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Homeracing

What is the History of the Word Handicapping?

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TwinSpires Staff

August 8th, 2020

History of The Word – Handicapping

Would you believe that the word “handicapping” actually originated from a bar game?

Handicapping originates with the game Hand In Cap. Hand In Cap was commonly played during the 17th and 18th centuries, but written about as early as the 14th century. This trading game involved three participants: one referee and two players.

The two players would each present an item for trade as the referee placed a value on each of the goods. The referee’s focus will be on the difference in the object’s value. The three participants will place forfeit money into a hat – or ‘cap’ – and then perform one of two actions. Upon removing their hands from the cap, players would signal their approval of the deal with an open palm, or reject the deal by pulling out a closed fist.

Mutual acceptance, both players displaying open palms, will see the goods traded and the valuation difference paid. Mutual disagreement will result in items not being traded. In both mutual acceptance scenarios, the referee would claim the cap money. If the participants disagree, with differing signs, then the player who accepted the deal would receive the forfeit in the cap.

The nuance of the game depends on how fairly the referee assigns value to the items involved in the trade. If he did not handicap the deal appropriately, he would not have a chance to win money in the hat.

The concept of handicapping in sports has existed for quite some time. The first evidence of handicapping is traced back to 1680, when a medical student at the University of Edinburgh documented in his journal that, “At golf, whether it is better to give a man two holes of three, laying equal strokes, or to lay three strokes to his one and play equal for so much every hole.”

Handicapping would officially be adopted by horse racing in the 1850’s while golf would ensue a few decades later. The term “handicap” is usually reserved for golf, while “handicapping” is applied primarily to pari-mutuel wagering in horse racing. Horse racing handicaps by weight. The weight assignments are determined by valuing talent or experience of a horse with an end goal to even the competition field for a race.

by Tim Quek

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