease its handicap if they see potential (or find that the horse is outmatched at the heavier weighting). On the flipside, the handicap in future races is determined somewhat by the horse’s OR.
Why Does Weight Matter in the Grand National?
To answer this question, its easiest to refer to the top weights in the 2022 Grand National.
Galvin has an OR of 165 after winning the Savills Chase in December – beating former Gold Cup fancies A Plus Tard and Kemboy along the way. That victory, on the back of an excellent CV, is why the Irish horse has been assigned joint top weight of 11st 10lb.
He takes the honour alongside Conflated, whose OR has inflated to 157 after winning the Irish Gold Cup just a few weeks ago.
Based on historic performances, you would have thought that Tiger Roll might be the harshest hit by the handicapper. But don’t forget that recent performances are given a higher weighting in their calculations – after being pulled up in the Many Clouds Chase and finishing 14th of 17 in a handicap outing at Navan, the horse’s OR has plummeted to 145.
The savviest of punters, who get to work with spreadsheets or good old notebook and pen, will try to determine where the handicapper has been too severe in their judgement and where they have perhaps been a little lenient.
For example, you might look at a horse like Santini with interest. He will carry a fairly sprightly 10st 10lb in the Grand National, but it’s worth remembering he carried 11st 2lb in the recent Cotswold Chase and just lost out to Chantry House. He has also finished second in the Cheltenham Gold Cup carrying 11st 10lb, and so you might conclude that he is something of a ‘flier under the radar’.
That’s not a betting tip, by the way, just a look at how punters can use the weights to inform their decisions ahead of one of the most intriguing punting days on the calendar.