Ratings come in various types, ranging from the extremely simple to the highly complex, but they’re all based on the same concept. They express – often, but not always, in Imperial pounds – the abilities of racehorses, so that it’s possible to compare one with another.
The rating that you’re most likely to come across for any horse, provided it meets certain qualifying criteria, is the official rating (OR) allocated by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) Handicapper, which appears in the Racing Post and similar publications.
By and large, official ratings are based on the same variables, such as distance, going, weight and so on, that form students use when assessing horseracing form. The Handicapper also takes into account any incident that may cause a horse to have run better, or worse, than indicated by the bare result and includes that information in his calculation of a handicap rating.
By themselves, official ratings are only useful in non-handicap races, where it’s possible to determine, at a glance, those horses which are favoured by the race conditions and those which aren’t.
Other types of ratings, such as those published by Timeform or under the Topspeed banner in the Racing Post, assess the performance of each horse in terms of time, against a fixed, standard time for the distance on the racecourse on which its is competing. Note that the highest rating achieved by any horse will reflect its optimum conditions, so closer inspection is usually required to determine if the horse in question is likely to reproduce the same level of performance under the prevailing conditions.
These speed ratings are the type of rating that you can produce for yourself, if you’re sufficiently dedicated and you have access to racecourse standard times. Racecourse standard times are available on the racecards on the Racing Post website, if you join the Members’ Club. Obviously, higher class horses are expected to run nearer the standard time for any distance on any racecourse than lower class horses, so you’ll also need a table that shows you how many seconds per five furlongs, or per mile, a horse of a particular class is expected to run slower than the standard time.
The exact method for calculating speed ratings is beyond the scope of this article, but several excellent books, such as those by Andrew Beyer or Nick Mordin, deal thoroughly with the subject. Essentially, you need to compare the winning time of each race at a meeting with the standard time, discard the fastest and slowest times and take an average of the remainder to produce what is known as the “going variance”, which takes into account underfoot conditions on the day. For each race, calculate a speed rating for the winner and, by dividing the number of lengths each horse finished behind the winner by the distance of the race and subtracting the result from the speed rating of the winner, calculate a speed rating for the other runners.
A simple, but surprisingly powerful, ratings system was marketed as the “Fineform Ratings Formula” by professional punter Clive Holt in the 1980s. The Fineform Ratings Formula doesn’t involve race times, per se, but instead assigns points to each horse according to its finishing position in its last two races and whether or not it’s a previous course and/or distance winner. For example, a horse that had won its last two races and was a previous course and distance winner would be assigned a maximum rating, whereas a horse that finished unplaced on its last two starts and wasn’t a previous course or distance winner would be assigned a minimum rating.
Even if you go to the trouble of producing your own speed ratings, don’t expect them to provide you with a “magic bullet”, which will enable you to unearth the winner of every race you analyse. The number of variables influencing the outcome of any horse race will ensure that they won’t. However, even simple ratings can help you to narrow down a field to two or three runners on which to concentrate your efforts and can be a boon if you only have limited time available for form study.