How to Study Horse Racing Form

racecard exampleFor those new to horse racing, attempting to decipher what the array of letters and numbers on a horse racing card mean can no doubt seem like an intimidating task. These cards aren’t designed to confuse us though. Quite the opposite in fact, the purpose of a race card is to convey as much relevant information as possible regarding the contenders in a race, in the simplest possible terms.

We are confident that once you have read through our quick guide and looked through a race card or two, it will all soon become second nature. The easiest way to explain what exactly is going on in a race card is through the use of an example.

The exact layout of a card can vary slightly from newspaper to newspaper, or website to website but the information contained will be broadly the same. For our example we will use the format used in racing’s trade publication.

Reading The Race Card: Title Section

race card title

So, to the race card. The first thing to consider is the information contained in the time, title and conditions section. Let’s take a look at an example and break down each of the components that is contained within. Note that on a real race card the information will be rather more congested than the way we have laid it out, but just take a look at the Racing Post (or the Racing Post website) for an example.

  • 2:30 Wolverhampton (AW)
  • The Old Plodders Handicap (Class 3) (3yo+ 0-70)
  • Winner: £3,000
  • Runners: 8
  • Distance: 1m2f
  • Going: Standard
  • Channel: CH4

So what does all this tell us about the race?

  • 2:30: Quite simply the time at which the race will be run. Remember to get those bets on before the off time!
  • Wolverhampton (AW): The name of the course at which the race is taking place. Here the (AW) informs us that this is an all-weather track.
  • The Old Plodders Handicap: The title of the race, this will often feature the name of a corporate sponsor. Should a race be a handicap event, the word handicap will always be included in the races title itself or in brackets immediately following the title i.e. (handicap). Note, in National Hunt racing, this section will also inform us whether the race is a chase, hurdle or national hunt flat race (NHF). For more on specific race types, see our Horse Racing Classifications article.
  • Class 3: The Grade/Class of the race. Ranging from Grade 1 (the best) to Class 6 (the worst) in National Hunt; and Group 1 (the best) to Class 7 (the worst) on the flat.
  • (3yo+ 0-70): This tells us which types of horses may run in the contest. This race is open to all runners aged three years old and over who have an official rating of between 0 and 70.
  • Winner: £3,000: The amount of prize money awarded to winning connections. As runners to finish in the first few positions are awarded prize money, this will sometimes display the total prize money available for the race not just the amount awarded to the winner.
  • Runners: Simply the number of runners declared to run in the race. Particularly important when considering how many places will be on offer for an each way bet. The declared number of runners does however regularly differ from the actual number of runners who take part. This is due to certain horses being declared as a non-runner on the day of the race, after the race card has been published.
  • Distance: The distance over which the race will be run in miles, furlongs and yards.
  • Going: This refers to the condition of the track. In all-weather racing, this will always be either standard (St) or standard/slow (St/Slw). For turf racing the scale ranging from softest (slowest) to firmest (quickest) is as follows: Heavy (Hvy); Very Soft (VSft); Soft (Sft); Good to Soft (GS); Good (G); Good To Firm (GF); Firm (Fm). Note: Irish racing has an additional term of Yielding (Y) which is ground lying somewhere in between good and good to soft.
  • Channel: This tells you which TV channel is broadcasting the race live.

List Of Runners

horses form

With the race title section dealt with, let us now take a look at how one of the runners for the above race appears on the race card. Each of the runners in our race will be listed in the following format, or something very similar depending upon the publication.

On a conventional race card this information would be presented in a horizontal fashion, in a similar way this this (the dots being replaced simply by a space):

1² … 821305 … Banana Bob b ... 6x … CD12 … 6 … 9-4 … Nicky Nicholls … Frankie Fallon(5)

Okay, so what does all of the above mean? Let’s work from left to right and explain each of the letters and numbers in turn.

1: This simply refers to the race card number of the runner. This number will appear on the horse’s saddlecloth during the race itself to help punters and commentators identify them.

2 : This number tells us where the horse is drawn and only applies to flat racing. The draw can be one of the most pertinent pieces of information at tracks with a strong draw bias such as Chester. At other fairer or straighter tracks it is less of a factor.

821305: These six numbers represent the horses six latest finishing positions, with the most recent being the number on the right. This is really self-explanatory, with the 5 telling us that Banana Bob finished fifth last time out. There are a couple of things worth pointing out however. Firstly, to avoid confusion in the notation, any finishing position of tenth or worse is listed as a 0. Secondly, on a real race card, you will notice that a few of the digits are displayed in bold while others are not. In flat racing bold digits refer to a race run on an all-weather surface. In jumps racing they represent form in point to point events.

In addition to numerical digits, there are a number of letters and symbols which may appear in a horse’s recent form figures. They are as follows.

  • -: This represents a gap between seasons, i.e. in the form figures of 183-25 the 1,8 and 3 refer to runs in the previous season
  • /: This represents a gap of two or more seasons between runs
  • P: Pulled-up
  • F: Fell
  • U: Unseated rider
  • R: Refused (generally refers to refusing to even attempt to jump a fence or hurdle)
  • C: Carried out (usually means driven off course by another runner)
  • L: Left at start
  • O: Ran out
  • B: Brought down
  • S: Slipped
  • V: Void race
  • d: Disqualified

Banana Bob: The horse’s name.

b: This tells us that the horse will be wearing blinkers. In fact, any racing aides the horse will be wearing for the contest will be listed here. The other varieties of headgear are:

  • v: Visor
  • e/s: Eye shield
  • h: Hood
  • t: Tongue-strap, also known as a tongue-tie
  • P: Cheek pieces

When looking at this area of the card, look out for the presence of the number 1 in the notation. For example, b1 denotes that a horse will be wearing blinkers for the first time in a race. The addition of concentration aids such as blinkers or cheek pieces, or breathing assistance in the form of a tongue strap, can often result in a sudden and sometimes dramatic improvement in form.

6x: Any penalty that a horse is required to carry in a race will be noted here. Penalties are generally gained for previous wins; either at a certain level or grade, or because a horse is running again following a win, before an updated handicap rating has been produced.

CD: This tells us that the horse has previously won over this course and distance. It is always reassuring to see this when weighing up whether a runner is likely to handle conditions. Other notations that may appear in this area are:

  • C: Has previously won at the course
  • D: Has previously won over this distance
  • BF: The horse was a beaten favourite last time out. This can be worth considering as the runner must have been fancied to go well last time in order to start favourite, and may simply have had events conspire against them

12: This tells us the number of days that have elapsed since the horse last ran in a race under the same code. In general, a recent run is preferable to a significant absence from the track, although certain runners do go particularly well first time out after a break. A look through a horse’s previous runs can prove illuminating in this regard. Note: You may occasionally see something along the lines of 100 (15) in this section. This tells us that it has been 100 days since the horse has run in a race of the same code as the contest in question, but it has run 15 days ago under a different code. This can occur when a jumps performer has recently competed on the flat for example.

6: The age of the horse in years, with each horse aging one year on 1st January of each year irrespective of their actual date of birth.

9-4: The weight to be carried by the horse in stones and pounds. In handicap contests, this will be determined by the horse’s official rating (OR). (For information on Official Ratings see our Horse Racing Classifications article.)

Nicky Nicholls: The name of the horse’s trainer will appear here. Another significant factor, as trainers tend to go through hot and cold patches throughout a season. Keep yards who have recently been amongst the winners onside. Likewise be wary of those who seem to have had a prolonged absence from the winner’s enclosure.

Frankie Fallon (5): The name of the jockey. The (5) here tells us that our jockey is an apprentice jockey (flat) or conditional jockey (jumps). As relatively inexperienced riders, apprentice/conditional jockeys can claim a certain amount of weight off their mounts back. The number in the brackets tells us how much weight they are able to take off. Here Frankie Fallon is permitted to claim 5lbs. This means that Banana Bob will actually carry 8st13lbs in this race. (9st4lbs - 5lbs = 8st13lbs).

Summary of Recent Runs

A number of publications/websites/apps also offer more detailed form in the form of a summary of a horse’s recent runs (and in some cases every run of a horse’s career). This information is generally laid out in a format similar to that illustrated below. We will use an entry for our imaginary horse, Banana Bob as an example.

  • Date: 11Aug16
  • Race Conditions: Kem 7fSt C5Hc 50k
  • Wgt: 9-4
  • Race Outcome: 2/9 (1 ½l Dave’s Delirious 8-12) 5/1
  • Jockey: Jessy Jones
  • OR: 85

Much of the above is fairly self-explanatory but is nevertheless worth a more detailed explanation.

  • Date: Simply the date the race took place.
  • Race Conditions: This section contains a multitude of information. In our example, we can see that this race was run at Kempton (Kem), over seven furlongs (7f). We can also gather that the race was run on a standard surface (St), and that it was a Class 5 (C5) handicap (Hc). The 50k refers to the total prize money on offer for the race.
  • Wgt: The weight carried by the runner.
  • Race Outcome: This line tells us that Banana Bob was second of nine runners, beaten 1½l by Dave’s Delirious. The 8-12 is the weight carried by Dave’s Delirious that day. The final piece of information contained here is the starting price of Banana Bob for the race, i.e. 5/1.
  • Jockey: The name of the jockey for the race in question.
  • OR: The official rating from which Banana Bob ran in this race. This can be crucial as it allows us to see whether a runner’s official rating has moved up or down in recent times. As well as what rating the runner has been able to win off in the past. When assessing handicap races, the changing official ratings of the runners can be one of the most critical factors to consider.

Form displayed in this way provides us with substantially more information than can be gained through looking at the bare figures of the finishing positions alone. We can tell for example if a horse is stepping up or down in class or distance for the race we are studying. Both of which can be crucial factors to a runner’s chance of success.

Form figures of 11111 are undoubtedly impressive, but would you be so keen to back the horse if you knew that each of these wins had come at Class 5 level and the runner was now stepping up into Group 3 company? Likewise figures of 65544 may not appear to offer too much promise, until that is, we see that each of these runs has come in Grade 1 races and the horse is now dropping down to a Grade 3. It is always worth delving a little deeper than the bare figures of the form alone.

Race Comments and Things To Look For

Some newspapers, including the main trade paper, as well as a number of websites, will provide a description of exactly how a horse ran in a particular race. These race comments can be an invaluable tool to the punter in a number of areas. Here we highlight a couple of the ways in which we like to use race comments when assessing a race.

Pace Of The Race

When attempting to determine those runners who are likely to race up with the pace, the key words we are looking for in the race comments are: led, soon led, with leader, disputed lead, prominent, always prominent, tracked leader, made all (as in made all the running from start to finish) and made virtually all.

Conversely some runners seem to be more comfortable at the rear of affairs, either due a natural tendency to run in behind other horses or not being particularly quick out of the stalls. The racing comments relating to such performers are; started slowly, slowly away, in rear or dwelt.

A third group of runners are deliberately restrained by their riders for strategic reasons, often in an effort to save their energy for a late burst in the closing stages. The expression used to describe horses ridden in this manner is: held up.

When weighing up the race comments for a particular contest it can often pay to take an against the crowd mentality. Consider a six runner race where five of the field like to lead or race up with the pace, and the sixth runner is almost always held up. It is well worth considering a bet on the hold up performer in this scenario. There is a fair chance the other five runners will compromise their chances by getting into an early battle for the lead, using up vital energy in the process.

Conversely let us consider another six runner event, but this time we have five hold up performers and only one who likes to lead. Here the front runner is highly likely to have his own way in front and, provided the jockey on board is at least a fair judge of pace, may prove very tough to pass.

Obviously the above two examples are somewhat extreme, not to say they don’t occur, but the likely pace of a race is always a factor worth considering when narrowing down your selections. A final example of where this can reap dividends comes in big field handicaps where the field is likely to split into two groups of runners. In this case there can often be a significant gap between the two groups at the line.

Whilst this can be down to varying ground conditions across the track, another possible reason is that more pace horses are drawn on one side of the track than the other. In this instance, you generally want your selection to be drawn on the side of the track which contains the most pace.

Unlucky Runners

Another area in which the race comments can prove useful is in helping to pinpoint those runners whose finishing position perhaps doesn’t do them full justice. Horse races can be pretty hurly burly affairs, with a lot of scrapping for position. Inevitably some runners are likely to fair better than others as a result of any bumping and barging.

A few of the tell-tale words to look out for in the race comments, when attempting to find a runner who may have been unlucky are: hampered, switched, stuck behind, trapped, and bumped. Such runners are often worth a second look as there’s a good chance they will fair somewhat better if granted a better rub of the green.