Horse racing is quite a complicated sport. For most of us we can just sit back and enjoy the racing. But for those behind the scenes, it involves a lot more work. And I don’t mean just the training. I’ve been to various yards over the years and the logistics and scheduling of races for the season is a mammoth task.

Not only do you have to ensure that all of the horses are entered into suitable races and that the weather will go your way, but you also want them to run well. That is because running well in a race can improve a horse’s official rating. The higher the official rating, the better class of race the horse can run in. And, historically, the better the class of race, the higher the prize money.

So what exactly does the Official Rating mean?

What Is An Offical Rating?

Every single racehorse in training in the UK is given an official rating after they have run three times. This is determined by the British Horseracing Association and their database is updated weekly. It is they that give a horse a rating. That rating is then used in handicap races.

Given that the majority of national hunt races are handicapped, it’s important that all horses have a rating. That way you can put them in order starting with the highest or best, all the way down. The higher the rating, the better the horse, the more weight they will carry in a race.

Handicap races are designed to give all runners a fairly level playing field. So a really good horse might carry top weight of 11-10 but a lesser horse will carry less to compensate for not being as good. That way, their chances of winning are on a par.

How The Official Rating Changes

In the UK the best horse currently in training is Cyrname. Trained by Paul Nicholls, his Official Rating stands at 176. That means he will only run in the very best races in the country. Like all racehorses, he started out as a five-year-old in class 3 races with a relatively low OR of 130.

But with some good wins as a novice in his first season as a chaser, that OR started to climb. By the time he won his first race at Ascot in January 2019, he was on 150. But that win bumped him up to 165.

The following month he tackled his first Grade 1 Class 1 race, the best rated in the country, and also won that. By the time the following season started and he headed back to Ascot in November 2019 he was on 176. Another win and another rise in the OR to 177.

But what goes up must come down and official ratings are no different. His last two performances have been a little below par. He was second in the King George VI chase and fell as Ascot in February 2020. As such his rating has dropped back to 176.

When A Horse Is Well Handicapped

For the purposes of this section, I’m going to use the Grand National as a guide. All the potential runners are entered by the end of January. Two weeks later the handicapper reveals the weights. He does this by taking into account a number of factors including each horse’s OR.

The higher the OR, the higher the weight the horse will carry if they run in the National. The lower the horse’s OR, the lower the weight. As the maximum weight any horse can carry in the Grand national is 11-10, this is given to the best-rated horse. All horses after that will carry less, in line with their OR.

But, and this is crucial, the race is still a couple of months away once the weights come out. And they cannot be changed, no matter what happens. So if a horse is on 10-10 for the National but goes out and wins three solid races, technically his OR would go up but his Grand National weight would not.

In this instance, he is considered ‘well handicapped’. That means he will run in the race carrying a lot less weight than if the handicapper had been able to take those wins into account.

And that is why the OR is so important. Not only is it used to determine the class of race a horse can run in, but it also determines how much weight they will carry in a handicapped race. And weight can make all the difference!