How Age, Weight and Sex Affect Horse Racing Results…

A race card often includes details on the age, sex, and weight each horse must bear during a race.

But why is this data so crucial?

One reason is historical. For instance, if a mare hasn’t ever won a certain race – it’s valuable knowledge for bettors. Similarly, if a race consistently sees winners of a specific age, then it’s wise to be cautious about betting on younger horses. Understanding these factors can sharpen your horse racing betting strategy.

Age, sex, and weight vary between flat horse racing and the jumps. We’ll explain all within this article…

Why a Horse’s Weight, Age and Sex Matters…

Flat racing is often viewed as the premium area of the sport. This perception arises because these races involve only thoroughbreds that sprint without the interference of fences or other barriers. Here, a horse’s raw speed dictates the race’s outcome, rather than potential mishaps like tripping over a jump.

There’s a guide to different horse racing types, grades and classes here (opens in a new tab).

Jump racing introduces a more intricate dynamic. Obstacles like fences can influence the race’s result as much as the horse’s speed, requiring bettors to factor in more variables. National Hunt races, typically longer than flat races, might favour older horses with greater endurance and strength.

While flat racing primarily features young or adolescent horses, where weight plays a crucial role, jump racing emphasizes stamina. In the latter, age becomes a more significant determinant, with weight taking a backseat.

Horse Racing Weights: What You Need to Know

Let’s delve into how the factor of weight influences a horse’s winning chances…

Earning the Handicap

In handicap races, an official handicapper assigns a handicap mark to each participating horse. This assignment doesn’t occur until a horse has raced under code three times or secured a victory under code. A horse’s handicap rating governs both the calibre of race it’s eligible for and any additional weight it must bear during that race. To state it plainly, a horse with a 140 rating wouldn’t qualify for a race limited to horses with a rating of 130 or below.


Once a horse’s handicap rating is established, the next step is to participate in a race. When deciding on which horse to wager on, it’s essential to consider potential penalties, which translate to extra weight during the race.

While the term ‘penalty’ might imply wrongdoing, it’s often the opposite in racing. For instance, a horse might receive a penalty for competing shortly after securing a victory in another race.

The weight a horse carries is inversely proportional to its rating relative to its competitors. For every rating point, a horse is below the nearest competitor, it carries one pound less in weight. For example, if a horse has a rating of 112 and carries eleven stone and ten pounds, and the next horse is rated 110, that horse will bear eleven stone and eight pounds.

How Jockeys Factor

The weight a horse carries in a race isn’t solely based on the handicap; the jockey’s weight is a key factor too. Using the previous example, if a horse is slated to bear eleven stone and ten pounds, but the jockey weighs in at eleven stone, the horse will be burdened with an extra ten pounds for the race. Sometimes, a jockey might weigh more than the handicap suggests for the horse, resulting in the declaration of the horse’s starting weight before the race commences.

The scenario gets slightly more intricate with conditional jockeys. These are National Hunt apprentice jockeys under twenty-six, who haven’t registered more than seventy wins under the rules in the last six months.

Depending on their experience, conditional jockeys get a weight reduction, termed an ‘allowance’:

  • Less than twenty wins: a seven-pound allowance.
  • Less than forty wins: a five-pound allowance.
  • Less than seventy-five wins: a three-pound allowance.

Furthermore, jockeys riding for their home stable get an extra allowance. If they’ve won fewer than five races, they receive an additional three-pound reduction, up to a total maximum allowance of ten pounds.

Weight for Age Explained

Weight-for-age races, commonly abbreviated as ‘WFA’, rank among the most equitable in the National Hunt handicapped races. These races incorporate various factors, not just age, to determine the weight allocation for each horse. The elements considered include:

  • Race distance
  • Month of the race
  • Horse’s gender
  • Horse’s age

Mature horses are generally better equipped to handle longer races, and male horses tend to develop strength faster than their female counterparts. Thus, Weight-for-Age races meticulously account for these aspects, striving to balance the race by ensuring appropriate weight distribution for every competitor.

Getting Weighed In

Anyone who’s been to a racetrack or intently watched a race on TV would have come across the announcement that the horses have been ‘weighed in’.

This ritual occurs after the race concludes. However, before this, the horses undergo a ‘weigh-out’ procedure. Before the race commences, the jockey, saddle, and other essential equipment are placed on scales to verify the exact weight the horse will carry during the race. Once the race ends, they undergo another weigh-in to ensure that the weight remains consistent and no alterations have occurred.

Flat Racing

When contrasting National Hunt and flat racing, it’s notable that in the Classics, all horses bear the same weight, rendering weight considerations insignificant for these major races. However, there are plenty of other races where weight remains a pivotal factor.

Generally, the principles regarding weight in jump racing also hold true for flat racing. The primary distinction lies in the age of the horses. For instance, seasoned male horses are better equipped to handle greater weight compared to their younger female counterparts.

How Horse Racing Ages Impact Performance:

The type of race often gives away the kind of horse that will participate. Let’s look at the various categories within jump racing:

Maiden races

No, this isn’t a race exclusively for Robin Hood’s significant other. Rather, a maiden race is reserved for horses that haven’t secured a victory in that specific race category before. For instance, a horse with a chase win under its belt could compete in a Maiden Hurdle race, as long as it hasn’t previously triumphed in a hurdle race.

Novice races

A novice race bears some resemblance to maiden races in that it’s designed for horses somewhat new to the specific race category. However, there’s a distinction: a horse that has clinched a hurdle race can participate in a novice hurdle race, as long as the win occurred in the current season. For example, if a horse wins a maiden hurdle and then, two weeks later, triumphs in a novice hurdle, it remains eligible for novice races for the rest of the season.

While a horse’s age generally doesn’t determine its eligibility for most races, junior and juvenile races are exceptions, exclusively catering to three-year-olds.

Junior and Juvenile

While they might seem akin, these represent distinct race types. Both are open to three-year-olds, but the horse’s skill and growth will determine its suitable race. For instance, juvenile races are exclusively over hurdles, attracting horses with prior jump experience or those deemed promising for hurdling. On the other hand, junior races fall under National Hunt flat races, usually featuring horses not yet adept at jumping or those that might never tackle hurdles.

A point worth mentioning about horse ages: Labeling a horse as three years old or four years old can be somewhat deceptive. Regardless of their actual birthdate, horses age up on January 1st. So, a horse born on January 2nd, 2021, though older, will have the same age classification on January 1st, 2022. Consequently, the January-born horse benefits from nearly a year’s advantage in growth and experience over its December counterpart. When it comes to reading horse racing form many punters overlook this.

Age’s in Flat Horse Racing:

Flat races have their own set of criteria, and often, the age of the participating horses distinguishes them from jump racing categories.


Similar to jump racing, this category is reserved for horses that haven’t clinched a race victory. Additionally, there are Rated Maidens, tailored for horses with a specific top rating that have competed at least three times.


This category is exclusively designed for two-year-old horses and falls under the umbrella of handicap races.


This category is designed for two-year-olds who have secured victories in no more than two races of this type.

Horse Racing: Does Sex Matter?

Colts refer to male horses under five years of age. Once they surpass the age of five, male horses are simply called “horses”. For clairity; gelding is a castrated male horse.

Female horses under five are termed fillies. Upon reaching five years, a filly transitions into being called a mare. The gender of a horse plays a pivotal role in racing since certain races grant weight allowances for fillies and mares. Typically, this weight allowance ranges between three and five pounds, contingent upon the horse’s age and the specific season of the race. Recently the maximum allowance moved to seven pounds for fillies and mares. It’s a controversial topic depending on who you’re talking to…

However, it’s worth noting that if a race exclusively permits fillies or mares, there’s no weight allowance provided. Such allowances are only applicable in races where both genders compete.

Related: All Weather Racing Surfaces: Polytrack, Fibresand & Tapeta Explained

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *