Ratings, Weights and Grades
Ratings, weights, and grades are pivotal in the world of horse racing, serving as essential tools to gauge the performance and potential of thoroughbreds. This guide provides an insightful overview of how these factors interplay to shape the outcomes and excitement of the sport. The practice of weighting and handicapping horses has been used in racing since its start to ensure competitive contests. With the assumed ratio being 1 length = 1.5kg. Handicapping plays a significant role, especially in Australia, which is one of the few countries where Group 1 races are run under handicap conditions. Two of Australia’s greatest races, the Melbourne Cup and the Doncaster Mile are prime examples of this, both being run under handicap conditions.
What They Are & What They Do
Horse racing ratings are numerical assessments assigned to horses based on their past performances and other relevant factors. These ratings help in comparing the abilities of different horses, determining handicaps for races, and aiding punters in making informed decisions. The methods for creating horse racing ratings can vary, but they generally involve a combination of the following factors.
These are numerical representations of how fast a horse ran in a specific race. They consider the time it took the horse to complete the race, the track condition, and the distance. Speed figures are considered a straightforward indicator of a horse’s ability, however, the tempo of the race as set by the leaders often has a large bearing on the overall time, so handicappers take into consideration a range of different variables when analysing the race time. Speeds differ depending on the distance of the race, with a horse expected to run 200m in 15 seconds with relative ease before producing final 600m times around the 33-34 second mark, quickening to up to 70km/h.
Class ratings take into account the quality of the competition a horse-faced in previous races. Winning or performing well in races with strong competitors can lead to higher class ratings. Class ratings help determine which horses qualify for which race. Your class rating is determined by the class you have won. The general consensus is that a horse of above-average ability is rated over 100. Cult hero Shelby Sixtysix is the perfect example of how the rating system works. A 38-start veteran, Shelby Sixty Six won his first race at Wagga in April 2020 and was given a 56 rating which increased to 62 when the gelding made it back-to-back wins. His rating hovered in the 62-63 range until his next win 16 starts later in a class two Highway Handicap. Following this win, Shelby carried himself into a magnificent vein of form, progressing to the Group II Challenge Stakes where he finished runner-up, splitting Eduardo and Nature Strip, which saw his rating rise to 82 before winning a Group III next start with the rating jumping to 96 when Shelby lined up in the Group I Galaxy which he duly won. The Galaxy win saw Shelby Sixtysix reach his peak rating of 103. So that’s a 41-point rating increase in four starts. In classic Shelby Sixtysix style, he then hasn’t been able to win in 14 subsequent starts, with his current rating 91, a drop of 11 points from his peak.
The weight carried by a horse in a race is a crucial factor. Horses that consistently carry heavier weights and still perform well may receive higher ratings. This is exposed with the Melbourne Cup where the handicapping system levels the playing field, allowing for lower-rated horses to defeat higher-rated horses. In 2023 horses such as Gold Trip were disadvantaged as he had to carry 58.5kg, a weight that has not seen a winning performance since Makybe Diva in 2005. There are 3 classifications of weight. Weight for age, Set Weights and Handicaps.
Different horses may perform better or worse on various track surfaces (e.g., turf, dirt) and under different weather conditions. Ratings often adjust for these factors. For example, a horse who runs a fast time on a GOOD track will be extremely different to a horse who runs a fast time on a HEAVY track. This is due to the firmness of the track and the ability to explode off the surface. Many good judges think Winx is the best we’ve ever seen. While that may be up for debate, one thing that probably isn’t is her status as the best wet tracker to have graced the turf. The champion mare won all four of her starts on a ‘Heavy’ track, as well as five of her seven outings on ‘Soft’ tracks. Her seven-length George Ryder Stakes romp in 2017 came on one of the wettest tracks ever seen at Rosehill, while her eight-length Cox Plate win in 2016 came on a Soft 5.
The horse’s recent performance history is a significant factor. Consistent good performances lead to higher ratings, while a string of poor performances may result in a lower rating. Horses often peak and trough in their form. Ensuring the ratings are based on recent performances can determine if a horse is still at the level to compete it intends to. This was evident in the case of Shelby Sixty Six, whose ratings fluctuated dramatically based on his recent form.
Some horses are better suited to certain distances. Ratings often account for a horse’s performance at specific race distances. Many horses in Australasia begin their preparations at shorter than suitable distances so this is considered in the rating. The Melbourne Cup for instance is run over 3200m, whilst many of the runners in the race may run over 1600m in their first up race for the preparation. This year eventual winner Without A Fight raced over 1800m and 2400m before winning the Melbourne Cup.
Age and Gender
The age and gender of a horse can impact its performance. Ratings may consider how well a horse of a specific age or gender competes against its peers. Specifically surrounding weight for age racing, or gender-restricted racing, fillies and mares, or horses 3 and under may be rated differently to more seasoned older horses. The significant progress horses make from the age of 2-3, and from 3-4 is why winning races such as the Cox Plate at 3 are viewed as so difficult. Most recently, Anamoe ran second in the 2021 edition, as did All Too Hard in 2014. The last 3-year-old to win the Cox Plate was So You Think in 2009. Gender the same is also difficult to overcome, interestingly, while Australia’s most recent champions have predominately been female, males are seen as the dominant gender. Out of the 163 Melbourne Cup editions, only 16 winners have been mares. With the most recent both being multiple Group 1 winning Champion racehorses, Verry Ellegant and Makybe Diva.
Injury and Layoff
Horses returning from injury or a significant layoff may be assigned lower ratings until they prove themselves again on the track. Many horses incur injuries that see them off the track for up to 6-18 months. Ratings are adjusted based on the injury severity and time off the track. Think It Over (So You Think) iced his comeback from a career-threatening tendon injury, wearing down fellow weight-for-age star Zaaki (GB) in a thrilling finish to the inaugural $1M, 7 Stakes at Randwick after 18 months off the track. He returned in the Winx Stakes in August before winning the 7 Stakes in September 2023 at his second start since the injury in April 2022.
This scale adjusts ratings based on the age and sex of the horse, ensuring fair comparisons between horses of different ages and genders. This grading is globally recognised as the fairest when identifying the best horses. Australia’s two best rating races, The Everest and the Cox Plate are both run under the WFA system. The WFA system is globally respected due to its consistent ability to provide the highest quality racing. In 2023 all of the top 100 Group 1 races were run under WFA or set weights conditions.
Official Handicapper Ratings
In some regions, official handicappers assigned by racing authorities provide ratings for horses. These ratings are used to determine weights in handicapped races. Ratings from the official handicapper can vary based on the racing jurisdiction. Time Form completes the official ratings worldwide, determining the best horses in the world, whilst individual handicappers determine each horse’s rating in that country.