Horse Racing Form Guide

Horse Racing Form Guide  If you want to bet profitably on horses, either by backing them to win or by laying them to lose, your ability to read horse racing form is a vital part of your betting arsenal. If you’ve never read horse racing form before, you may find the process of gathering information daunting in the first instance, but you’ll soon become familiar with how form is presented and which aspects of it you need to concentrate on.


The illustrations below are taken from the Racing Post website,, but you’ll find that wherever you look at horse racing form it’s presented in a more or less uniform way. At the highest level, form is presented on a meeting by meeting basis, with an individual racecard for each of the six or seven races that typically constitute a meeting.


Much of the information on the racecard, including the day, date, time and meeting, is self-explanatory. However, even some of the apparently obvious information assumes greater significance when it comes to narrowing down a field to a handful of potential winners.


The phrase “horses for courses” is well-worn, but it’s true that some horses perform better on some courses than others because they’re suited by the configuration of the course. Now, I happen to know that Huntingdon is a right-handed, fast, flat track so, in the absence of any course winners, I’d need to satisfy myself that any selection was capable of acting on such a track. In other words, I’d be looking for winning or placed form on a similar track, such as Kempton, Ludlow, Taunton or Wincanton.


Similarly, the title of the race provides information about the type of race you’re looking at. In this case, the race is a handicap hurdle or, in other words, a race in which each horse carries a weight, allocated by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) Handicapper, according to its ability and in which timber obstacles, at least 3’6” in height, must be cleared.


The other information on the racecard that relates to the race, itself, rather than the individual runners includes class, distance, going and prize money information. In this case, we’re looking at Class 4 race, open to four-year-olds and upwards rated 0-120 by the BHA, to be run over a distance of 2 miles and 110 yards on good going and worth £3,249 to the winner. When it comes to identifying a possible selection, it’s relative to this class, distance and going information that you’ll assess the form of each individual runner.


The number of runners is important because, typically, the lower the number of runners the better your chances of winning. However, if you’re looking for value, you need to strike the right balance between the number of runners and the odds available.


The racecard also contains vital information about each individual runner in the race. In the above example, we can see that No.1 Alwaystheoptimist:

finished fifth, first, second, first and fell on its last five starts

last ran 75 days ago

is a distance winner

is 10 years old

is set to carry a weight of 11st 12lb

is trained by Phil Middleton

is due to be ridden by Kielan Woods, who claims a 3lb allowance

So far, we’ve only looked at the overview of horse racing that you’d typically find on the racing page of a daily newspaper. However, one of the beauties of an electronic formbook, such as the one used by Racing Post Online, is that with just a few clicks of your mouse you can drill down into the form of any horse and examine its past performance on a race-by-race basis.


Let’s say that we want to examine the form of horse No. 4 Odin. By clicking on its name on the racecard, we can display a record of all its career races, ordered chronologically.


By clicking on a race, we can display a record of its performance in that race.


The subject of how to analyse horse racing form is large enough to fill several volumes, but the first thing we should be looking for with any horse is any disparity in class, distance, going, etc that could cause it to perform better, or worse, than it has in its recent races.


The major point of interest in this race is the fact that it’s a non-handicap, in which Odin met the winner on 5lb worse terms than he would have in a handicap. In other words, although he was comfortably brushed aside by the winner, it was a creditable performance in the same class, over a similar distance and on a similar course to the race under consideration.


Ideally, what we’d like to do next is to assess his ability in a handicap, as the race under consideration is a handicap, and we’re able to do that by looking at his previous run.


Once again, this race was in the same class, over the same distance and on a similar course to the race under consideration and Odin raced off the same handicap mark as he’s due to race off today. The fact that he weakened in the closing stages of this race and did so again at Market Rasen on his next start suggests that he may be a little too high in the weights at present and may need to come down a few pounds before winning a handicap. In other words, he can be expected to run his race under conditions that suit him, but doesn’t leap off the page as a potential selection.


It so happens that, in the race itself, Odin led over the second last, but was headed on the run-in and comfortably beaten 1½ lengths into second place by West Brit. Of course, if we were analysing the form “for real” we’d have needed to repeat the process for at least all of the fancied runners, but I  hope this short example has illustrated some of the principles involved in reading horse racing form.

Can We Really Trust The Clerk Of The Course?

Can We Really Trust The Clerk Of The Course?  The going or, in other words, how hard or soft the racing surface is on any given day, is an important factor in determining the outcome of a horse race. Indeed, it may also dictate which horses participate in the first place, because trainers are often loath to run their charges on going which they know is unsuitable. If the horse in question does run, you’ll often see a statement from the trainer that the horse was unsuited by the prevailing going on the ‘Why They Ran Badly’ page of the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) website.


It has been suggested that the best horses can act on any of the official going designations (hard, firm, good to firm, good, good to soft, soft or heavy) but, while this may be true for the superstars, every horse tends to prefer specific types of going. It’s worth noting that even the all-conquering Frankel, officially the highest rated horse in Flat racing history, never raced on going softer than ‘soft’ or firmer than good to firm.


On turf, moisture softens the racing surface, allowing horses’ hooves to penetrate deeper below the surface. Some horses relish ‘cut in the ground’, while others prefer firmer underfoot conditions. Serious punters will therefore want to know (i) the state of the going as accurately as possible and (ii) which horses are capable of reproducing their best form on the prevailing going.


The state of the going at any racecourse can usually be determined by reference to the official going description published by the Clerk of the Course on the day on which racing takes place. In addition, the Rules of Racing stipulate that the official going description must be accompanied by an objective, numerical reading taken with a device known as a GoingStick. The GoingStick measures the penetration and shear of the racing surface at a given point and converts these variables into a final, mechanically consistent reading.


The GoingStick has eliminated the subjectivity associated with traditional going descriptions but, of course, it’s possible for the going to change after the initial GoingStick reading is published. Serious punters know to keep an eye on winning times during the day as an indication of possible going changes.


The trick, of course, is for punters to know which horses are capable of reproducing their best form on the prevailing going and which are not. For ‘exposed’ horses, going preference(s) can usually be determined by reference to the form book but, for ‘unexposed’ horses, which may have very little, or no, form in the book, punters need to rely on other factors.


Breeding, configuration and the way in which a horse moves its legs, known as its ‘action’, may determine which type(s) of going it prefers, but there are no hard and fast rules. It’s true that the progeny of some sires perform better on one type of racing surface or another, but don’t be mislead by commentators peddling outdated, often inaccurate, opinions. There are plenty of websites offering up-to-date sire statistics for all racing surfaces, including synthetic surfaces, free-of-charge, so rely on these if need be.


It stands to reason that, for horses of approximately the same size and weight, one with larger hooves, in terms of surface area, applies less pressure per hoof than one with smaller hooves and is therefore less likely to become ‘bogged down’ by soft or heavy going. It has been suggested that prospective ‘mudlarks’, or otherwise, can be identified by inspecting the size of their hooves in the paddock but, as this luxury is only available to on-course punters, off-course punters must rely on seeing a horse in motion.


Some horses have a pronounced knee action and lift their feet relatively high off the ground with each stride. As a result of this ‘rounded’ action, their feet strike the racing surface much harder with each stride than their counterparts who have a less pronounced, ‘daisy cutter’ action and keep their feet relatively low to the ground. It makes sense that the former type of horse is more at home with cut in the ground, on which it can fully let itself down without fear of injury, while the latter type is more at home under firmer conditions.


Of course, there will no doubt be an exception to prove every ‘rule’, but we hope we’ve provided a little insight into the going and why it’s important to everyone involved in racing. We hope you enjoyed ‘Can We Really Trust The Clerk Of The Course?’ and we will be back soon with another advanced betting guide. In the meantime, we would love to hear your thoughts on ‘Can We Really Trust The Clerk Of The Course?’ in the comments section below. If you missed our previous post in this series, ‘The Zen of Form Study’, you can read it here.


Ratings  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.

Weight: Does it Mean Everything or Nothing at All?

Weight: Does it Mean Everything or Nothing at All?  In horse racing, weight is always a contentious issue and nowhere more so than in handicap races, where all the horses have similar ability and are weighted according to their official rating and relative to the opposition. According to the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), a horse that wins a handicap typically rises 6lb or 7lb in the weights which, using the approximate pounds-per-length conversion employed by the BHA Handicapper, translates into anything between two and seven lengths, depending on the type and distance of the race contested.


However, given that a typical thoroughbred racehorse can weigh up to half an Imperial ton, or more, it can be argued that adding 6lb or 7lb to the burden it carries is unlikely to make much difference and the effect of the extra weight is over exaggerated. In fact, Phil Smith, Head of Handicapping at the BHA once said, ‘We are thought to have a decisive influence, but in reality there are far more important factors in a horse’s performance than the weight it carries. The key things are its health, the ground and the trip.’


The effect of weight in handicaps has been widely studied but, before we discuss possible profitable betting angles, it’s helpful to identify the types of horses that contest handicaps. The eligibility rules for handicaps, including ‘nursery’ handicaps for two-year-olds, mean that all the participants are ‘exposed’ to a greater or lesser degree. However, all of them also generally fit into one of the following categories:


Proven horses are those that have won a similar race, on a similar course, under similar conditions to those prevailing, off a similar handicap mark. In theory, they need only to be fit and have luck in running to win, provided the opposition isn’t equally proven, progressive or promising.


Unproven horses, on the other hand, can be usually identified by a marked disparity in class, distance or weight between what they’ve achieved in the past and the race being contested. This category includes horses that have won races in the past, but have risen sufficiently in the handicap to prevent them winning again; such horses are often said to be ‘in the grip of the handicapper’ and usually need their official rating to be lowered before they become competitive again.

Progressive horses are those whose form shows advancement from one run to the next. This category includes less exposed types, with the scope to defy rising handicap marks, especially when racing against more exposed opposition.


Regressive horses are those whose form shows deterioration from one run to the next. Regression may actually be caused by declining ability, as the result of age, or by stepping up in class off too high a handicap mark. In the case of the former, the downward trend is usually irreversible, but in the case of the latter, it can be halted by a drop in class, official rating or both.


Promising horses are those whose form is likely to improve, for whatever reason, based on the evidence already to hand. By definition, this category also includes less exposed types and a similar comment to that for progressive horses applies.


Obviously, there may be a degree of overlap between categories; a ‘progressive’ horse could equally be labelled ‘unproven’ if, as the result of the advancement in its form, it is stepping up in class off a handicap mark higher than its previous winning mark.


The reason for mentioning these categories is that weight is only one variable of the many that determine the outcome of a horse race and, as such, cannot be considered in isolation. The fact remains that horses going up the handicap ratings are usually improving, while those going down are regressing and the two groups react differently to weight changes. An American study conducted a few years ago suggested that for horses running in two consecutive races, over the same distance, under identical conditions, those carrying more weight required 3lb more to worsen their performance by one length, while those carrying less weight required 6.2lb less to improve their performance by one length.


This phenomenon, if we can call it that, may account for the fact that, despite the BHA Handicapper’s best efforts, a remarkable linearity exists between the position of a horse in the handicap and its winning strike rate. Although none of the top three in the weights wins often enough individually to generate a level stakes profit, collectively the top three win over a third of all handicap races, with the highest rated horse winning most often, the second highest rated horse winning second most often and so on. The rating allocated by the BHA Handicapper is supposed to reflect the ability of the horse in question, in Imperial pounds, so it makes sense that those horses carrying more weight are more able than those carrying less but, by the same token, all the runners in a handicap are supposed to have an equal chance, at least in theory, which clearly they do not.


It’s also interesting to examine the relationship between class and weight as a horse moves up the handicap ratings. With a few exceptions, any horse that wins a handicap race will inevitably have its handicap rating raised to some degree and, sooner or later, a rise in handicap rating will necessitate a rise in class. It’s a fact that horses that carry more weight in the same, or lower, grade after winning vastly outperform those that carry less weight in a higher grade after winning. In other words, it’s not extra weight that beats the horse, but the fact that it’s racing in a higher class, against better opposition.


Contentious though it may be, weight is an issue that largely takes care of itself, so it’s not one with which we need to tie ourselves in knots. The fact remains that the vast majority of handicap races are won by horses at, or approaching, their peak, attempting little, or nothing, more than they’ve achieved in the past and facing limited opposition. It’s usually to satisfy ourselves that a horse is physically capable of carrying the weight allocated and has won off a similar handicap mark, in a similar race, or is sufficiently progressive or promising to overcome a rise in its handicap rating.