The Van Der Wheil Method

In a recent post I discussed the use of the VDW (Van Der Wheil) ratings that are included in the Racing Dossier software.

This was a very popular approach in the 1980’s and has a cult following. It seems to be a marmite relationship, you either love the principles and use of the VDW ratings and method or you hate it

Personally I think that there is something to it but not because of the same reasons as most people. But I will come to that later.

First of all, I want to share with you exactly what the VDW method and ratings are.

Put simply it is a betting system that is designed to find the best horses in the best races each day.

It is based around the principle that form alone can be misleading and class (defined as ability) is just as important. And this makes sense…

If a horse with excellent form is racing in a race against runners that have better class or ability then it will still lose.

This means that form has to be assessed against the horses ability in comparison with the other runners in the field.

One of the key statistical elements in the VDW method is the top five in the betting forecast. At the time it was written, VDW claimed that 83% of the winners came from the top five in the betting forecast and…

…it’s not much different today!

This led him to a few principles:

  • We want to find horses of the best ability which means we need to look in the best races
  • We want to compare form against ability to see which runners are the strongest
  • We want to focus on the top five in the betting forecast as the winner comes from there 83% of the time

With these principles in place it meant that the method of finding a selection was:

  1. Consider the two most valuable races on the card.
  2. Rate the entire field for ability
  3. Select the most consistent runners (based on form rating) in the top five in the betting forecast

But to do this you need to know how to make the ratings. If you don’t have a copy of the Racing Dossier where they’re calculated for you each day, then you can calculate them yourself using the following calculations.

VDW Ability Calculations

Take the total prize money a horse has earned in it’s racing lifetime and divide it by the number of races that it has run in.

VDW actually recommended dividing the prize money by 100 to keep the numbers smaller but this is down to personal preference.

VDW Form Calculations

Look for each horses last three races and add together the finish positions. Any horse that finished worse than tenth is counted as ten for the purposes of the calculation.

Note: If you use the Racing Dossier we use an improved version of these calculations that results in a much more accurate rating.

Once you’ve rated the horses for ability and form you can use the base outline of the method above, or the more commonly agreed upon approach which is below.

The focus of the commonly agreed on VDW approach is to focus on then most valuable non-handicap race at the principle meeting of the day.

The reasons for this focus is that non-handicaps produce a greater percentage of winning favourites and the most valuable race at the principle meeting of the day is likely to have the best runners.

Next VDW used the statistic that around 50% of winners come from the first two in the betting forecast and so would only bet if the selection he was left with was one of the first two in the forecast.

It should be noted that he did also advise to use another marker of the horses ability, such as speed ratings, to confirm your decisions.

The above method that we described would then be used to determine which of the runners were strongest in this most valuable non-handicap race at the principle meeting of the day, and a bet would be placed if the runner was in the top two in the forecast.

At the beginning of this post, I mentioned that I felt that there was something to this method although not what most people think.

The common belief is that either this system works because you are betting on the best horses in the race, but those against the system say it will never work because you are not finding value by always betting at the top end of the market.

I think slightly differently.

For me this process is a very powerful approach to reducing either the number of races you are analysing each day, and/or the number of runners you are analysing.

There are a few key principles that we need to take out of the method:

  • The majority of winners comes from the first five in the betting forecast
  • Form is not good enough on it’s own to assess a horses likely performance
  • Consistent horses are the best winners

The above three points are very important.

It’s these that make the VDW approach worth considering. There’s no doubt that the more consistent a horse is in their performance then the higher their chance of winning the race.

Form is definitely not enough on it’s own to assess a horses likely chance of winning. But form combined with ability and speed definitely is. And… the majority of winners come from the top five in the betting.

Reducing the number of race by choosing the most valuable races of the day is also a quick way to find the races with the best runners in them.

But we can take this further.

If we know that the majority of winners come from the top five in the betting then this can be used as the starting point and any selection outside of these five runners is not bet on.

Consistent horses are the best winners so… don’t just use the VDW ratings but find out what percentage of wins a horse has in their lifetime and then take it one step further by determining what percentage of wins they have in todays race type.

Compare the two winning strike rates against each other and you will have a ratio of whether the horse performs above their average in the current race type or below.

That will help to tell you how consistent they are in todays race conditions.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the VDW method and approach, so leave me a comment below to let me know.

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. Hello Michael
    As someone of a certain age(cough splutter), I remember the articles written by the “Flying Dutchman” in the now defunct Raceform Handicap Book later to become Raceform Update. The then editor Tony Peach was thought to be the above named, something he vehemently denied. Van De Wheil you see was one of the first contributors to the forum who actually divulged his method of selection and it was thought that the editor had just filled in space on a quiet week. However as the weeks went by and article after article appeared, the editor was at pains to say that they had created more mail than any other contributor.”The Dutchman” caused quite a stir when in one article (after some criticism that the system did not get the same results as him) he then brought into the system the “missing link” something he had held back from his articles. He never divulged what the”missing link” was but if memory serves me right he showed in one article a staking system that was a form of loss recovery? I hope this has been an insight into an age when people actually put pen to paper rather than sat in front of a computer screen.(now where did I put that fountain pen) Ha! Yours Che Van De Wheil Market Harborough I think that was his sign off.

  2. Anyone know what strike rate VDW achieved with his method? Betting in stake races at the top end of the market won’t get very big prices. You need strike rate commensurate with the odds to pull it off. I also thought the VDW method involved dutching.

      1. He does say in one of his posts Michael “Since the opening of the Flat I have placed 32 bets of which 29 won.

  3. It seems to me that by ignoring handicap races you are only left with group races as the large majority of maidens would not have enough form to do the calculations.
    Some novice races may qualify but there would be very little races to consider each week.

  4. Lo Michael – Not sure if you are aware that there is a website totally devoted to V.D.W. “It” gives one free race a day with the offer of joining for a quite modest monthly subscription.I am in NO WAY connected with it
    but for your info if you are interested.

    1. Hi Tom, thanks for letting us know. I guess they just use the original method above to create the ratings and provide them? I personally prefer my adapted variation of the ratings 😉

  5. As I recall, also being of a certain age, and long time admirer of The Dutchman’s methods, he did state in one of his posts that he achieved a strike rate of 8 out of 10 correct, but he did add, that he also used his knowledge of form reading to make his final selection. He didn’t blindly back the top rated horses.

    He constantly reiterated that his ratings were just a starting point, a method of putting the race into perspective, a framework.

    I think the Missing Link was the fact that he had a great deal of horse racing knowledge which was used to make the final selection, and the ratings were just to be used as a guideline.

    I have several of his posts in front of me and will type out one of his long ones on the King George VI Chase with Forgive n Forget, Desert Orchid and Bolands Cross.

    I’ll put it in another post so people can see how knowledgeable Van Der Wheil was and his methods not to be sneezed at.

    1. Thanks Wendy, just about to read the post with the extra info. Yes the ratings are definitely the starting point and as I always understood were used to narrow the field.

  6. From the pen of VDW

    Returning to Kempton’s Boxing Day meeting, I find it inconceivable that anyone using my methods could not have had the eventual winners of both selected races down for consideration. In the Principal Race, the King George VI Chase you should have been giving consideration to Forgive n Forget, Desert Orchid and Bolands Cross. In March 1981 I suggested: “To confirm what the figures say it is necessary to study the form of all concerned taking particular note of the class in which they ran, the courses they ran on, the pace and going of the respective races, distances won or beaten by and most important how they performed in the later stages of each race.

    You should not need to be reminded that the class against which a horse runs is not the same as the class of race in which they compete. Most will be acquainted with the idea of looking for horses which are dropped in class. Often this is a race offering less prize money, but not necessarily so. The quality of horses engaged is more to the point. Horses which prove exceptional in lesser company will as a rule be pitched higher in due time, but depending on the degree of uplift it can prove a formidable task.

    The type of course can have a marked effect, and what a horse does and, just as important does not do during a race, tells a story all of which has to be noted.

    You should know that Kempton is not the track for Forgive N Forget. You should also know that although winning on all three outings this season his jumping has been anything but fluent and at this level leaves a great deal to be desired. It’s charitable to forgive but the successful punter never forgets.

    Desert Orchid has made mistakes, but usually performs very well. His last race performance was rated just 3lb below that of Forgive N Forget’s. The course will suit. Has won 2 to 2 and a half miles plus and some, even knowing how he runs, have expressed doubts about him getting the extra half-mile. Not David Elsworth’s view. Remember, a good two-and-a-quarter miler is a live candidate for the National marathon. Bolands Cross is a very good horse and can get the trip in the right company, but at this level a lot is being asked of him even though the course will suit.

    Correct unbiased evaluation through experience and temperament would have shown you that Desert Orchid was a possible winner but also that this race was best left to what it cried out for ie making your own “book” within the market. This example illustrates the opportunity to play the bookmaker at his own game by taking several horses staked to ensure a profit whichever wins.

    Kempton’s other indicated race was the Feltham Novice Chase and those you should have been considering were Cavvies Clown, Master Bob and Aherlow. The latter has won a 2 and a half mile hurdle on this course and last time out on his fencing debut beat Cavvies Clown over a 2 mile 5f chase at level weights. (Now 7lb better off). Performed with credit in much better class at Liverpool and Cheltenham, going under at the latter course in a Grade 1 race to such horses as Ten Plus, Pikes Peak and Tophams Taverns. Cavvies Clown although running and winning last time out in a better class race than usual does not have the measure of Aherlow and on 7lb worse terms adds to that horse’s prospects. Master Bob although a good horse with consistent form has far too much to find here. It is easy to envisage Aherlow as the prospective winner but the conflict created by the numerical evaluation tells you that this is a race to leave alone.

    If readers are unable to balance the factors I suggest they stick to backing only when the class/form horse has everything else going in favour. This particular balance happens frequently but I fear that unless the punter first comes to terms with himself his goal will always elude him.

    C. Van der Wheil

    1. An interesting read and most of his advice is sound. He does however come up with that hoary old chestnut about 2 1/4 milers being suited to the National – advice that still gets booted around every April but which has been conclusively shown to be entirely false. Not infallible, then, the Dutchman.

  7. Thanks Wendy – He introduced “Structured Analysis” to those that read the form and comments in circles.
    The last paragraph is the words of wisdom and the reason most punters fail – Temprament.

  8. I remember Sports Forum in the Handicap Book. I started reading HB in 1962 when I wasa paperboy! Van Der Wheil he revealed his methods. First of all his staking plan, stake 1 point, add 1 pt until a winner. Once a win
    deduct 1pt as your profit, then deduct win amount from losses. example 1(L),2(L),3(L),4(L),5(w1/1). your win
    returns 5pts deduct 1 for your profit and then losses of 10 minus4= 6pts which is your next bet. This type of
    staking to me,despite VDW saying used for years, would sooner or later lead to losing your bank. It reminds me
    of another plan used by “Dawson” principal meeting, Speed plus top horse(from now defunct Sporting Chronicle),
    Aim 5pts per race, Target+losses divided by 3.
    If you are using this type of progressive staking, you need to set a loss limit otherwise its betting suicide.
    VDW also used Horses last 3 races giving points for win,2nd,etc, as well as first 5 in betting forecast. It was
    similar to Clive Holt’s formula which came later, he used to advertise in HB.
    To me, VDW may have been successful in the 80’s, but Racing changes and the winning angles need to be
    constantly reviewed and updated.

    1. I have a copy of “Van der Wheil(The Golden Years)) published by Raceform Ltd.When Van der Wheil set out his method,which apart from form,class etc.,showed two ratings.He said that these ratings “are my own ratings and were,like the ability ratings,evolved by myself,so will not be found in any publication,etc.”
      He always refused to divulge how he arrived at them stating that those who expected him to were naive as he could make good money from selling them.
      Now people are quoting them,are they just guessing or did he eventually disclose them?

      1. The method has been published in a number of places John but, having never read the original published by Raceform Ltd. I can’t say whether they’re the same or not. Would be interesting to hear if they are if you dig out the book.

  9. Hi Michael, in response to Wendy’s post and the amount of bets he once placed. I did read in one of the old edition’s of smart sig (which I still have)
    That the above said bets were in fact all DUTCH BETS. Yours Jack

  10. VDW was either a fruad or TP filling the letters pages. His analysis was always done after the race and he stated that he would not put up selections etc before a race without a large cash amount being put up. When that was done “he” scuttled away.
    The basic VDW approach is a common sense working of Class and when that didn’t work he brought in his missing link or form reading to justify a selection not supported by his analysis!

    1. That sounds a fair assessment Peter. It’s alright saying VDW achieved a 90% strike rate or whatever but if he backed several horses in a race he also backed a lot of losers as well. Without accurate profit on turnover figures the whole thing is really meaningless. Most of his statistics such as the first five in the market win 80% of the races are obviously reflected in the prices.

    2. Interesting to hear that his analysis was also done post-race. As you say Roy, a 90% win rate when betting multiple runners is a very different thing. That would also indicate he was probably betting around four+ runners per race.

  11. Hi to all,l I have been using V D W for some time but not for backing I use it for laying 85% SR.
    I am joining race dossier as that will speed things up and be more accurate than doing it bye hand.
    I recommend V DW to any one but it takes some time to understand it.
    Yours Bob.

  12. i tend to used this system i also do not back anything if its above 5lb in its last winning o/r also look at the weight it carried when running in today class of race

  13. Have to say I used “derivatives” of VDW back in a different dimension in the 1980’s and found it very useful. Changes in my circumstances led to an estrangement from racing and betting from about 1990. My main memories are that I did not concentrate on non h’caps exclusively but used any valuable races. The biggest bets I had were on “maximum” qualifiers the best of which were Rhyme’n’Reason in the Racing Post Chase @7/2, the same horse in the National @10/1 and Desert Orchid in the Whitbread @6/1. Fond memories!!!

      1. Yes thanks for that Michael!! To continue with the vdw theme I always felt that people didn’t grasp that his way was not totally dogmatic but allowed for the reader to use their own initiative. For instance yesterday at Market Rasen if you just take Oscar Rock’s last three runs he scores 12 but his last time out fall was when going well 2out. You have to give this run a 3rd at worst. That then gives a score of 5 which is 2nd best. This is just an example not a selection.
        My own summary of VDW would be along the lines of the worlds most famous fictional detective that when you eliminate the impossible whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.
        The method always helped me narrow down the field to a few possibles from which the winner very often came.

  14. Hi, In calculating the VDW rating, If I take the ability figure (Earning/100 / Races). It seems to me that the greater the Ability figure the better but I thought I read here the lower the figure the better that seems counter-intuitive Al Martin

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