Van Der Wheil (The Calculations)

The Van Der Wheil (VDW) ratings have a cult-like status amongst some horse racing bettors, yet very few people know how to calculate them.

This post is going to show you how to calculate both the Ability and Form ratings so that you can do it for yourself on any race, any day.

VDW Ability Rating Calculations

To calculate the ability ratings, you need to know the total prize money a horse has earned in it’s racing lifetime, and the number of races it has run in. This can be taken from the Racing Post by clicking on a horse’s name and looking at the information at the top of the page.

In the above images you can see that Pete So High has raced in 9 races and earned £6,843.

You need to take the total prize money and divide it by the number of races that it has run in…

6843 divided by 9 = 760.33

VDW actually recommended dividing the prize money by 100 to keep the numbers smaller but this is down to personal preference. If you did this it would be…

6843 divided by 100 = 68.43 divided by 9 = 7.60

As you can see, this is a quick calculation which can be done for each horse. You can also easily set this up in a spreadsheet to do the calculations even faster.

VDW Form Calculations

To do the form calculations, you need to find a horse’s 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.

You can also find this information in the Racing Post. Here it is for Pete So High…

His last three form places are 4, 2 and 5. This means he would have a score of:

4 + 2 + 5 = 11

Don’t forget, the most recent finish position is on the right hand-side!

What To Do Once You’ve Rated A Horse

Once you’ve rated the horse’s in a race for ability and form, you can use a common approach below.

The original approach was to focus on the most valuable non-handicap race at the principle meeting of the day.

The theory behind this is that non-handicaps produce a greater percentage of winning favourites, and the most valuable race, at the principle meeting, is going to have the best runners racing in it.

With the core statistic of the method being that 50% of winners come from the first two in the betting forecast, Mr Van Der Wheil would only bet if the best selection he was left with was one of the first two in the forecast.

It’s worth mentioning, that like me, he also recommended that you use other factors of a horses ability, such as speed ratings, to confirm your betting decisions.

The above method of rating horses is used to determine which of the runners were strongest in the most valuable non-handicap race at the principle meeting of the day. If the strongest runner was in the top two in the forecast then he would place a bet.

Generally, it’s thought that this system works because you’re betting on the best horses in the race.

Those bettors who don’t like the system say it will never work because you’re not finding any value by always betting at the top end of the market.

Personally, I think slightly differently.

I believe this can be a very powerful approach to reduce the number of races you’re analysing each day, and the number of runners to consider in a race.

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. Without any doubt, the more consistent a horse is, the better their chance of winning the race.

Form is definitely not enough, on it’s own, to assess a horses 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.

We can, of course, take this method further…

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, 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’ll 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.

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. Hi looks like a good system I was wondering can a spreadsheet be made up to do the sums

    1. Thanks James, you can make a spreadsheet up to do the calculations, however you would need to enter the numbers for each horse manually since the Racing Post changed the format of their website to stop you being able to copy and paste from it easily.

  2. I vaguely remember from reading VDW years ago that he was also interested in whether a horse was rising or dropping in class. I would also consider the race conditions. Many horses do better in going that suits them (e.g. whether its good, firm, heavy etc). I also made some nice money tears ago where the first two horses in the forecast were around evens and 6-1. The horses had raced each other before and the favourite had beaten the second last time out. But in the case where these horses raced against each other, one won when it was a left handed course and the other on a right handed course. On this day the second favourite was on his favourite course and won nicely. I would not advocate either as a primary selection method, but as supporting or negating factors they can be handy.

  3. During the VDW years in the old Handicap book there was much discussion regarding a missing link which he never revealed. However a booklet came out a while later entitled “trainers handicap horses” which I still have somewhere. That threw a great deal of light on to his methodology and is still something I use when assessing races

    1. I remember the mystery about that “missing link”. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a copy of “trainers handicap horses”, sounds fascinating.

      1. Trainers handicap horses, was by Jock somebody or other and basically pointed you towards VDW horses running under less weight than last time. I also have a couple of Raceform booklets Best of VDW and another one regarding his letters to Raceform His methodology wasnt a long way from Clive Holts Fine Form or more recently Larkspur in the Racing Ahead magazine. For me though they all take away that feeling that something has been laid out for a race . Point you in the right direction though. There was a school of thought that Tony Peach who was the letters page editor in RaceForm was actually VDW

  4. My late father was a proponent of VDW,but as I recall the approach was to divide total prize money the number of wins rather than runs (the idea being that a horse who had run 2nd in the derby was better than the horse who had won 3 handicaps). Great blog though. Keep up the good work!!

    1. Thanks for the comment David. Interesting, I’ve never seen it as number of wins, only as number of runs. The issue I see with dividing it by number of wins is that horse’s who have only had a handful of wins will end up with a bigger score than those who don’t, so some kind of reversing of the score would need to be done as the lowest scoring would be the best (if that makes sense).

    2. Thats how I was taught how to rate horses using this method. A horse may of been placed several times in its career but never won a race. Therefore more emphasis was put on actual wins. I had a betting software program that used this VDW method to great effect. It also used speed ratings and recent form plus C and D. It was sold to me by a racing journalist called Robin Lloyd and was called BET BETTER. It was hugely successful but the program died with him. I still have a copy but cannot use it as it is locked and cannot be copied onto another computer. I need to find a friendly hacker and reincarnate it. In races of class 4 and above with no more than 9 runners it had a strike rate of 50% plus at an average price of 7/2.

  5. I have a VDW racecard in Racing Dossier which includes a variety of speed figures including over todays going and todays distance and of course Hrs Win%. I think your comment about consistency is a good one but while I have a rating for overall win % (i,e Hrs Win%) there does not seem to be a rating in Racing Dossier for race type win %. Can you suggest a way to get round this.

    1. Thanks for the message Alf. You’re right there isn’t a race type win % in Racing Dossier. I’ve added that to our development schedule. In the meantime, the quickest way is to scan through the horses finish positions. If you click on the three bars next to the horse’s mname you get their racing history, sort the columns by Race Type and then have a quick scan down the finish position column to get an idea of the strike rate. If you want to do it exactly, you can select these columns and paste them into a spreadsheet without any problems and work it out there.

  6. Hi Michael, was your example just a rough guide? You stipulated non handicap, but your example was an handicap !? ?

  7. It is winnings divided by number of wins divided by 100.So in your example Pete So High would have an ability rating of 32.

  8. hi micheal,the following comment was your answer to Roberts email,so when you rate a race the lowest scoring horses are the best?,to what does this apply the ability rating or something else,,thanks in advance dave

  9. I was very successful with the VDW method in the early days. I would rate the horses, take the top four, then rule out the favourite because it was always poor value and rule out the 4th because it won the least, and then take the best priced horse out of the two remaining horses. I started collating data on these 4 horses over many years and found that the favourite did obviously win most races but the best value was generally in the two middle horses.

  10. Really interesting stuff. Personally I use the website to get the racecard in spreadsheet format. It opens up lots of opportunities to play about with the data. I’m fairly sure that this column – a VDW rating – can be added to the standard race card option if enough people think its a good idea. Fascinating stuff and I’ve just come across this blog and its a great read. Keep up the good work!

  11. VDW ratings calculated incorrectly, anybody who has read his work will know this, its WINNING prize money divided by the amount of wins NOT total prize money divided by runs, this Isn’t open to debate as VDW was only interested in horses winning ability, many of his methods were vague and open to interpretation but this one isn’t.

    1. You’re right the original method is win money, however I’ve found that using the entire prize money works more effectively, which is why it’s used in this article.

  12. Surely adding the last 3 form figures is meaningless. The horse may have won a class 5 and is now in Class 3 or The second was 12 lengths behind in a slow run race. Equating this with a second that finished a head behind over a similar distance and going is surely wrong. I would have thought Class, going and the race distance should also Figure in scoring the form figures. Thus one would have a grid with the positions down the side and categories on the top. One could also add whether it was a galloping or a sharp track as well. At first, it would be guesswork but over time these weightings would get better. You could also put in Kris Jackman’s idea about whether a horse performed according to the market in the last races

    1. Thanks for the comment George, these aren’t our rating calculations, these are the ones for the classic VDW method. Personally I don’t think class is of any value in it’s standard format, I prefer to use competitive class which is an in-house class based on various factors, e.g. form class, speed class etc.

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