When assessing a race there are many factors to consider before deciding whether to back or lay a horse. These are the key factors to consider.
Form study is one of the most important elements in picking winners. Every horse in every race is given a rating based on its' performance in the race – it is on ratings from previous races that a prediction on a horse's performance under today's conditions can be made. The outcome of most races is predictable through careful study of the form and the more time you spend studying form the more winners you will find. Form is factual information based on previous performance but the key skill lies not in looking at the bare form figures but interpreting the different elements that go to make up the complete picture. In other words, looking at today's conditions and the key elements for each horse and deciding which horse will run under the conditions.
The official form book is compiled by Raceform but there are many different private ratings services the most famous and the most easily accessible is that provided free by the Racing Post.
At the height of the flat season during the summer it is virtually impossible to study every race in the depth required so it can pay to concentrate on the better class of race as the form is more likely to prove reliable than in lower class races.
There is a lot to be said for the old saying, “Horses for courses” when trying to pick a winner especially at some of the UK's quirkier tracks such as Chester, Epsom or Windsor. You should always consider any horse that has won at a course previously especially if over the same distance.
British racecourses while all are different many have aspects in common and it pays to know something of the nature of each course. Please look at the course description guide for information on each course.
Distance Of The Race
A lot of horses are quite versatile when it comes to race distance but most have an ideal trip or range of trips. This will not be obvious at the start of a horse's racing career but after a few runs this should become clear. A horse's breeding plays a significant part in it's distance preference with stamina and speed being inherited from it's sire and dam.
You need to be careful because of the varying nature of British racetracks because, for example, the 5f sprint course at Epsom is all downhill and very fast while the 5f sprint at Sandown is mainly uphill. Winners at Sandown are often capable of staying 6f or more while Epsom is for pure 5f speedsters.
Keep an eye out for horses stepping up in distance if they have been noted as running on well at the finish in previous shorter races. Generally a horse running on at the finish does not lack stamina and needs a longer distance.
It has been thought that the best horses can act on any going, this may be true for the very best but every horse has a preference for a particular type of going. Breeding, like with distance, has an influence on a horse's going preference but also a horse's physical size and shape has a big influence. It is said that horses with large feet like heavy going. Also, a horses action, they way it moves it's legs, determines what type of ground suits it best. For example, horses with a round action in which they bring their knees high off the ground with each stride are more suited to softer going than horses that keep their foot low which are more suited to firm going.
Most horses are able to act on good going but if a horse's preference is for firm going and the going has been given has heavy then the horse's chances of winning are greatly reduced. You should always take this into account when looking for winners.
You should also take into account how the going differs on different courses, some courses can become particularly heavy when conditions are very wet while others with good drainage can dry out very quickly.
The draw in a race can be very important, although it becomes less so in races over a mile. This is because in longer races horses have longer to overcome a bad draw. The effect of the draw is much more significant at some courses than others. So much so that at some distances at some courses you can effectively dismiss that chances of some horses purely on the basis of which stall they have been drawn in. The most well known courses for this are Chester, Beverley and Goodwood. Please look at the course description guide for information on each course.
There have been many arguments about the effect that weight has in a race. Some well know ratings services do not take weight into account at all when calculating their ratings. It is totally up to yourself how much emphasis you put on the weight a horse is carrying and this only comes with experience.
The effect of weight is most significant in handicaps.
All form is relative to class of the event in which is was recorded so it is important to be aware of the standard of the race you are betting on. A horse may have won it's last two races but if these races were won in a significantly lower grade with much lower rated horses then it may not be able to cope with the increased speed of it's higher rated rivals. You should therefore always take into account the class at which a horse has been running previously and that which it is running in today.
There is often the chance to profit from horses which have been unlucky in better class races that is now dropping down in class.
Trainer and Jockey
It is very important to take into account the current form of the trainer and the jockey. Trainers tend to go through spells when their horses are going well and winning and spells when none of their horses seem to be able to get their nose in front. It is important to follow trainers when their horses are running well and do not back the horses when they are not. The racing press gives details of the form of trainers in what they call hot and cold lists.
Another factor to take into account is that some trainers target particular races every year and also specialise in finding winners at particular courses. Look into the history of previous winners before having a bet in a race.
Jockeys thrive on confidence, when they are winning they continue to do so but when losing they can try anything but are unable to get a horse to win. As with the trainers the racing press carry daily lists of hot and cold jockeys.
Another factor similar to trainers is that some jockeys ride particularly well at certain courses while some jockeys can't buy a winner at a particular course. Look into a jockeys record at the course before having a bet.
Horses go through spells of being on form and out of form, like in any sport. Some horses thrive on racing two or three times in a short space of time while others need a long time to recover from a race. Sprinters can be turned out again in a short space of time while three mile chasers may need a couple of months to recover. It is generally considered that a horse can only run to its top form for three races, any more and the form will drop away. The way to take this into account is to look at the horse's racing history and see how it performs after a break or whether it holds it's form if racing again after a short space of time.
When talking about refinements it refers to item such as blinkers, sheepskin nosebands, tongue ties, etc. Blinkers for example are used to help a horse concentrate during a race because it forces the horse to look directly in front rather than to the side. First time blinkers can have a dramatic effect on a horse but horses can get used to the blinkers and they can lose their effectiveness. It is difficult to say how refinements should have an effect on your betting other than it is another factor to consider.
Pace Of The Race
When looking at a race it is important to figure out how the race is going to be run. For example, if the horse you fancy likes to dominate a race from the front you need to look and see whether there are other horses going to take it on for the lead. If there are two or more front running horses in the race then they may start racing each other for the lead from the start and tire each other out before the finish leaving the path clear for a horse to come from off the pace. Or in the other extreme if there are no front runners in the race and all the horses like to be held up the race may be run at a very slow pace and you end up with a surprise winner.
Breeding as discussed in key factors can have an influence on a horse's preference for a particular distance or a particular type of going but in experienced horses you should be able to work this out from a horse's previous races. Where looking at the breeding can be important is when looking at young horses and you only have very limited form on which to form an opinion, like maiden races. This is where you can look into a horse's breeding and can make an educated guess at what a horse's preferences will be.
Some horses have preferences for particular courses and do well there but not at other courses. Some horse only like to run left handed and find to impossible to win if turning right handed. This is another factor which you should look into when backing a horse.
If a horse has run badly in a previous race, look to see if there is an excuse. If there is one then you can ignore that run. If not leave the horse alone.
If you have doubts about a race then DO NOT BET. There will always be plenty more opportunities to have a bet.