What do ‘SP’ and ‘handicap’ mean in horse racing?

The world of horse racing can undoubtedly be slightly intimidating to many people who are not familiar with it, not least due to the various specialised terms and acronyms frequently bandied about in these circles.

So, for this blog post, we thought we’d take a look at just two such terms – ‘SP’ and ‘handicap’ – to give you a sense of exactly what they mean.

Such information is likely to be useful for you whether you are simply intending to visit Newbury Racecourse for the first time to immerse yourself in the action, or interested in placing a bet on all manner of both prestigious and obscure horse racing events.

First things first… what does ‘SP’ refer to?

The term ‘SP’ refers to ‘Starting Price’, and it’s particularly relevant for horse racing bettors. If you have previously looked at horse racing odds, you are likely to have seen these two letters listed in the odds column.

Quite simply, the Starting Price is the price, or fixed odds, at which a given horse is trading at a racecourse when the given race begins. In effect, the SP tells you how likely it is that a particular outcome will occur, and aids you in calculating how much you will win in the event of a successful bet.

The method for deciding on the Starting Price for each horse varies from one country to the next. In the UK, it is the Starting Price Regulatory Commission – or SPRC – that determines the SP.

The method the SPRC uses is as follows: the prices offered on every horse in a race by on-course bookmakers are ordered in a list from longest to shortest. This list is then divided into halves, followed by the SP being selected from the shortest odds available in the half of the list with the longer odds.

So, what about ‘handicap’?

For a complete explanation of handicapping, why it exists, and how it works in British horse racing, there is surely no better source than the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), which is the body responsible for governing, administrating, and regulating horse racing in Britain.

The regulatory authority states that handicapping exists as a means of allowing horses of a range of abilities to race competitively against each other, through the allocation of weight.

Basically, the better a given horse is perceived as being on the basis of their form, the higher that horse’s handicap rating will be, and therefore, the greater the amount of weight the horse will be required to carry.

The principle is that handicap races give horses with a lower perceived level of ability at least a fighting chance of winning a race against more capable horses.

As The Telegraph explains, the majority of horse races in the UK and Ireland are handicap races, and the same can be said for the world-famous Grand National at Aintree, and the Melbourne Cup in Australia.

As far as National Hunt racing is concerned, the highest weight generally carried is 11st 12lb, while the lowest weight is normally 10st. In Flat racing, meanwhile, the highest weight carried tends to be about 9st 10lbs; the lowest possible weight is 8st.

There you have it – a ‘cut out and keep’ guide to what these two common terms mean, to help lessen some of the confusion that they can cause among the uninitiated. Hopefully, such knowledge will leave you more confident about engaging with horse racing as a sport, and perhaps even visiting a course like Newbury to experience a race in person!