Horse racing is full of abbreviations, and it is far too easy to get caught up in the complexities of the sport. Don’t assume that it’s impossible to win if you don’t know your TS from your RPR! Even so, a punter’s greatest weapon is knowledge, so it pays to learn and understand the various methods of ranking horses, trainers, and jockeys. By doing this, you can discard the irrelevant and focus on what helps you get winners.
Under the microscope, today is RTF, which stands for Running to Form. But what does the term mean?
RTF = A Recent Run of Trainer Form
Check out the red arrows in the screenshot above. They are from the race card on the Racing Post. You can see an arrow pointing to RTF% and a second arrow pointing to the number ‘78’ beside the trainer David Evans’ name.
The Racing Post explains that RTF% is the percentage of a trainer’s horses who have ‘run to form’ in the last 14 days. In the screenshot, we can see that 78% of Evans’ horses have run to form in the last fortnight, the highest figure in the race.
As you might expect from the Racing Post, the explanation of RTF is fairly simple. It is a measure of the percentage of a trainer’s horses that ran to form based on a comparison of each horse’s actual and expected rating in each race. The closer these figures are together, the higher the RTF percentage.
It makes perfect sense in theory and is almost certainly a better way to measure a trainer’s recent form than their bare strike rate. In Evans’ case, his strike rate over the same timeframe is 33%, with 3 wins in 9 races. His RTF of 78% suggests that 7 of these 9 runners ran to form.
Evans’ horses have placed in 6 of the 9 races, although it isn’t easy to guess which one of the other three races saw his horse run to form. However, in each of the three races where the horse didn’t place, the runner was at odds of at least 14/1. When you go by pure strike rate, you don’t see races where a trainer’s horses finished two lengths behind in fourth at odds of 50/1. RTF takes such runs into account.
On the surface then, his entry, Scofflaw, seems worth a second look at 7/1. However, closer inspection reveals that the horse has only run three times on an All-Weather surface, and his sole win was in a Class 6 at Lingfield.
A look at Evans’ 5-year record at Chelmsford is even more alarming. With just 9 wins from 149 races at the track, a 6%-win rate, Scofflaw is now realistically a no-bet. That being said, Scofflaw won the race!
Does this mean we should ignore RTF? Of course not! It is just a matter of common sense. For example, Jo Hughes has an RTF of 75%, but you can’t make much of a case for Lefortovo winning at 50/1! Another interesting entry is Holy Heart, a John Gosden entry that is the 7/2 second favourite and has been tipped by the Racing Post. With an RTF of 67%, the Gosden yard seems to be in good form. Holy Heart finished second.
Should I Rely on RTF%?
The simple answer is ‘no,’ but this is horse racing, and nothing is that easy! It should go without saying that RTF should be used as a means of guiding your decision; it should NOT be your sole method of selection. There are some weaknesses with RTF:
- Not every trainer has an RTF figure. This could be because the yard is in bad form, or the trainer may not have had many entries recently.
- The rating is based on a very short timeframe. Yes, it is nice to know when a trainer is on a hot streak, but 14 days isn’t usually enough in horse racing. It is also possible that the RTF figure is based on minimal data. A figure of 100% looks great until you realise it only relates to two runners!
- The data comes from the Racing Post. While the publication is excellent, it is not infallible. There are occasions when it overrates or underrates horses before races which means the RTF figure won’t always be accurate.
Basically, you shouldn’t discard RTF, but it should only be used as a means of either bolstering your shortlist selections or casting doubt on them. Realistically, a trainer’s RTF% should be based on a minimum of seven runs in the last 14 days. If a horse’s RTF figure is at 50 or above, it has a good chance of performing to expectations. If the RTF is above 75, there is a chance the horse will run above expectations.
If you have any doubts at all about a horse, and its trainer’s RTF is below 25, it is best to eliminate it from your contender’s list as it is more likely to run below expectations.
You have to decide if the RTF% of a trainer can elevate a mediocre horse to greatness. In the screenshot above, Jamie Osbourne has an RTF of 100% based on six horses. None of the horses has won, but five of them placed. Rippling Waters is in poor form but is dropping back into Class 6 company for the first time since finishing second at Lingfield in July.
Is a combination of reduced competition and excellent trainer form good enough to elevate Rippling Waters into place contention at 5/1 on the Exchange in what seems like an open race? As it happened, Rippling Waters ran a good race and finished in third place for a place bet win!
Or is it a case of using it to add another tick to a shortlisted horse? A prime example would be Gosden’s Holy Heart entry above.
Its proponents suggest it is a better measure of a trainer’s recent performances than strike rate, and that looks to be an accurate assertion. As is the case with almost every piece of horse racing data you find, the RTF stat should be used as another tool to help you find winners, and place wins at nice prices.