Start With Contenders

It’s common practice for punters to start their racing analysis about half way through the process. This is because it has become generally accepted that to make a profit at horse racing you need to find…

…the winner!

Don’t worry, I’m not going to argue that you don’t need to find the winner of the race (although that does depend to an extent on your bet type) but what I want to show you right now, is that by doing this you are making it much harder to make a profit.


Because if you start by looking for the winner you have missed out on a crucial stepping stone. It’s like standing at the edge of the lake and trying to jump to the island in the middle straight away, rather than using the stepping stone between you and the island.

When you first start your form reading what you should be doing is focusing on one thing only, and that one thing is not finding the winner. It’s finding contenders.

We can classify a contender as a group of horses that have a very strong chance of winning the race. It’s this group we should be focusing our initial analysis on.

The reason is, that there’s usually more than one horse that has a strong chance of winning a race, in fact there is often more than two. By jumping straight into looking for a winner we’re making the job much harder for ourselves. Most successful bettors are only going to win about 20% of the time, if you start by focusing your efforts on finding contenders then you should be able to pick a group of 3 containing the winner around 70% of the time.

As you can see the difference is huge. Just psychologically this stage is very necessary because it is easier to do and the success boosts moral and gives confidence to continue. There are different methods of classifying a contender but my personal is a horse that finishes within 2 lengths of the winner. I actually adjust this slightly depending on the race conditions but starting with 2 lengths is a very good starting point.

So what we want to do is change your approach. It doesn’t matter whether you are using ratings, form reading or building systems. The first step should always be to identify the horses within your racing niche that are contenders in the race. As always, you should be focusing on a specific niche within racing to do this on.

Once you are finding the contenders then the jump to making a profit is comparatively easy. Why?

Because you are already finding the runners that are strongest to win the race. All you need to do now is determine the best way to bet them. And a little tip for you here…

Betting the strongest is not always going to make you the most profit!

By changing your approach to this you are going from something that is very difficult…

  • Look for a single horse that is going to win the race

To something that is significantly easier…

  • Look for multiple horses that have a strong chance of being near the winner

I assure you that if you start to do this you will find your racing analysis becomes much easier. Once you’re finding the contenders successfully we look at how to bet them. I will look at how to do this in another article.

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 do you mean by “a horse that finishes within 2 lengths of the winner”? Does this mean a horse that finished within 2 lengths of the winner in its last race?

    Also for me personally I don’t think a 20% strike rate would lead to long term success as you would have the occasional really long losing run that would wipe you out. I used to get about 27%, but it should be comfortably above 30% now I’ve improved my systems.

    1. This depends on the race conditions. Two lengths behind the winner can be considered as a horse having run a competitive race. This may have been in the last race or a race over a year ago. If it’s last competitive race was over a year ago would you want to place your money on the selection?

      Regarding the long-term success, this is about comfort level and bankrolling. My average strike rate across my entire portfolio is around 16% and we do have very long losing runs. However the bankroll structure we use has no problem with coping with these long losing runs and we come out in profit at the end of them. However it is much easier to cope with losing runs if your strike rate is much higher. As long as you are betting at average odds higher than your average strike rate suggests they should be then you will be making a profit in the long-run.

  2. Niche I would like to specialise in Towcester as it is nearest to me.
    What type or class I have no idea?
    However I find that most of my successful punts have been AW.
    So now it would be a case of looking at Both. Towcester not operating so often and prize money not that exciting I wonder if I would be better to just go AW. Finding a niche is not a simply thing as just those two elements show , when you add the :- Going, Distance and Class etc you are looking not only at contenders within the Race but for which course type of Races are contenders for looking for contenders. Niche finding is a very big subject and finding that niche, is what we all need to do. It is how you start out looking for your niche, without wasting your own time at looking at factors which you should not be looking at this needs to be expanded on even more than has been on Race Advisor website how to find your niche is far more difficult than finding your 3 contending horses will be.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I would suggest that you focus on AW if this is where you are having the most success. Then in AW start to look at the race conditions you are performing the best in and focus on these until you are happy with your performance. Then spread from there. You should always concentrate on your strongest area, like any business. Once you have mastered that area totally then you can look to expand. As you say you niche finding should also take into account advanced consideration about where the horses go to look for a competitive race and where they go to look for non-competitive races. Investigating into a niche is something we shall look at writing more about in the future.

  3. “We can classify a contender as a group of horses that have a very strong chance of winning the race.”

    Hence arriving at several GROUPS of horses with every chance of winning the race?

    Yes, I’m being pedantic, but along with the likes of Liam’s mindless drivel, mistakes such as this really let your site down.

    1. We only have one group of contenders which may have several horses in it. There is a group of non-contenders and a group which fits into neither, however we still only have a single group of contenders. From these we can then determine how we want to wager on the race.

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