BHA to trial optional claiming handicaps in bid to tackle the 'twilight zone'
The BHA is to trial a new type of race, known as an optional claiming handicap, in a bid to diversify the race programme and create more opportunities for horses in events that are not based solely on their handicap ratings.
It is hoped that optional claiming handicaps will help stimulate trade in a group of higher-rated horses who do not appeal to foreign buyers or as potential jumpers, namely the ‘twilight zone’ horses who find winning opportunities hard to come by.
Starting on July 18 at Yarmouth, the ten-race trial is pitched at horses rated in the 80s and 90s. These events will be staged over distances from six furlongs to a mile, and each carry a total prize fund of £30,000.
When entering a horse in an optional claiming handicap, trainers can ‘buy’ a handicap rating up to 7lb lower than its published rating but, in doing so, they make that horse available to claim for a pre-determined price which is in line with the reduced rating chosen.
Claiming prices for this trial were derived from analysis of auction prices in Britain and Ireland in 2016-17 of all horses fitting the relevant stamina and age profiles.
Feedback from selected trainers with an interest in buying and selling such horses was also incorporated in the development of these values.
Trainer Jamie Osborne, who helped evolve the races, said: “Optional claiming handicaps give trainers the chance to rate our own horses and to potentially win a valuable prize as a result.
“An expanded, coherent programme of these races would kick-start trade in these good horses who get stuck in the twilight zone, so hopefully the trial will be widely supported and a great success.”
Graeme Smith, the BHA handicapper involved in designing the race conditions, said: “Optional claiming handicaps are an entirely new concept for British racing and cater for a portion of the horse population trainers believe is often limited to running in standard handicaps.
“These races can contribute to a more diverse range of winning opportunities and also act as a means of realising the value from a section of the horse population that can be difficult to sell.
“The trade-off between competing from an advantageous rating and risking a claim creates an extra dimension compared with standard handicaps.
“Feedback from trainers has already highlighted a difference of opinion on whether horses running from reduced marks or progressive horses running off their official rating could hold sway.
“That tension should make for competitive races, serving a specific purpose for trainers and providing punters with a different type of challenge to solve.”
Paul Johnson, head of racing for the BHA, said: “This is an innovative proposal and, as with all new concepts, we appreciate it may take some getting used to. But we are keen to try new ideas and see whether owners and trainers warm to them.”
The new concept at a glance
- Programme of ten optional claiming handicaps at six furlongs to a mile for four-year-olds and upwards, starting next month
- Dates and racecourses for the programme can be found here
- No restriction by rating on entries but pitched to attract the 80+ horse
- Horses running from their correct rating are not available to claim, unless the trainer requests otherwise at entry stage
- Horses running from a rating determined by their trainer are available to claim at a price commensurate with that reduced rating
- Reduced ratings are nominated at the entry stage – races to be run with £30,000 prize fund
- Guide to entering a horse in an optional claiming handicap can be viewed here
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