Racing is based on weight. Virtually from the first race ever run - whenever that was - weight would have played a key role.

Weight is the great equaliser. It can help horses win by its very absence and stop them winning because it is there.

A handicapper works on the weights, taking into account past performances and his own opinion of a horse's ability and potential (it is this opinion handicapping that so often stirs up the wrath of trainers, and owners).
 We really start off all racing with the weight-for-age scale. To many punters the weight-for-age scale is just a jumble of figures. But this could not be farther from the truth.

It often can be a terrific aid to selecting winners, when other factors are equal. The great punter Eric Connolly often said that the real value of the scale was that it showed very clearly, in figures, the expected improvement or deterioration in a horse.

The scale is one of the few things in racing which has stood the test of time.

In handicap races, each horse is graded and assessed and the handicapper then assigns the heaviest weight to the horse that he considers is the best in the field.

Then, gradually, he reduces the weights as he analyses each runner, until it goes down to what is known as the 'limit' weight, or minimum weight.

The theoretical aim of the handicapper is to weight the field to bring it together at the finish in a dead-heat. This, of course, never happens, racing being what it is, and handicappers being only human.

But handicappers usually do a remarkably good job. How many times do we see big races finish in 'blanket' drives to the line with as many as 10 horses all within a length of each other at the post?

These finishes are proof that weight brings a field together.

So, in reality, all you need to do is to run your eyes down a list of weight assessments to know which is the best horse 'on paper' and which is second best etc.

Your task starts, however, when you have to decide whether the top weighted horse is burdened enough to nullify the edge it has on form based on its previous performances. You might decide that some other horse now has a weight advantage that will enable it to beat the top weight.

The simple question that you must answer is this: 'Can the horse carry its assigned weight today?' You must search past performances to find the answer.

You'll be looking for races that the horse has won, and those in which it finished close-up to the winner. If what it carried *in those races is equal to, or more, than its weight in the current race then it is a key point in its favour.

But you may discover that the horse's best races were run when it was carrying light weights. Check these against what it has in the current event.

You might also note that at its previous start, or at a recent start when it had to carry a similar impost, it weakened over the final stages. Quite reasonably, you could mark this down as a factor against it.

If the horse shows just one bad race, look to see if there was some pertinent reason behind its failure. Maybe it had no luck, maybe it was racing too much out of its class, maybe it wasn't fit.

There are many possible reasons for a bad performance.

If you are unable to find any reason, other than 'too much weight' then do be sure that the horse has a really big edge in other f actors before you consider betting on it.

After you have begun using this 'search' factor on weights you'll find that all horses have more or less set their own limit as to how much weight they will carry successfully.

Once pushed over that limit, they either cannot, or will not, extend themselves.

Maybe the horse you are looking at has never before been asked to carry the weight it has in its current race. In this case, you have to decide if it is capable of doing SO.

Check to see how much more it is carrying than it has before. In some instances, though, the addition of just 1 kg is enough to mean the difference between winning and losing.

Taking on 1 kg in a sprint isn't as difficult as carrying that same kilo over more ground (say 1000m compared with 1600 m).

Going from 51.5kg to 53kg always seems less than going from 54.5kg to 56 kg!!

Three excellent rules to consider are the following when you are probing weights and handicapping:

  1. If the horse shows any tendency to lose ground in the home straight, do not bet on it if he picks up any weight over what he has carried before.
  2. If he usually finishes well, then decide if he can take on an extra kilo or so, as long as he stays at 54.5 kg or under.
  3. Pass him if he picks up more than 1.5 kg over his own previous top weight.

When you are reasonably sure that the horses you are considering as potential winners can handle the weights they have to carry, then it is time to see if any of them has gained an advantage.

You do this by checking those horses which have recently raced against each other.

Here's an example: Horse A recently beat Horse B by a half length. The conditions of the current race call for A to go up 2 kg and B to go up a half kilo.

With a 1.5kg shift in B's favour, you can reasonably assume that he can reverse the previous race positions.

In another race, B beat C by three lengths at equal weights. Today, even though B goes up 2 kg, he still figures he can beat C, though not by as clear a margin.

You only really take these weights into account when the horses were in the first few placegetters in a race. If Horse A beat Horse B by a length when both of them were well back in the field at the finish then the example is of little value, because neither one was really being pressed to actually beat the other one.

To work out weights and lengths, it is best to use the popular notion that in sprints 2kg is the equivalent of one length, and in distance races 1.5kg equals one length.

Of course, nothing is this simple. You could argue that the length a horse picked up with a 1.5kg advantage in the weights could be lost by the horse racing wide and losing ground on the bends.

We reply: Come up with a better method and we'll listen to you!

Often you will come across a race where the weights seem to have brought all the contenders together - it's then you make use of the Scale Of Weights accompanying this article.

Let's look at a sample race: It is being run in June for three-year-olds and up, the distance 1600 m. At that time of the year, and at that distance, scale weight for three year-olds is 55.5kg and 57kg for older horses.

If, among your contenders, you have a three-year-old carrying 56.5kg and an older horse carrying 56 kg then the younger horse is, in fact, being asked to carry more than the older horse, because the Scale of Weights indicates he should be receiving 1.5 kg.

Two-year-old fillies usually have an advantage in weights of between 1 kg and 2.5kg over colts and geldings, so it is always a good idea to be sure they have the advantage.

The conditions of a race can sometimes cause a filly to give weight to colts/geldings, making it a tough task for her to win. It's not impossible but it's risky.

In this article we are recommending that you try to work out selections on weights alone. We know, and you know, that form goes beyond that one factor.

But weight is a key factor and you should always remember that. Weight can stop them, and it does, regularly.

If a horse cannot carry weight he can knock any system right out of kilter. Sometimes even a light weight cannot make up for the shortcomings of a horse. He may just be no good, or he may be unfit, he may not want to try hard, he may not appreciate the distance of the race, or the track conditions.

There is, too, the relation between speed and weight as a determining factor. The main reason why weight is sometimes important is that too much weight seriously decreases the racing ability of a horse.

Carrying 55kg he may be able to run 1200 m in 1 m 9.6s with a time at the 400 m pole (after 800 m) of 45s flat. If that same horse were called on to carry 56.5kg it might still be able to run the 800 m in 45s flat but it might well require 1 m 11.2s to run the full distance, that 1.5kg extra weight making a telling difference in the final stages.

Other better quality horses might be able to lug extra weight and still run the same times.

But research does indicate that horses have a weight plateau - or a tolerance level of weights at different distances.

Horse A, for example, can carry up to 54.5kg without any problems between 1000m and 1300m, but between 1400m and 1700 m it can only carry 53.5 kg and at distances between 1700m and 2000m it might be able to carry only 52 kg to produce the same sort of effort.

Weight coming off a horse will not always better its chances in a race.

Consider the graph of Horse A - if it dropped 2kg, carrying 52.5kg instead of 54.5kg, we would not expect much improvement as we would if it carried 54.5kg rather than 55.5kg, a mere 1 kg difference.

In the same way, weight added often will not seriously impair a horse's racing ability. Horse A would pick up 1.5kg going from 52 kg to 53.5 kg with little or no trouble. But thenthe 1.5kg rise from say 54kg to 55.5 kg could easily cause it to lose a race.

Finally, if a horse seems too heavily weighted, and if the odds about it are such that the return will not be great, then it may pay to move on to the second choice in the race, more so if it is at generous odds.

By Martin Dowling