5 Steps To Master Form Reading In Horse Racing (2019)

Reading horse racing form can be TOUGH. In high class races it’s even harder because there are so many good runners, and the fields are so big that it can be difficult to know where to start.

But you can read form even if you’ve never done it before, and rapidly reduce the number of runners with potential to laser-focus on the horses that have a chance at winning with a few simple techniques.

The Northumberland Plate is being run at 15:35 today at Newcastle, and I’m going to show you how to read the form in this race to find your bets, even if you’ve never read form before.

This is the same technique that I’ve used for over a decade when I need to analyse a race as fast as possible without losing any accuracy.

I will be using our Pro Members Club tools to analyse this race, which you can find here.

Here we go…

  1. Reduce The Field
  2. Find The Bad Runners In Hiding
  3. Find The Strongest Contenders
  4. Who Is Likely To Win
  5. How To Bet
  6. How Are You Going To Bet?


1. Reduce The Field

It’s important to start by reducing the number runners in the field. It’s impossible for anybody to analyse large numbers of horses. There’s too much information for us to handle in our brains.

In this race there are twenty horses declared, and currently one, Withhold, is a non-runner.

It’s easy to get panicked by the amount of horses in the race, but you don’t need to. We will reduce the field down as rapidly as possible to leave us just a few horses to look at in more detail.

The first place to start is by using the odds. On Betfair you can see that the odds are shown in ascending order. This means the most likely horse to win, the favourite, is at the top and the least likely to win is at the bottom.

My personal preference is to never bet above odds of 29/1 or 30.00 in decimal odds, as used on Betfair.

This isn’t because those horses aren’t going to win, it’s because they’re going to win less than 5% of the time. A winning rate any lower than this means you would need a very large bankroll to sustain the losing runs. So I use this as my threshold for bets.

Which makes it very easy to remove the horses we’re not going to bet on!

Any horse with odds higher than 30.00 gets removed from the race.

You can do this quickly and easily by clicking on the X sign next to the horse you want to remove from the race. If we start with Cohesion, on our race cards we simply cross the X next to his name.

This removes the horse from the main list of runners to the Eliminations section.

Repeat this process for every runner that has odds above 30.00 in this race and you have eliminated six horses, plus the non-runner. This leaves us just 13 runners to consider going forward, 35% less than the declared number of runners in the race.

2. Find The Bad Runners In Hiding

Would you bet on a bad runner?

Of course not.

But if you didn’t know a horse was a bad runner then you may do it without realising!

Finding the bad runners in hiding can help to eliminate more runners from the field.

One of the most popular pieces of information when analysing a horse race is the Days Since Last Ran.

This information tells us how many days it’s been since the horse was last in a race. It’s available on every race card on every website.

Mootsadir last ran 22 days ago and Austrian School ran 14 days ago.

Almost every single bettor will use this as indication of how fit a horse is.

But it’s not a true indication of how fit a horse is.

Which is the reason we don’t show this piece of information on our default race cards.

Yes… you can add it to a custom race card if you want to, but we much prefer to use Days Since Last Good Race.

By considering when the horse last had a good race we can be far more accurate in assessing how likely a horse is to perform well today.

Whether a horse had a good race or not is determined based on the distance of it’s races. We use the distance the horse finished from the winner, and the longer the race the longer the distance from the winner can be and the race still considered good. The shorter the race then the shorter this distance can be.

You can see in the image above that Gibbs Hill hasn’t had a good race for 724 days. That’s two years since the horse ran well!

I wouldn’t want to place my money on a horse that hasn’t run a good race in two years.

We can use the X next to each horses name to eliminate them from our race card and reduce the field further.

However, some horses come back from a long break and run an incredible race because they’ve been training to target a specific event.

In America the training runs have to be declared publicly, which means that everybody can see exactly what a horse has been achieving in training.

Unfortunately in the UK and IRE this is not the case.

But if you’re not happy to simply eliminate them, which is what I do, there is a way to get an idea if any of these horses may be targeting this specific race.

Use any major website such as the Racing Post, Timeform and At The Races race cards and look at the commentary section.

The commentary for Gibbs Hill says:

Highly progressive when last seen; off 724 days; extra 4f here; a major gamble this week

This would explain why the horse is currently favourite with odds of 6.2. It could be that this horse has been slowly working towards this race.

With this information you may choose to keep this horse on your race card, and not eliminate it until you’ve looked into it further.

Once I’ve done this we’ve not got just eight runners left to consider.

3. Find The Strongest Contenders

Now that we’ve narrowed the field down to a reasonable number of horses, it’s time to find the runners we consider to be the best in the race.

There are very few races where only one horse will have a chance of winning.

That makes looking for a single potential winner a bad idea. In fact, it makes it nearly impossible.

Instead of looking for a single winner, we look for a group of horses that the winner is most likely to be a part of.

We can do this very quickly by using a handful of ratings that we know are good indicators of strong runners.

Starting with the 5278 CFR rating, a form based compiled rating which uses a number of other ratings to make it, we highlight the top four.

To do this we sort the column in order by clicking on the header.

Clicking on each horse highlights that horses row in green.

In this case we’ve eliminated the horse that is ranked 1 (best). We can choose to bring this horse back into the race as a contender by clicking on the X next to it again, but I am going to leave it removed.

We then use the PR Odds to find which it considers to be the strongest horses. This is an odds line created dynamically by the software. It merges with the live Betfair odds to make it more accurate, but as I am analysing this race nearly eight hours before the race, I am only interested in it’s scoring as the live Betfair markets do not yet have enough liquidity to make them reliable.

By clicking on the Total Score column header, I’ve sorted the race card by this rating.

We have a list of Contenders and Potentials, as you can see above, and this indicates the horses we expect to be strongest in the race.

From the Contenders we’re going to add King’s Advice.

From the Potentials we’re going to add Bartholomeu Dias.

There are now five horses in our list that we need to look into further to determine how we want to bet.

4. Who Is Likely To Win

It’s all fine having got a shortlist, but there are still five contenders in our list. Unless you want to dutch all six, which is not a bad option, we need to reduce this to just two or three that we believe are the strongest.

This is where horse racing can become very overwhelming because we’ve got to look closer at the ratings.

The technique I’m about to show you strips the complication from it. Everything is kept simple and not over-thought too much.

In order for it to work, you have to make sure that you stop yourself over-thinking. It’s very easy to do and you need to consciously make sure that you don’t do it.

I’m going to use the default race card from the Race Advisor’s Pro Members Club but this approach will work with any custom race card or ratings that you are using.

I am going to make a note of the strongest horses for each rating, and I’m going to do this by looking for a big jump between one horses score and the next horses score.

Starting with the Total Score from the PR Odds, we can see that there is a significant jump between King’s Advice and Bartholomeu Dias.

I will make a tally against Gibbs Hill and King’s Advice that they have the strongest rating here.

It’s simple to keep a score, you can use a piece of paper, write the horses names down and put a tally next to them. Like this…

Gibbs Hill – Tally 1

King’s Advice – Tally 1

Bartholomeu Dias – Tally 0

Dubawi Fifty – Tally 0

Red Gallileo – Tally 0

We repeat this for our next rating Reynolds Ranking (RR).

Here we can see that Dubawi Fifty and Bartholomeu Dias are closely scored together, and then there’s a gap to King’s Advice. Our tally now looks like…

Gibbs Hill – Tally 1

King’s Advice – Tally 1

Bartholomeu Dias – Tally 1

Dubawi Fifty – Tally 1

Red Gallileo – Tally 0

I’m then going to use the SHORBES rating for speed. The higher the rating the better.

This rating has very little difference between runners scores until we get to Red Galileo who has a bigger drop to 187.

We update our tallies.

Gibbs Hill – Tally 2

King’s Advice – Tally 2

Bartholomeu Dias – Tally 2

Dubawi Fifty – Tally 2

Red Gallileo – Tally 0

I’m going to repeat this process for the ratings WH, QMPV, PFP, JOR and TRNRO.

King’s Advice has never lost a race, which is why its WH (Win History) rating is the best it can be at 1.00. There’s quite a jump to the next best Bartholomeu Dias, making our new tallies:

Gibbs Hill – Tally 2

King’s Advice – Tally 3

Bartholomeu Dias – Tally 2

Dubawi Fifty – Tally 2

Red Gallileo – Tally 0

The big jump for the QMPV rating comes between Bartholomeu Dias and King’s Advice. We update our tallies accordingly.

Gibbs Hill – Tally 3

King’s Advice – Tally 3

Bartholomeu Dias – Tally 3

Dubawi Fifty – Tally 3

Red Gallileo – Tally 0

Looking at the PFP rating, a collateral form rating, we can see that the big jump occurs after Dubawi Fifty. Our tallies now look like…

Gibbs Hill – Tally 3

King’s Advice – Tally 3

Bartholomeu Dias – Tally 3

Dubawi Fifty – Tally 4

Red Gallileo – Tally 0

The JOR is our jockey rating and Red Galileo is significantly higher than our other contenders.

Gibbs Hill – Tally 3

King’s Advice – Tally 3

Bartholomeu Dias – Tally 3

Dubawi Fifty – Tally 4

Red Gallileo – Tally 1

The final rating we’re considering is the trainer rating and you can see that there isn’t a particular big gap between any of the runners.

In this situation we can just ignore that rating from our tallies.

Having gone through each of the ratings using this process we can see the final tallies are…

Gibbs Hill – Tally 3

King’s Advice – Tally 3

Bartholomeu Dias – Tally 3

Dubawi Fifty – Tally 4

Red Gallileo – Tally 1

Red Gallileo seems to be significantly behind the other runners, and so we can eliminate this runner leaving us with four horses that look to be the strongest in the race.

5. How To Bet

We’ve got the horses we believe to be the strongest, but that doesn’t help us in how we’re going to bet on them.

I’m going to simplify this decision using a three-step process that will make the decision for you.

The possible bet types are Win, Each-Way, Place, Dutching or 80/20.

A Win bet is backing the horse to win. If the horse finishes in any other position you lose your stake,

An Each-Way bet means you bet 50% of your stake on the horse to Win and 50% of your stake on the horse to place. Standard rules have a horse placing when they finish between the second and fourth places. However, some bookmakers and exchanges will offer more places in specific races. If the horse finishes first you win both portions of your bet. If the horse finishes in a place position, you lose the 50% of your stake on the win bet, and win the 50% of your stake on the place bet.

A Place bet is betting only on the horse to finish in one of the place positions, this includes first place.

Dutching is the process of splitting your stake across multiple horses in a race. As long as one of the horses wins then you will make a profit. To work out the stake you can use this free calculator at OddsChecker.

The final bet type, 80/20, is where you place 80% of your stake on the horse to place and 20% of your stake on the horse to win.

How Many Selections Do You Have

The number of selections that you have in a race is going to determine which bet types may be open for you.

One or Two Selections

If you have one or two selections then you have the options of placing a win, each-way, place, dutch or 80/20 bet.

Two to Four Selections

If you have between two and four selections you have the option of placing an each-way, place, dutch or 80/20 bet.

More Than Four Selections

When you have more than four selections you should only consider a dutch bet or an 80/20 bet, with a preference for a dutch bet.

I have four selections in this race, which means I’m looking at an each-way, place, dutch or 80/20 bet.

What Are The Odds Of Your Selections

The odds of the selections are very important in choosing how to bet. There’s no point in doing an each-way bet at odds of less than 5/1 (6.00 decimal).

All of the odds are quite high for our selections which leaves all bet options open to us.

What’s Your Risk Level

To determine which bet you’re going to place you now need to ask yourself what your risk level is.

Categorise yourself into a High, Medium or Low risk category.

If you classify yourself in the High risk category then you should choose either an Each-Way, a Dutch bet or an 80/20 bet.

If you classify yourself in the Medium risk category then use a Dutch or 80/20 bet.

If you classify yourself in the Low risk category, use an 80/20 or Place bet.

I personally sit in the Medium risk category and will use either the Dutch Bet or the 80/20 bet.

How Are You Going To Bet?

Now we’ve gone through this race, I’d love to hear from you.

How are you going to bet in this race?

Maybe your favourite horse isn’t the same as mine.

Either way, let me know by leaving a comment below right now.

Michael Wilding

Michael started the Race Advisor in 2009 to help bettors become long-term profitable. After writing hundreds of articles I started to build software that contained my personal ratings. The Race Advisor has more factors for UK horse racing than any other site, and we pride ourselves on creating tools and strategies that are unique, and allow you to make a long-term profit without the need for tipsters. You can also check out my personal blog or my personal Instagram account.


  1. What sort of ‘system’ could pick a horse in a handicap that hasn’t run for over two YEARS? Seems crazy to me.

    1. One of our primary ratings had the horse top rated. However, I would still not have bet on it as there was too much against it. Sometimes you just can’t get the winner. We got two places though with place odds of 5.9 and 4.88. Top Rated Horse

  2. Hi Michael I can’t quite get my head round why Who Dares Wins comes up as 442 days under DSLGR. His two previous runs were both placed, carried a high RP rating and winners have come out of both races. It appears that he was eliminated from your picks yesterday due to this fact. I’m sure most people would say the two previous runs were GOOD or am i missing the point somewhere ? Overall though what you have is superb but for me the DSLGR needs tweeking……… Andy

    1. Great question, thank you for asking. As you can see from the screenshot, the previous two races before yesterday he came second and third. However, on the 5th May, despite coming second, he was beaten by six lengths. On the 12th April he was beaten by 2.95 lengths as you can see from the screenshot attached.

      The DSLGR purely shows when the horse last had a good race. A good race is dependent on how many lengths the horse came behind the winner, not a specific finish position. The distance behind winner that is considered good is dependent on primarily the race distance. For example six lengths behind the winner wouldn’t be consider a good race under any conditions.

      However, there is a benefit to looking at the horses that haven’t had a good race for a long time to see if any recent races they finished second (maybe third as well but less value). If they did finish second you could then look into that race to see if the winner was clearly significantly better than the other horses prior to the race starting. It’s a different approach targeting horses that look bad from a good race perspective but have been in races where they never had a chance.

      As a general rule the DSLGR is a very good way to remove under-performing horses very quickly.

      Horse History

  3. oops my post a minute ago cane under my wifes name Christine in error ! ….Andy

  4. Hi Michael I am a firm believer that along with all the technical analysis to reduce the field I look at their previous races to see the run as I need to view with my own eyes how the race unfolded as their are so many issues that can arise it gives me extra confidence before I strike a Bet

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