For the casual punter, it appears as if there are far too many factors to consider when attempting to pick the winner in horse racing. Bookmakers know this and profit handsomely from common errors such as blindly backing a favourite or being swayed by a certain tipster without any real knowledge of ‘why’ the tipster has chosen that particular horse.
Unfortunately, the only way to profit from horse racing betting in the long term is to studiously go through all the relevant factors; hopefully, experience will tell you when to discard certain information. In this article, I will go through a number of the most important factors to consider when choosing a horse.
When To Swerve a Bet
First and foremost, don’t toss your money away on a ‘master system’ that claims to have the ability to pick the right horse in all conditions as such a magical entity doesn’t exist. In reality, you have to treat every single race as an individual event.
Although the bookmakers may have the advantage in terms of odds overall, you can be selective in your betting while they are forced to price up every single race. With thousands of races each year, it’s obvious there will be races where you can get an edge on the bookie; the trick is finding these events!
Although the factors vary depending on the type of race, here are 5 occasions when you should never back a horse on any surface over any distance:
- When the horse is not proven on the going.
- If the trainer has a bad record at the course.
- If the jockey has a bad record at the course.
- If the trainer is out of form.
- If, after further analysis, you determine the horse is not suited to the course.
When it comes to the factors mentioned below, it is best to avoid placing a bet if no horse satisfies all the criteria. This will of course take a lot of patience as you resist the urge to bet ‘just for the sake of it’. Additionally, don’t bet on the horse unless its odds are higher than you think they should be.
In the event that two horses fulfil the criteria in any given race, you could split the stake between the selections, otherwise known as ‘dutching’. However, it is normally better not to bet at all.
The Right Factors
Simply put, you should always take the time to analyse any horse that has previously won on the course. I mentioned the case of La Estrella in a previous article and on 30 December 2015, the horse won its 27th race on All-Weather at Southwell, a course he adores. He was in poor form but was 5/1 to win the race; inexplicable given his incredible record at the course.
You need to discover if your selection likes the racetrack, handles turf/synthetic/dirt, prefers hurdles or fences etc. Likewise, your selection may have an excellent record on tracks where it turns right-handed and a wretched record on tracks where it has to turn left-handed.
Again, it’s pretty likely that your selection has a preference for a particular type of ‘going’ which includes Fast, Soft, Hard, Heavy and Yielding. You can learn more about going at Horse Race Base.
A horse’s breeding and physical size actually play a big role in the type of going it prefers. For instance, horses with large feet typically enjoy Heavy going. The ‘action’ of a horse (the way it moves its legs) can also impact its preference; horses that keep their feet low are best suited to ‘Firm’ going.
Although weather conditions tend to dictate going, racecourses can react in different ways to the weather. For instance, some courses will inevitably be Heavy after rain but others have excellent drainage which means the ground dries out fast.
Ideally your selection has a good winning percentage at today’s distance or has exhibited signs of being capable of performing at a new distance. For example, your selection may be upped in trip from 2m to 2m 4f but if he looked to have a lot in the tank over 2 miles, there is a chance he can ‘stay’ an extra half mile. In contrast, if the horse was struggling coming into the finishing line, he may not last an extra half mile.
When it comes to changing distance, here are two types of horse to watch for:
- Increasing Distance: Horses that finish well.
- Decreasing Distance: Front runners.
The form ratings are a key component of any punters assault on the bookies. You have the British Horseracing Authority’s (BHA) Official Rating, the Racing Post’s rating and the other factors such as Topspeed (generally only relevant for sprint events of 7 furlongs or shorter) which we have covered in previous articles (click on the links provided to learn how these figures are calculated).
To get the most out of form figures you need to analyse the various elements that make up the full picture. For instance, a high form figure may mask the fact the horse runs poorly at that particular track, hadn’t won a race in 20 attempts before the last win, only performs in a certain Class etc.
It is also worth looking at the amount of time between races and the number of starts this year as horses with a lot of starts seldom win. As a rule of thumb it is better to focus on lightly raced horses that could be peaking rather than ones getting beaten up due to accumulated fatigue.
Typically, horses with 12 or fewer starts over the last 2 years are relatively fresh. However, you also need to look at horses that have had 30-60 days off between races as this seems to be the optimum rest period. When horses haven’t raced for 90+ days, it may take a race for them to get up to speed and horses with a break of over 180 days seldom perform to the best of their ability.
Occasionally, there will be horses that excel when returning from a long break however so take note of them.
Certain courses have a distinct bias when it comes to the draw which means it can be extremely tough for a horse to win a race with an unfavourable draw. For instance, analysis of 5 furlong races at Southwell clearly show that being drawn low in the middle of the track is a major advantage.
One reason for this could be the fact that the rollers are 2/3 the width and the middle of the course is actually rolled twice which makes it the fastest part of the track. So if your selection is drawn in stall #7 or #8 in an 8 horse race, you should discount it. www.drawbias.com does a great job of showing you if there is a track bias on every UK course.
Bookies enjoy festivals because events where casual punters ‘follow the money’ and place unresearched bets on underpriced favourites are typically goldmines for the bookmaking industry.
As you can imagine, horses with high morning line odds (20/1) rarely win but there are quite a few ‘overlays’ where horses end up winning despite their SP being higher than their morning line. Bottom line; don’t get lured into betting on horses just because their odds are shortening unless your research suggests it is a good bet.
You can also use the odds to your advantage if you believe a short priced favourite is beatable; in this case you can ‘lay the favourite’ in the expectation that at least one other horse will be better on the day.
You should avoid horses with a history of being ‘over bet’ which means they offer no value but don’t ignore a horse just because it was a beaten favourite in its last race. There may be legitimate reasons why it failed to perform.
It isn’t rocket science; trainers and jockeys with good records at any given track must be considered; this is especially the case if you find a good jockey/trainer combo. For example in the 2015/16 jump season the Aidan Coleman/J P Ferguson partnership is flourishing with 58 wins from 161 rides as at 11 January 2016. This equates to a win rate of 36.02% while 66.46% of their rides have finished in the places.
Then there is the small matter of a winning jockey/horse relationship; it’s a fact that certain jockeys are a ‘good’ fit with a particular horse.
Always pay attention when a trainer has entered more than one horse in a race as it is a clear sign he wants to win. It is also good to note occasions when a horse has been recently purchased as the owner typically looks for a quick win after buying a horse after a claim or in a private sale.
When analysing form, remember it is all relative to the Class of event the horse was racing in. For example, it is easy to be lured in by a horse with 4 straight wins but if they all came in Class 4 events and you are betting on a Class 3 race, there is no guarantee the horse will be capable of beating opponents with a higher rating than its previous competition.
Conversely, you may discover a horse that has been unfortunate in higher Class events and is dropping down a level; there is every chance it will be far too good for its lower rated rivals.
As is the case in any sport, horses can be in and out of form and will occasionally struggle for fitness. The amount of recovery a horse needs depends on the distance it travels; sprinters can race 2-3 times in quick succession whereas horses that like 3 mile races need much longer to recover. It is often believed that a horse will be unable to run to its top form for more than 3 consecutive races.
Speed of the Race
If you analyse any race closely enough you should have a good idea of how the race will be run before it even begins. If your selection is a known front runner, find out if there are any other horses that like to make the running. In races with 2+ front runners, there is a chance the horses will fight each other for the lead thus tiring each other out; this paves the way for a fast finisher to come through and snatch the win.
In races with no front runner, it’s likely the race will be run at an artificially slow pace which may leave the race wide open; it is in these types of races where you may see a medium or long odds winner.
This relates to tongue ties, sheepskin nosebands, blinkers and other additions. It isn’t unusual for blinkers to make a huge difference to a horse wearing them for the first time as it forces it to focus straight ahead since its peripheral vision has been reduced. However, the horse may get used to the blinkers which causes them to lose their effectiveness.
I mentioned it at the start but it bears repeating; don’t bet if you have a significant doubt over a horse or if a previous bad run can’t be explained. As detailed as I’ve tried to make this guide, it doesn’t cover every little element and that’s probably for the best as there are dozens of other factors not worth considering.