When you look at a racehorse close up, there’s not a great deal to be discerned about their quality as a chaser or a sprinter.
Okay, so you can look at their build, the quality of their coat and their general demeanour in the paddock to get some clues, but appearances can be deceptive – Michael O’Leary once described two-time Grand National champion and multiple-time Cheltenham Festival winner Tiger Roll as a ‘little rat of a thing’.
To help differentiate between horses and give a general idea of their performance level, a ratings system has been created that ensures handicap races are run fairly and that renewals with specific entry requirements are adhered to.
So, when you see ‘OR’ on a racecard, that stands for Official Rating… and here’s everything you need to about it.
What Is the Official Rating?
The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) is in charge of overseeing that all races that take place under their umbrella are fair and competitive.
To help with that mission, they implement a ratings system for both Flat and National Hunt horses that, for the most part, should see them compete on an equal footing with their opposition.
A horse is designated an official rating on the basis of its past performances, and while the actual calculation is a little more complex, as a general rule of thumb if a horse wins their rating increases and if they run poorly on a number of occasions their rating will decrease.
A racehorse in the UK will go unrated until they have won or placed inside the top-six in at least three outings. These ratings are then updated on a weekly basis, so that an accurate picture is painted.
Just a couple of points of order. Flat horses are rated between 0-140, while in National Hunt racing that increases to 0-170. And before you rush out and place your bets on the horse with the highest OR, remember this isn’t always an accurate measure – some runners have a rating that’s too high relative to their recent form, with an inflated number in place due to the quality of their past performances.
Also, some horses are switched between hurdling and chasing – so their rating can be inaccurate, others may be being tested over a different distance or going for the first time, and so on. Research remains the key weapon in the arsenal of a horse racing punter.
How Is the Official Rating Used?
There’s a couple of ways in which the official rating system is used.
Some races have very specific entry requirements to determine who is and who isn’t eligible to run in it. Some renewals only allow for runners in a specific rating bracket to compete, and that is particularly the case in top-tier Class 1 races – on the Flat, that is generally an OR of 96+.
There’s another use for the official ratings. Handicappers will consider the OR when determining the weights for handicap renewals – so, a horse rated 85 will typically carry five pounds more than one rated 80. We cover this in more detail below.
How are Official Ratings Calculated?
Handicappers will consider many different variables when it comes to calculating official ratings.
They want to see horses that are running well against opposition of a similar or higher rating – generally, that will see their own OR increase. The opposite is true for underperforming runners failing to compete against similarly-rated horses.
The analysts will also keep a close eye on horses running ‘out of handicap’. Those that entered in races well above their current OR will be forced to carry a weight the same as higher-rated horses, but if they show form in this company then their rating will be impacted positively.
How are Handicaps Decided In Horse Racing?
The handicapper’s role is to create a utopian situation where all of the horses in a race cross the finishing line at the same time.
So they ‘penalise’ better horses by making them carry a heavier weight than their lower rated counterparts, with the aim of creating a level playing field.
Of course, it very rarely works out like that in reality, but one of the uses of the official rating is to give the handicapper a guide for their weight calculations.
As well as the OR, the handicapper will also consider previous form at the host racecourse, the distance being run and the going, speed patterns, relative weight and even any draw bias in prior runs to try and create an accurate picture of how a race will play out.