Do you enjoy betting on horse racing? Did you know that it’s possible to make a profit from doing something you love? Some people argue that you can’t actually make a profit from betting on horse racing, but they’re wrong. It’s not easy, that’s for sure, but it can definitely be done. You just need the right combination of knowledge and skills.
That doesn’t mean you have to be a horse racing expert though! Of course the more you know the better, but that doesn’t mean you have to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the sport to have any chance of making money. It’s just important that you know the basics. As long as you know how it all works, and can read a form guide, then you’re in a good position to take on the bookmakers.
Of course, you do need a certain amount of betting knowledge too. An understanding of odds and how they work is vital. Plus, being aware of all the different ways to bet on horse racing and being familiar with the various wagers you can place is very beneficial. You also need to learn about the concept of value as it applies to horse racing betting, understand the importance of discipline and be able to manage a betting bankroll.
Our horse racing betting guide covers everything mentioned above, and a variety of other topics too. It contains several useful articles, all written by experts. These articles feature all the information and advice you need to become a competent bettor and start winning some money.
This particular article is arguably the most important one of all. Ultimately, your chances of winning money will depend on your ability to regularly make good selections. So you need to know HOW to pick your selections. That’s precisely what we help you with here. We start with a few basics that will put you on the right track, and then we look at how to read a form guide.
We also go over the main factors you need to consider when picking your sections, and provide advice on how to interpret all the information that’s available to you. We finish with a few simple tips that you won’t regret following.
Making Horse Racing Selections: The Basics
Before we thoroughly explain how to make your horse racing selections, there are three key points we want to make very clear. Some of these are obvious, while others are less so. Either way, it’s important that you know them.
Horse racing is an unpredictable sport.
Many factors affect the outcome of a horse race.
Your goal isn’t necessarily to determine which horse is most likely to win.
Let’s address these points one by one. For starters, we should go over the unpredictable nature of horse racing. Anything can happen in a horse race, especially when there are jumps involved. It’s actually this unpredictability that makes it such a popular and exciting sport.
A lot of people assume that favorites win more often than not, but that’s actually not the case. In fact, favorites only win about 30% of the time. This is important because it tells us that betting on the favorite is often not the right thing to do. Outsiders can and do win, and often at very good odds. In theory, ANY horse can win a race it’s entered in.
A lot of people also assume that the “best” horse is always the most likely to win. This also is just simply not the case. A horse can be considerably better than the rest of its opponents, but it still might not be the favorite to win. Although the pure quality of a horse is obviously a good indicator of how well they are likely to run, there are all kinds of other factors that affect the likely outcome of a race. We expand on this point later on in the article.
The third point listed above might surprise you. Please be aware though that it is absolutely true! The key to betting success is NOT simply backing the horses that are most likely to win. Instead, it’s backing horses where the odds are longer than they “should” be.
This is where the concept of value comes in.
Value is how we determine whether any particular wager is worth placing or not. If we believe that a horse is more likely to win than the odds suggest, then we’ve identified positive expected value. That’s when we look to get our money down.
This point essentially forms the very foundation for how we should make our horse racing selections. Bookmakers aren’t perfect when it comes to setting their odds, as they’re always bias to some extent on subjective views. Our goal is to form our own subjective views about how likely a horse is to win, and then compare those views to the odds set by the bookmakers. If we’re good enough at accurately assessing horses’ chances of winning races, then we can regularly find opportunities for betting for value. By regularly betting for value, chances are high that you’ll make money in the long run.
The difficulty, of course, is in making those accurate assessments. Other sections of this article will help you with that, but we must stress just how important it is to fully understand the concept of value in this context. If it’s not something you’re familiar with, then please take some time to read our recommended article below.
There’s just one final point to make here. You don’t HAVE to worry about all of this to enjoy horse racing betting. There are a lot of people who have plenty of fun just picking horses without really thinking about it. They might pick a horse because they like its name, or because they like the colors the jockey is wearing. There’s nothing at all wrong with this approach, and many of these people win their fair share of wagers. However, the truth of the matter is that they will ultimately lose money overall, but to them it doesn’t matter because betting on horse racing is just a form of entertainment.
Clearly, though, a more structured approach is required if you’re serious about trying to make money on a consistent basis. You’ll need to put a lot of thought into your selections, and not just pick horses at random. The rest of this article explains how to do this effectively.
How to Read a Form Guide
There are no hard and fast rules about how to rate a horse’s chance of winning a race. We offer some guidelines to follow later in this article, but it’s how you apply our advice that will determine how successful you are. Ideally, your goal should be to develop your own systems and strategies. Although this is a major challenge when starting out, it becomes easier over time. You’ll learn more as you go along, and you’ll be able to draw on your own experiences.
No matter which strategy you use, there’s one thing you’ll always need to rely on: the form guide. Form guides provide us with a great deal of information that’s extremely useful for assessing horses’ chances of winning races. Many bettors don’t fully understand form guides though, which means they’re instantly at a disadvantage. So, with that in mind, we’re now going to explain exactly how to read a form guide properly.
Now, form guides can look a little different depending on where the racing is taking place. For example, a form guide for a North American race might differ from a form guide for a European race. They always follow the same basic principles though. Once you know how to read one, you should be able to read them all.
The following is a real form guide from a race that’s taking place in the United Kingdom.
Let’s run through everything that’s on this card in order to make it easier to understand. We’ll start at the very top. First, we have the time of the race and the name of the racecourse, which is followed by the distance. In this case, the race is five furlongs and 213 yards.
Underneath that are some more details about the race. There’s the full name of the race, the classification of the race and the entry requirements. This information is all pretty straightforward. The important details are underneath, separated into different columns.
The first column shows the number each horse will wear for the race, followed by its draw if appropriate. The draw represents the position the horse will run from in the starting stalls, and certain positions can provide advantages or disadvantages. Not all races use starting stalls though, so a draw number isn’t always included.
The next column is just the colors that the jockey will be wearing. Obviously this isn’t important for making a selection, but it does help us to identify our selections when watching races. The third column is the form for each horse, and this IS important.
The numbers here show us where each horse has finished in its previous races. The most recent race appears on the right. Both numbers and symbols can appear, so let’s break down what each one means.
Numbers 1-9 show the finishing position.
The number 0 tells us that the horse finished outside the first nine.
A hyphen (-) separates seasons. So anything to the left of a hyphen is for the previous season.
A forward slash (/) indicates an extended break from racing. It’s used if a horse has gone an entire season, or longer, without racing for some reason.
The letter “P” indicates that the horse was pulled up and didn’t finish. “PU” is sometimes used as an alternative.
“F” indicates that the horse fell.
“U” or “UR” indicates that the horse unseated its jockey.
“R” indicates that the horse refused a jump.
“B” or “BD” indicates that the horse was brought down by another horse.
“L” indicates that the horse was left at the start.
“D” indicates that the hose was disqualified.
“V” indicates a void race.
In the fourth column we have some key details about each horse. First line contains the horse’s name. If there are some letters in brackets after the name, then that’s simply telling us that the horse is from overseas. In the guide shown above you’ll see four horses with (IRE), and these are from Ireland. There are also two with (FR), and these are from France.
Each horse has a number to the immediate right of their name. This tells us how long since they last raced. Some of the horses also have letters to the right of this number. These can be in upper case or lower case. Here’s a list of the possible upper case letters and what they mean.
“CD” indicates that the horse has won this course and distance before.
“C” indicates that the horse has won at this course before.
“D” indicates that the horse has won at this distance before.
“BF” indicates that the horse was a beaten favorite in its last race.
The lower case letters all relate to equipment that the horse may be wearing. Please note that in the guide show above, this information is provided in the fourth column, after the weight. It can appear in the third column on some guides though. Here’s what each letter stands for.
“b” is for blinkers.
“v” is for visor.
“e/s” is for eye-shield.
“h” is for hood.
“t” is for tongue strap.
“p” is for cheek pieces.
When a one follows any of these letters, it means the horse is wearing the specified equipment for the first time.
Underneath each horse’s name are some more letters. These indicate the horse’s gender and color. Here’s what these abbreviations stand for.
“c” is for colt (male aged 3 years or less).
“f” is for filly (female aged 3 years or less).
“g” is for gelding (neutered male).
“h” is for horse (male aged 4 years or more).
“m” is for mare (female aged 4 years or more).
“b” is for bay (color).
“blk” is for black.
“br” is for brown.
“ch” is for chestnut.
“gr” is for gray.
Also underneath each horse’s name are details of their breeding. It’s typically just the sire (father) and dam (mother) listed here, but sometimes the sire of the dam will also be listed.
The fourth column shows the horse’s age (in years) and then the weight they’re carrying in this race. This is in stone and pounds, so 9 – 7 indicates a weight of nine stone and seven pounds. Just as a reference, one stone equals 14 pounds. As mentioned earlier, this column can also show details of any equipment being worn (as is the case in this example).
The fifth column shows the jockey riding each horse in this race, and the trainer for each horse. The jockey is listed first. If the jockey’s name has a number after it, this indicates a weight claim. In this example we see that Hector Crouch has a five-pound claim. This means the horse he’s riding can carry five pounds less weight.
For the final column, “OR” stands for official rating. In this example, for a UK race, this is the official handicap rating as assigned by the British Horseracing Authority. It’s basically an indicator of how good the horse is. The higher the rating, the better the horse. In handicap races, such as this one, the better horses have to carry more weight. This is an attempt to give each horse a fair chance of winning.
Not all countries use official ratings, so you won’t always see this information listed on a form guide. It might be replaced by some key statistics in some cases.
We covered just about everything you need to know about form guides. All of this information may seem a little overwhelming, but soon it will become second nature to you. Now it’s time to move on to the really difficult part, which involves analyzing all the information available and making educated estimates of each horses’ chances of winning the race.
Analyzing Horses and Horse Races
There are a variety of different approaches we can take when it comes to assessing how likely a horse is to win a race. Unfortunately, none of these approaches constitute an exact science here. There are simply too many factors, and too many unknowns. All we can do is make estimates based on the information that’s available to us. The trick, of course, is to make those estimates as accurate as possible.
This means taking a wide range of different factors into account.
The more information we use to make our estimates, the better our chances of accuracy. We can’t expect to make reasoned judgments if we only consider the overall quality of a horse. It’s alsom important to recognize that every single race is different in some respect. A horse that’s very likely to win one particular race may have little or no chance in another race two weeks later. We have to treat each single race as a separate event, and carry out our analysis accordingly.
We also have to make sure that we consider the whole field. It’s impossible to estimate a horse’s chance of winning without comparing it to its opposition. If a horse looks well suited to win a race, but there’s another horse that’s even more so, then that should obviously affect our overall view.
Here’s a list of some of the main factors that you should be analyzing before putting any money down on a race. Not all of these will apply to every single race, but the majority will. Please note that these are in no particular order and this isn’t an exhaustive list. It’s best if you consider this as simply a rough guide to the kinds of things you should be thinking about.
Current form of the horse
Overall form of the horse
Fitness & Stamina
Current form of the trainer
Current form of the jockey
Course record (of horse, trainer and jockey)
Class of race
Expected pace of race
We’ll look at some of these factors in more detail shortly. Before that though, we have an important point we need to bring to your attention. A lot of people, even some experts, believe in faithfully following certain rules in each and every situation. For example, they might only back horses that are racing at tracks where their trainer or jockey has a good record. They might never back a horse that hasn’t proved itself under the current track conditions, or one that hasn’t raced at the relevant distance before.
We firmly believe that it is NEVER correct to enforce absolute rules such as the ones listed above. Yes, there are some factors that are especially important and greatly affect a horse’s chance of winning. But no individual factor should ever be given too much weight in isolation of others. We have to take ALL the available information on board, and try to make an educated judgment. We should never back a horse based on one or two factors alone: nor should we ever completely dismiss a horse’s chances based on just one or two factors.
Okay now that we’ve stressed that point, let’s take a more detailed look at some of the most important factors from the list we posted above.
Current & overall form
The current form of a horse is often one of the first things people look at. This is entirely logical. It’s reasonable to expect a horse that’s in good form to continue performing well. However, it’s important to consider current form in context. It can only tell us so much by itself.
So, when looking at the form of a horse, we need to consider more than just the results. We should be looking at ALL the relevant aspects. These include the following
The quality of the opposition in previous races.
The distance of those races.
What the conditions were in those races.
This provides us with a much better indication of just how well a horse has been performing, and how well it’s likely to perform in the future. If a horse has been winning against a low standard of opposition, then we obviously can’t assume it’s going to do well when up against better horses. And if a horse has been winning over short distances, we can’t assume that it’s going to do well when racing over longer distances.
On the other hand, a horse might have run well in similar conditions and over similar distances to an upcoming race. Obviously, this could indicate that the horse is likely to perform well again.
Current form should always be compared to overall form too. If a horse has run well over a sustained period but has run poorly in its last few races, or vice versa, then its current form might be nothing more than a glitch. We need to study things more closely in these kind of situations, and see if there are any clear reasons why its performances might have dropped or improved.
The form of trainers and jockeys is also important. It’s often overlooked, but it really shouldn’t be. Although it’s not as relevant as how the horse itself has been performing, the recent form of trainers and jockeys should definitely be taken into account. They play vital roles in the success (or failure) of a race, and their influence should never be underestimated.
Course & distance records
The course records of a horse, its trainer and its jockey are well worth checking out. It’s very common for horses to consistently run well at certain courses, and not so well at others. There are many jockeys and trainers who tend to do better at specific courses too. The actual reasons for why performances differ from course to course aren’t necessarily that important, but we should try to determine if a course might give a potential selection an advantage or not.
The distance record of a horse is relevant for similar reasons to what we mentioned above. Horses often have a preferred distance, or a range of distances, where they perform best. So this is something else that we need to focus on. We try to look out for times when a horse has an especially good record, or an especially bad record, over a similar distance to the race you are looking to bet on.
On the subject of distance, we should also pay close attention to horses that are stepping up or stepping down in distance. This is often happening for a reason. If a horse has a good record for finishing strong in previous races that are shorter, for example, then its trainer might be stepping it up because he expects it to do even better over longer distances.
We’ve hopefully made it clear just how much can be learned from analyzing all the relevant information relating to the horses and races you’re looking to bet on. It enables you to make truly informed assessments about each horse’s chances of winning. That’s essential if you want to make selections that offer any kind of value.
Most of the information that’s needed to carry out the necessary analysis can be found in a form guide. There are also plenty of websites that contain detailed records of horses, trainers, jockeys and their previous records. It may surprise you how little time it takes to compile all the information you need, but trust us when we tell you that this will be time considered well spent.
Putting It All Together
We’ve tried to go into as much detail as possible in this article without overwhelming you. The key point that you really need to take away is that it’s vital to properly analyze all the information that’s available to you. You need to identify the strengths and weaknesses of horses, and determine how those attributes affect their chances of winning a race. At the same time, you also need to consider a range of other factors that can potentially influence the outcome.
Just remember that there is no perfect system for making horse racing selections.
You’ll never come up with a strategy that will help you to pick winners in each and every situation. It’s important to understand this. Many bettors have tried, and failed, to develop such systems. They just simply don’t work. A rigid system can never be successful in the long run, as there are always so many variables to consider.
This is where the benefit of experience come in. As you spend more time betting on horse racing, you’ll develop both your betting skills and your understanding of the sport. You’ll learn that some statistics are far better indicators than others, and you’ll get better at interpreting those statistics and all the other relevant information. You’ll also learn how to adjust your evaluations and estimates based on current circumstances.
Of course, you won’t be able to pick the winner of every single race you bet on. No one can do that, no matter how good they are. But there’s no reason why you can’t pick enough winners to show an overall profit. By using the right systems and strategies, in the right situations, this is undeniably possible.
Now that we are almost finished, we just want to leave you with a few, simple tips!
Don’t bet on every race.
There are many horse races taking place on a daily basis, all around the world. You don’t need to bet on them all. Be selective, and only put your money down when you’ve identified value and genuine reasons for backing a selection.
Keep some records.
To gain the maximum possible benefit from your experience, try to keep detailed records of what you bet on and why. Studying these records periodically can help you find ways to improve the strategies and systems you’re using.
Compare available odds.
An effective way to maximize your potential return is to always compare the available odds for your selections before backing them. They’ll vary from one bookmaker to the next, and getting even slightly better odds each time you bet can make a big difference over time.
Consider alternative wagers.
Backing a horse to win isn’t always the best option. There’s often value to be had in backing a horse each way, or to show or place. This can greatly increase your overall chances of winning, even with the reduced odds on offer.