Weight and handicapping have long been a cornerstone of form analysis for racing tips … but that doesn’t make it a science that’s been settled.
Form analysis is an ever-changing beast, as is the market and the way it incorporates different factors. Don Scott popularised the analysis of weight in Australia… now some argue it’s a very minor factor, while for others it’s as important as ever.
Firstly… here’s a few points to consider:
Should you be a weight watcher?
A basic understanding of the laws of physics tells you that weight carried has to have some impact on the speed at which a horse can run. But quantifying the impact of weight is the million dollar challenge for punters.
One size doesn’t fit all
Racing folklore has it that 1.5 kgs is equal to approximately one length. For example, if Horse A was beaten one length last start by Horse B, but now meets it 1.5 kgs better, then (all things being equal) they will deadheat this time. But this is very much an arbitrary figure that is only a rough guide and not accurate across the board. Race distance, pace, in-running position, horse size and strength, and weight relative to the other horses in the race are just a few of the complicating factors.
Higher weights win more often
More weight is a negative, yet it is a fact that higher-weighted horses have the highest winning strike-rates and bottom weights have the worst strike-rate of all. The winning strike-rate drops as weight drops, which runs counter to what most punters believe. It obviously comes back to the fact that the better class horses get higher weights. Horses with lower weights are the least likely to win, although again it has to be said that class has a lot to do with this fact.
Another key statistic to be aware of is that horses going up in weight (relative to their last start) have a far better strike-rate than horses down in weight.
The more compressed weight scale nowadays makes the effect of being top weight less pronounced, so you could say that weight goes part of the way to levelling the playing field, but not enough.
Know your limit
Weight over the limit is often underplayed, but is more important than simply looking at the actual weight to be carried. By that, I mean 58kg in one race is not necessarily the equivalent of 58kg in another race, because you also need to factor in how many kilograms that is over the limit.
Look for improvers
Progressive horses in good form are often the best weight carriers, because the increase in kilograms to be carried is more than offset by natural and fitness improvement. So don’t be put off by an improving horse that is also up in weight. A proven winner who is on the up is often a better betting proposition than a horse that is well fancied, due to weight relief.
You shouldn’t focus too much on the benefits of an apprentice’s claim unless you are also penalising the jockey for inexperience. You can’t have it both ways – they get an allowance for a reason, so don’t over-estimate the weight relief provided by a claiming apprentice. As a group they basically achieve the same betting returns as senior jockeys.
So what to think? We also asked some of the Champion Bets professionals for their thoughts.
It’s one factor among many that goes into pricing a horse. It’s not as big a factor as the old 1 length = 1.5 kgs that Don Scott worked on. Most analysts would use a compressed version of that.
Weight is easier to carry over shorter trips. So the compression is more for a 1000m race than a 2400m race.
Aaron Barby, former SA analyst
It would be one of the last things that I consider, and one of the least important factors. I still think it’s a factor, but I focus on sprint racing and I think it becomes more of a factor over longer distances.
I think there’s more important things to consider. It’s more just about making small adjustments to a horse’s previous ratings based on whether it goes up or down in weight. Maybe some people consider one kilogram to be equal to one length or something like that. I don’t see it like that at all, I think it’s significantly less.
It’s a factor, but I don’t think it’s that important. I think the market probably factors it in for you already. It’s one of those obvious things that everyone can see. I don’t there’s as much importance in it as there is in other things that perhaps aren’t as obvious.
I think it’s starting to go the other way. It used to be a bit overrated but now is becoming a bit underrated. Some people say weight doesn’t matter – which is patently untrue – it does slow them down. We have gravity on planet earth and weight does push down upon a horse!
I think the market used to put more focus on it than I did. But now I think it puts less focus – or almost none – on it.
It’s perhaps not as important as it is in a strictly physics sense because horses don’t go flat-out throughout a race in most races. When horses are going below top speed, and below cruising speed, then a few extra kilograms won’t be hurting them as much because they’re only bowling along anyway. In the final stage of a race, that’s when it will have an effect… or will have its greatest effect.
You do need to discount it a bit from the traditional thinking, but it certainly does have an impact. I see it all the time. Boom Time won the Caulfield Cup because he had no weight. People wrote him off but didn’t pay any attention to the fact he had 52kgs. If he had 58kgs he wouldn’t have won the race. People don’t seem to treat the handicap races properly like that. If horses are down in the weights and have a six or seven-kilogram advantage, that makes a difference.
The Cox Plate is a good example in terms of weight-for-age. Typically the best horse wins and better horses have the advantage. But good three-year-olds like Shamus Award win because they get a good run in front. Then are able to sprint away because they’ve got no weight. Savabeel did the same thing a few years earlier. There was a soft run with no pressure and he was able to sprint better than all of them because he had less on his back.
It has the most impact in a fast-run race. When a horse is perhaps leading with 60kgs it’s very, very tough to keep going because he’ll be really feeling it. If he’s going flat-out and there’s another horse of much less ability but with seven or eight kilograms less, then he’s really going to feel that.
Punters tend to overweight the importance of it. Don Scott was a gambling guru who published his system based around weight. A lot of people incorporated this ideal into their behaviour. He was wrong about it as a feature – it was never as relevant as he thought it was. But once you misdirect the wisdom of the crowd, they’re all over-playing this. As far as I know, this feature doesn’t exist in many markets.
You get huge negative coefficients on weight if you include the public. You get huge positive coefficients if you don’t include the public. Weight is relevant to the outcome, but it is over-discounted by the weight of numbers.
Weight: Key Learnings
- It’s one of many factors, but weight does have an impact!
- The effect perhaps isn’t as great as the traditional thinking, as summarised by Don Scott.
- A horse’s performance with certain weight can’t be considered in isolation. Rather it sits alongside factors such as the horse’s fitness level, natural acceleration, the pace the race is run at and the track conditions.
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