For the vast majority of punters, a horse’s form (its previous results) is the be-all and end-all of picking winners. If this was truly the case then all serious bettors would be wealthy. However, this doesn’t mean we can dismiss form because it is still the best way to choose value bets. The thing is, getting the most out of a horse’s past results is extremely complicated and takes no small amount of time, effort and patience!
The good news is that in the digital age, punters with access to a computer can rely on data from the Racing Post and Sporting Life and for the statisticians; there is an incredible amount of information. You could argue that there is too much and it’s easy to fall victim to ‘paralysis by analysis’.
Below, we take a look at the form factors you should be taking into account. We hope this guide provides you with plenty of detailed information while still being relatively easy to digest.
In an online race card you might see information displayed thusly:
Silver Lining 544832- M P Tregoning/ G Baker 9-4
In the above example, the data means the following:
Silver Lining – Name of the horse
544832 – This is the horse’s finishing positions in its last 6 races. The – indicates the end of a calendar year. As you can see, it is at the end of this horse’s record because I took this data from a race on January 6th.
M P Tregoning – Name of the trainer.
G Baker – Name of the jockey.
9-4 – The weight carried by the horse.
You should also find more information including:
- The number allocated to the horse in the race; you’ll also see this written on the horse’s weight cloth.
- The horse’s draw; the stall it breaks from at the start of the race. This is for flat races and can be extremely important.
- The horse’s age.
- You should also be able to get a snippet of information about the horse’s most recent outing. In the case of Silver Lining, we learn that it is still a maiden after 17 races but it was just 1.5 lengths behind the winner in its last race. We learn the last race was 18 days ago over 1m 4f at Lingfield and this race is 1m 4f at Kempton. Finally, we find out that it is running off the same mark and is racing in cheek pieces for the first time.
As you can see, the above is a decent amount of information for a first glance but obviously, the savvy punter will want to go deeper.
Incidentally, Silver Lining was the 9/2 favourite and finished … 10th from 14 horses!!! Apparently it weakened inside the final furlong; something to note in future perhaps?
Not every horse’s recent record is as straightforward as that of Silver Lining and you may see some numbers or letters that confuse matters:
- 0: This is sometimes used when a horse finishes outside the top 3.
- P or PU: The horse was Pulled Up.
- R: The horse refused to race.
- U: The rider was unseated.
- F: The horse fell.
There may also be letters after the horse’s name on some race cards:
- C: The horse has previously won a race at the course.
- D: The horse is a previous winner over the distance.
- CD: The horse is a course & distance winner.
- BF: The horse was a beaten favourite last time out.
Then you should also see OR which is the Official Rating of the horse; this is bestowed upon it by the British Horseracing Authority. The Racing Post also has TS (Topspeed Rating) and RPR (Racing Post Rating).
What To Look For In A Horse’s Form
The more details you have to hand, the most complicated form reading can be; this makes it easy to completely misread the information. As a result, you need to seriously study relevant aspects while disregarding useless information.
This is a crucial aspect of form reading as you need to determine if your selection is suited to the distance. Although horses can be versatile in terms of distance, most have a preferred trip or range. The breeding of a horse plays a major role in whether it is a sprinter or if it is better suited to tests of stamina.
Alas, UK racecourses can have races over the same distance but with completely different conditions which makes it tougher to determine a horse’s best trip. For instance, all the home straights at Sandown are uphill while sprint races are downhill at Epsom; in fact the 5f race at Epsom is among the fastest in the world. As a result, horses that perform well at a 5f event at Sandown may do well in a 6f or 7f race but the 5f at Epsom is more suited to genuine speedsters.
The old mantra ‘horses for courses’ can certainly ring true. It is always a good idea to consider short listing a horse if it is a Course & Distance winner. Although UK courses have their own unique quirks, quite a few have many aspects in common so it pays to know more about each course to find similarities and disparities.
Certain horses only run well when running left handed and find it almost impossible to win turning right handed for example.
While the majority of horses perform reasonably well on ‘Good’ going, you’ll find that horses with decent past results on ‘Firm’ going tend to perform poorly on ‘Heavy’ ground.
The draw a horse receives on flat races shorter than a mile can also play a huge role in its past performances. At courses such as Goodwood, Beverley and Chester, it is possible to almost dismiss a horse’s chances due to the stall they are drawn in. Therefore, you may see that a horse finished 6th in its last sprint at Chester but can dismiss the result because of the ‘draw’ it received that day.
You might be tempted by a horse at first glance because its record reads something like 211 in the last 3 races but the Class of race it ran in is of paramount importance. For instance, if a horse won a Class 6 race by 5 lengths, there is no guarantee it will be able to cope with better horses in Class 5 events.
Obviously, you need to determine how your selection fared in Class 5 events. On closer inspection, you may find that the horse was outside the top 3 in its last 4 Class 5 events for example which means it’s unlikely to get a win this time around despite its good Class 6 form.
Trainer & Jockey
Yes, the past results of a horse’s trainer and jockey must also be taken into account when analysing form. Trainers in particular go through good and bad spells; you may often read that a horse’s ‘stable is in good form’. You can learn more about trainer stats in the Racing Post and Sporting Life.
It’s also important to note that trainers often target certain races every year and some are specialists when it comes to training winners on particular courses and distances. Always take a look at a trainer’s past history of winners at a certain course before making your bet.
Likewise, jockeys tend to do well when they are high on confidence. Jockeys on a dry spell are more likely to try anything to get a win and this can lead to mistakes. Again, run the rule over a jockey’s record at the course when making a selection.
Post Race Analysis
You can use the Racing Post to find post-race analysis from experienced punters who know what to look for. If you pour heart and soul into form reading you probably don’t have the time to watch an old race and analyse it. Reading this analysis may help you to either discount a horse or bring it back into the frame.
For instance, your analysis of past results may suggest that a horse is a non-stayer but the post race analysis may reveal a different slant on what happened last time out. It is also possible that the horse was hampered or the jockey was guilty of making a mistake. This extra attention to detail can be invaluable.
Obviously, a horse’s overall recent results cannot be completely ignored. However, while you should look at RPR, OR and a horse’s last few results, the best thing to do with general form is to try and poke holes in it. Through this process you can see if a horse is likely to be as good as advertised or if it is a false favourite and worth a ‘lay’ bet.
When looking at a horse’s form in order to find winners, you should actually be looking for reasons not to place a bet. If a horse has recently run a bad race, try to determine if there is an excuse. For example, the horse was racing on a course with left hand turns when it typically prefers right handed turns or it received a bad draw in a 6f race.
If there are no obvious excuses, it is best to leave your powder dry and continue on the search for winners. While going to the painstaking lengths mentioned above does not guarantee success, it should provide you with a much higher win rate than the casual punter.