What does it mean if a horse is ‘out of the handicap’?

In Britain, the majority of horse races are handicap races. In a handicap race, each horse carries a weight according to its official handicap rating – or, in other words, a numerical representation of its supposed ability, expressed in Imperial pounds – as allotted by a team of handicappers at the British Horseracing Authority (BHA).

Handicap races are divided into a series of ‘ratings bands’, which, in turn, define the eligibility of horses that may participate. As an everyday example, let’s consider a Class 5 handicap, open to horses aged four years and upwards, with a specified ratings band of 0-68. The maximum and minimum weights to be carried are specified in the race conditions, so if the maximum weight is, say, 9st 9lb, a horse rated 62 would carry 9st 3lb.

Lower-rated horses would carry less weight, proportionate to their handicap ratings. If the minimum weight is, say, 8st 4lb, a horse rated 49 would carry that weight. Thus, while the race is officially designated 0-68, it is effectively suitable for horses rated 49-68. Of course, horses rated 48 or below may still be entered for such a race, but would still be required to carry the specified minimum weight of 8st 4lb. A horse rated, say, 46 would carry 8st 4lb as opposed to the 8st 1lb dictated by its official handicap ratung, and would thus be described as 3lb ‘out of the handicap’ or 3lb ‘wrong at the weights’.