Just how do you wade through so much horse racing information to pick out your selection? It’s easy to get drowned in a sea of statistics and form, muddying the waters about what is important. Different punters will have their different ways of approaching the selection of a horse in a race.
So unless you are just putting on a blindfold and sticking a pin in a race card, then you will naturally be looking at doing some form of statistical observation. Sometimes you will find that eliminating other runners leaves you with your pick. Sometimes it will be a horse that jumps right off the page, checking all the important boxes of form.
But just what are those most important boxes to check? What are the top factors to consider for picking a winning horse? In this guide we take a look at what some of the main areas of horse racing form are. Note that these are not in order of importance. Punters will place their own importance on the different aspects and combine different ones for their own preferences.
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This is where it all starts of course. If the horse you are looking at isn’t recording form, then you may want to look elsewhere. The form does, of course, suggest a certain grade of fitness. Naturally, if a horse has recorded a win in a recent race, that’s a positive.
A recent win in a similar standard of race proves form. That is the kind of very straight forward considerations that you can make. Form though, as you will come to understand it in horse racing terms is not just a simple matter of winning/not winning races. That’s only really scratching the surface.
Form is piecing together the different parts of the previous work that a horse has done. It is looking at the distance of races and the race types that they have been running in. Against what class of opposition it was? How long has it been since their last race? What handicap were they running under and how have they performed before under different weights?
Let’s look further into the top factors to consider for picking a winning horse.
This is so important and perhaps the trickiest part of picking out a horse. Weight is a big factor. Just for reference, a handicap weight refers to the full tally of jockey, horse, equipment and irons. Weights are based on the official rating of form. At the most basic level it is just how horses have been performing, such as being in winning form or not.
But simply reading the race results form to see which is the best horse doesn’t paint the full picture, as alluded to in the previous section. If the favourite in a race at top weight has been winning but only by narrow margins, would they be able to absorb the extra handicapping? So that is where you start looking at winning distances under certain weights.
You have to assess how much of a disadvantage/advantage the weight is going to be. Not only just on one particular horse, but against the weights that the other runners are going off under. The ideal situation is finding a strong contender who is not maxed out in the race’s handicap weights.
There is so much to weights in horse racing. It will probably end up being the area of form on which you spend the most amount of time dissecting the information. With that in mind, for a fuller picture, you may way to take a glance at our Ultimate Guide to Handicapping in Horse Racing.
Handicapping weights too can be a little bit misleading. It’s possible that horses are held back in lower class races to keep their handicap rating down ahead of bigger races, to try and gain an advantage of carrying less weight.
There are many different classes of racing. Take a look at our Guide To Horse Racing before going on, if you want to examine them further. Handicap races are spread out over seven different classes. The purpose of that is to put horses of similar standards up against one another as much as possible.
There would be little point in 10-year-old Rickety Old Man who hasn’t won a race in six years going up against Sprint King Superstar in his prime. So if you see that a horse has a track record in winning Class 2 races but has failed to raise the standard in Class 1 efforts, then that is something to take into consideration when picking a winning horse.
Official handicappers deal with all these things. If a horse is becoming dominant in a certain Class then they are going to raise its rating to make it have tougher challenges. The Class divisions are based on horse’s official ratings, say a span of 76-90. So you should get something of an evenly matched field from that.
4) Course & Distance
This is a bit of gold. If you look down the racecard and see that a horse has course & distance marked (CD), then that will be something to sit up and take notice of. It is a wonderful indicator that the horse knows the track and knows the distance of the race too.
With CD checked off, then you know that they are comfortable with both, and winning history at a track in a given race is huge. You will notice that horses have their favourite tracks like Kauto Star at Kempton Park where he won the exact race, the King Goerge VI Chase five times.
Do jockeys have a big effect? They most certainly do and you can find jockey form to look at. If you look at the stand-alone statistics of how jockeys are performing in terms of wins, then you can see a picture. Naturally, the owners of horses want the best from their investments. They have paid to buy or breed the horse, stable it, train it, pay the wages of its connections, feed it and so on.
So owners want the best jockeys running for them to increase their chances of getting wins. The top jockeys will therefore get more rides on stronger horses. Equally, the top jockeys want to get in the saddle of the best horses. A winning jockey gets a share of the owner’s winning purse so wants a decent shot at tasting success.
So putting that whole picture together, certain jockeys have more winning form because they get the better rides. So it’s likely that in a lot of cases, an in-form jockey is in the saddle of a contender. That is why some punters look first at what jockey is on what horse.
Some punters just go with their favourite jockey because of the assumption that a good jockey is on a good horse. Others will rely on just backing horses from the top trainers. These are not hard to find as there is a wealth of trainer info out there. The top trainers naturally are the ones who are likely to be performing in the top races up and down the country.
They get charged with developing the top horses in the business. So naturally that is going to boost the win percentage of the trainer. You can easily find out who the top trainers are and take a look at their strike record in certain races. Some become experts at training winners for example at Cheltenham’s Supreme Novices’. It makes the Trainer an important consideration for picking a horse.
This follows on in a way from the above two areas of horse racing selections. You will see punters who insist on following trainer/jockey partnerships. It only stands to reason that there is going to be some kind of affinity between two such parties.
A certain jockey will likely get favoured by a certain trainer for the way that they ride because it suits the horses that they are training. If you look at certain partnerships then you are likely going to be able to find stronger win percentages on certain trainer/jockey pairings.
8) Track Condition
Another key aspect is the track conditions. Some horses prefer the grind when the going is soft, others prefer it to be firmer underfoot. This is an important area of racing form. You will want to look at the going (the conditions of the track) and use that to paint a picture for yourself of what could happen on the day.
Knowing the conditions of a track, you can then scan back through a horse’s form, check the condition of the races that they have been performing better in. Is there a common thread there? Is the day’s race that they are entering going against the grain of the conditions in which they have performed the best?
Just like track condition, the distance of races is another key factor in picking a wining horse as well. While it’s an unlikely scenario, you don’t want to go backing a horse that has only done 1-mile trips going in a considerably longer race. Would they be able to suddenly step it up and take on a long, gruelling 2-mile effort?
Similarly, if there is a horse with fantastic staying power over longer distances, you can’t expect them to win a short sprint. That’s like expecting Mo Farah to beat Usain Bolt in the 100m dash. Again, this comes down to studying horse form (read our ultimate guide).
Check to see what their preferred distances are and whether they are likely to handle an extra furlong or a couple less, that kind of thing. You always want to be aware of what conditions, handicapping weight and distance results of a horse, have happened under. Just as an example, was a horse’s loss in a previous race down to it being a slightly longer trip or unfavourable track conditions?
Sometimes horses have long breaks between races, stretching out to months at a time on some occasions. Occasionally because of injury, it may even be a year or more between races. Layoffs can affect horse performance. Think of footballers on a summer break for a few months between the end of one season and the next.
There is no way that halfway through the summer break that they are going to be as sharp, or as in peak physical condition as they were midway through an active season. Layoffs affect racing, especially when it comes to higher class efforts.
If you are looking at lower-class conditional races (all horses carrying same weight) then this may not be as big of a factor. If you have two equal horses, but one has been laid off for 45 days, while the other ran two weeks prior and finished in the top three, the latter makes for a far more interesting proposition.
But, that’s not to say that horses don’t win after long layoffs. Check back through their individual history to see if a runner has proven form before winning races after layoffs.
There are a lot of different components when it comes to considering horse racing form and picking a winning horse. It is worth taking your time with it all and really picking up on the aspects that you feel are important to you.
You are not going to look and try to check off every single aspect of form for a horse in a race. That level of perfection isn’t going to exist. What studying form will do though is help you spot a couple of strong indicators that a horse is potentially going to have a good race.
There is the other key factor of luck that will play it’s part. Not every favourite wins a race of course and sometimes it is just down to luck on the day. Maybe they got boxed in the middle of the pack and couldn’t find the space they needed. Perhaps it was because of being impeded by another runner while trying to get over a fence.
It would not be the great, thrilling unpredictable sport that it is, if everything went by the order of favoritism that the bookmakers lay out. The best thing that you can do is to build up your knowledge base about form and the important different factors about it, to try and cut through the unpredictability.
Want to learn more? Check out our other beginner Horse Racing guides.