If there is a time of year for any horse, now is the time for the topweight. It is the time that the tracks are at their truest, and the best of the crops are away resting or trying to win in Western Australia.

The topweight in a handicap is immediately at a disadvantage. This is true of every handicap ever run, regardless of the comment often made about a topweight that it is we, in or "well handicapped".

If it is giving away weight it is, first and foremost, at a disadvantage. The next step the punter must undertake is to establish the extent of the disadvantage, by asking the following question:


Weekly assessments such as Warren Block's Eagleform, The Wizard and George Tafe's Ratings will tell you how these experts see the horse's chances relative to every horse in the field. My own P.P.M. ratings will also give you a raw score which can be used as a measure of the class involved. Should the class be weaker than the horse has encountered in the past, then you must ask how much weaker it is. If it is considerably weaker, you would anticipate a hefty impost for this topweight. This is where we have a chance with the topweight on a good surface.

We ask our second question:


Now there are certain things that it is an advantage to know in this regard. Some horses are big, strong fellows and can handle weight. Small types, especially fillies, and certain breeds, cannot handle weight; and a drop in class, accompanied by a rise in weight, can spell doom for them. Readers using Winmaster can check at a glance what sort of weights the horse has carried to victory in the past, often a good guide. This is also evident from Sportsman and The Wizard, along with some better newspapers, at least for the weekend racing.

I like to start my analysis of any handicap with the topweight, as it is the yardstick, the benchmark against which every other horse has alrealy been rated by the handicapper. He is a full-time professional these days, and he has access to the kinds of form guides that you have only dreamt of. He is able to weight one against the other with a surety that (overall at least) he is pretty dose to a true representation of class. When they speak of beating the handicapper these days, he usually has the final laugh.

However, there are ways of "beating" the handicap, not the handicapper. When a horse is assessed after nominations, he might well be the sixth or seventh "best" so far as the handicapper is concerned. He might progress up to topweight when acceptances are announced, usually two days or so ahead of the meeting.

He may have been handicapped at, say, 54kg, because there were several (or sometimes only one) above him in the weights and the topweight was assessed at around 58, thus the rest of weights might have been compressed, with a whole swag on the minimum. After some early acceptors drop out, our fellow is left at the top of a very compressed field on 54, but the minimum topweight might be stipulated at 55.5kg. So up he goes to 55.5, and while this might seem at first glance to be harsh, it may well be a blessing. The minimum remains the same, all those on the minimum go up too, and he gives no more than a gross 4.5kg to any horse in the race.

Had the early dropouts not been nominated, our chap would have received at least 55.5 to start with, and several of those who have now been raised to 52.5kg would have remained on 51, as there would be no need for weights to be raised. See what can happen? The topweight is now at a significant advantage, as he has dragged all the others up with him! There is some merit in entering two or more good horses in a moderate handicap and seeing how they are weighted. If you then run into a situation where, by withdrawing your horses except for the one we have described above, you are gaining an advantage. So we have question three:


This will be dearly listed in the newspapers and anyway the nominations are always in the city papers, so retain those noms, as we call them, for the weekend, so you can check the final acceptances against them. It may not be as clear as this, since the weights may not be raised, but the trainer might still retain his best chance, the topweight, having put in one or two better horses to make sure that his choice will not get too much weight. Or it may be nothing to do with him. It may simply be that others have entered horses that are weighted above our man's, and they all come out at acceptance time. The weights may not need to be raised at all, but because of the better horses that were originally in, our horse might have got 55.5 or 56 when now, after acceptances, he should have (say) 58.5 on this 51 limit.

There is another way of looking at the topweight. If it is at least 4kg clear of the field, it is often so much better than they are, that there is simply no comparison. These are often races where the topweight is short odds, but it is often the safest bet of the day, being streets ahead of the opposition. When you see one on 57, another on 53 and the rest scattered within two kilos of that, you often have a winner on your hands. Forgetting apprentice allowances, you are looking at a horse the handicapper says is in a different league to the rest of the field, yet so long as it can carry 57kg (nine stone in the old figures, not a really big assignment for a strong animal), it ought to win.

Then we come to the usual questions, such as fitness, form, track conditions, distance, etc., etc. We always come to those anyway, but the topweight can often start you on the way to a nice win.

By The Optimist