The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) had today announced a trial of a brand new type of race, known as Optional Claiming Handicaps – a hybrid of handicaps and claimers.

These new races form part of a cross-industry commitment to diversify the race programme and create more options for trainers to campaign horses in races which are not solely based on their handicap rating.

In addition, Optional Claiming Handicaps are designed to help stimulate trade in a group of higher rated horses that are less likely to attract interest from abroad and lack the stamina to appeal to the jumping market.

Starting in July, the 10-race trial is pitched at horses rated in the 80s and 90s. These events will be staged over distances from 6f to 1m and each carry a total prize fund of £30,000. The programme can be viewed here.

When entering a horse in an Optional Claiming Handicap, trainers can ‘buy’ a handicap rating up to 7 lbs 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. A guide to entering optional claiming handicaps can be viewed here and an explanatory video with BHA Handicapper Graeme Smith can be viewed below:

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.

The resultant scale divides horses into different age groups, with the aim of reflecting the higher desirability of younger animals, and thereby identifying realistic sums at which these horses might be valued. The claiming values can be viewed here, with further prices available on request.

Optional Claiming Handicaps were developed in discussion with trainers, recommended for trial within the BHA’s handicapping review and approved by the Racing Group’s industry-wide representatives as part of a broader scheme to inject greater variety into the race programme.

Further details will also be available in the new re-vamped guide to handicapping due to be published on the BHA website shortly.

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:

“One of the recommendations from our recent handicapping review is that there should be a greater diversity of race types.

“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.

“If Optional Claiming Handicaps prove popular, we can further develop an initiative that could have a genuine benefit for a portion of our horse population that is sometimes rather limited in the range of different race types in which they can compete.”

Trainer Jamie Osborne, who helped evolve these races, commented:

“Optional Claiming Handicaps give us 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, so hopefully the trial will be widely supported and a great success.”