This is a great question, and this is exactly what my friend Dave Williams does daily for the horses he owns.
First off, he checks what’s available in the race bingo. In the U.S., there are 5 slots filled that all fall within 20 feet of a horse’s last leg (and at a certain distance, each horse must reach the first 2 slots to win a race).
There are 11 slots available for horses between 16 and 19 years of age. Those horses must win the race from the “L” slot to the “R” slot. In some races, it’s not possible to find such a horse and in other races, it may take the owner weeks to find such a horse.
The horses I know are not affected by the handicap. This does not mean that their performance is unaffected either. One of Dave’s buddies recently passed away at the age of 57. Dave asked the horse’s vet, and the vet told him the horse actually had one of the three best legs in the race and the horse could get a good finish by getting the highest score in a horse-to-horse race with one of the three best legs in the race!
Why doesn’t handicap help horses make better races?
If a race is too fast for a horse, the handicap is a means to try to compensate to prevent the horse from having to break away or slow down. If races are too slow for either race, it’s a natural tendency for an animal to try to win as much as possible to improve its chances of a good finish.
Why does handicapping hurt horses?
If you look at the top 5 horses that I know of that used the handicap, most of them were either in bad shape, had issues with health issues that made them unfit for race day or were just lucky horses that made the right decisions. The worst was Charlie Brown. (He was the only one of the top 5 horses that I was able to track down to make the most of the handicap. That is only surprising because Charlie Brown was a much weaker horse and would’ve been in huge trouble in any given race)
How does the handicap affect a horse’s chances?
If a horse is handicapped, then the chances are significantly increased that it won’t make the right decisions based on its natural tendencies. This will have a tremendous negative affect on the horse’s chances for winning and could potentially damage the horse’s chances of winning
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