The Professional Punter’s Guide to Nursery Handicaps

A nursery handicap is simply a handicap for two-year-old horses. We say ‘simply’ but, by definition, nursery handicaps are contested by immature, unexposed horses carrying weights allocated according to their ability, so they are notoriously difficult to solve.


To qualify for nursery handicaps, a two-year-old must have run three times on the Flat in Britain, or run twice on the Flat in Britain, winning at least once and earning an official British Horseracing Authority (BHA) rating of 85 or lower, or run once on the Flat in Britain, winning once and earning an official BHA rating of 80 or lower.


Obviously, winning form is the easiest for the BHA Handicapper to assess but, while he will usually err on the side of caution when allocating an initial handicap rating, he is often faced by two-year-olds that have qualified for nursery handicaps by virtue of three unplaced runs in non-handicap races, perhaps with disparate performance ratings, and are nigh on impossible to handicap accurately.


Nevertheless, the late Alex Bird, arguably Britain’s best known professional punter of all time, suggested that by comparing the time recorded by a two-year-old with that the winning time recorded by older horse in a handicap, over the same course and distance, on the same day, it was possible to develop a profitable angle for betting on nursery handicaps.


In fact, we can use this approach to create our own ‘private handicap’ for two-year-olds by following the steps below:

1. Subtract the time, in seconds, recorded by the two-year-old from the winning time recorded by the older horse.

2. Multiply the result from 1. by the ‘Pounds per length’ corresponding to the race distance in the table below. For example, if the race distance is 5 furlongs, multiply the result from 1. by 3.


Race Distance Pounds Per Length
5 furlongs 3lb per length
6 furlongs 2.5lb per length
7-8 furlongs 3lb per length
9-10 furlongs 1.75lb per length

3. Multiply the result from 2. by 6 (the average number of lengths/second travelled by a two-year-old)

4. Add the weight carried (in pounds) by the two-year-old, including allowances, to the result from 3. and subtract the weight carried, including allowances, by the older horse.

5. Add the official BHA rating for the older horse to the result from 4.


If you need to find the rating of any horse in training in Britain, you can do so here.


6. If the older horse is aged 4 years or older, look up the weight-for-age allowance that three-year-olds receive from older horses in the Official Scale of Weight, Age & Distance (Flat)


and add it to the result from 5.


7. If the two-year-old did not win its race, multiply the distance it was beaten (in lengths) by the corresponding ‘Pounds per length’ in the table above and subtract this from the result from 6..


The only caveats to this approach are that the two races must take place over the same course and distance, on the same day, and the older horse must be competing in a handicap. Once you have your ratings, you can use them in exactly the same way as any other speed ratings, adjusting them for the weight carried, to provide an indication of the relative chances of runners in most, if not all, nursery handicaps.