If you have any interest in betting on horse racing, being able to fully understand all the abbreviations and figures on a racecard is something of a must. A racecard provides you with so much information that without knowing what it means, you effectively end up betting blind. Although there are many casual gamblers that do this, happy instead to bet based on names or colours, or other peoples’ tips, having a more informed opinion is likely to serve you better in the long run.
Simply understanding what the information means on the racecard is only half the battle mind you. While the racecard itself provides you with useful objective facts and figures, how they are interpreted and how much importance they are given is up to you. So, as well explaining the key terms, we will also discuss what questions you should be asking when looking at a racecard.
A Horse’s Form
Form is often the first thing any punter looks at on the racecard so it seems a logical place for us to start too. For each horse below, we have underlined their form in purple so you know where you need to be looking. Most of what you will find here is self-explanatory, a number 1 means a horse won the race, a number 4 means they finished 4th etc. Form is listed in date order from oldest to newest so the figure on the right will be their most recent race.
While most of the time you will see numbers here from 1 to 9, you could well see some other abbreviations instead, especially if it is for a jumps race:
- P (or PU) – This stands for ‘pulled up’ and it occurs when a jockey decides to drop out of a race, mid-way through usually because their horse is too far off the required pace and/or struggling with an injury
- F – Indicates a horse fell during the race
- R – Used when a horse refuses to jump the fences/hurdle, or simply refuses to leave (or enter) the starting gate
- B (or BD) – Indicates when a horse was brought down, usually by a fallen horse in their way
- U (or UR) – This stands for unseated rider and it is where a poor jump sees the jockey completely removed from the saddle
- (/) – A forward slash highlights when a horse has taken a long break, most likely due to injury. Some horses can pick up exactly where they left off but others need time to find their feet
- (–) – A dash is used to separate two seasons
- 0 – The number 0 is used whenever a horse finishes in 10th place or worse. This is because writing ‘12’ for instance would make it look like a horse came 1st and 2nd across two races, rather than 12th
So putting some of this knowledge into practice, we can see all horses above for what is a Listed race at Newmarket have all featured once previously this season. Gubbass and Ribhi managed a top four finish on this sole outing while Noble Truth has a 0 due to their 13th placed finish. Including the previous season, by numbers alone you would say that Ribhi has the best form but you should never take the numbers at purely face value.
Quality of Previous Races
A horse with poor form is never something you should instantly dismiss as there can be many mitigating factors. The main one is that the horse has been competing at a too high level. Take a look at this Class 3 handicap at Doncaster for example.
For this race Ardbraccan enters the contest with some unappealing looking form (5th, 7th, 8th). When actually looking at her previous races though they have all been among Class 1 or Class 2 company. It is therefore reasonable to think that by dropping down to Class 3, she will be a lot more competitive (indeed her earlier win came at Class 3 level).
It is for the same reason why exceptionally good form can be misleading at times too. A horse might have won five races in a row but if they all came at Class 5 or 6 and they are now competing in a Class 1 event, it is going to be much more of a challenge and that form might not count for all that much.
Distance Of Previous Races
Sometimes a horse might simply not be in great shape and this can explain their bad run of form. It could be though they have been entered into unsuitable races previously, whether too challenging (as explained above) or over the wrong distance. It can take some trainers a little time to figure out what is the optimal distance for a horse so this means being trialled out across different types of race. If a horse has performed poorly recently over 1m 4f due to tiring late on, it is fair to expect that a 1m 2f test may produce a change in fortunes.
Similarly, if a horse that has been in great form of late across 6f but they are now being tested over a mile, you would be right to question if they will be quite so dangerous over an increased trip. They may well be but until it is proven at the track it remains a question mark at the very least.
Going Of Previous Races
While there are some horses that can seemingly perform whether the ground is muddy or firm, many more have a favoured going. Whether it be heavy, soft, good or something in between, checking the current conditions and against previous ones is always well worth doing. If a horse has shown great form of late but it’s all come on good ground, while today’s going is soft, this could well not play to their strengths. Likewise, a horse may only have struggled of late because the going has been far to firm or soft for their liking and a return to better (for them) ground could see them back in contention.
On a related note, you will also want to factor in if a horse is switching to or from an artificial course to or from turf. Most artificial courses have going similar to ‘good to firm’ but this does not automatically mean a solid good to firm turf runner will take to an artificial surface, or vice versa.
Size Of Previous Races
Another reason why taking the form numbers at face value is a bad idea is because you have no idea how many other horses were competing in the race. Any old donkey can finish 3rd in a three-horse race and this could easily be less impressive than finishing fifth in a busy race consisting of 20 horses.
Looking at this horse here you might think, based on the form number, that after a couple of poor efforts they have managed to pick themselves back up again. In reality though they ended up in a four-horse race and finished 12 lengths behind the winner, more than the gap when finished dead last from 18 two races earlier.
Other Mitigating Factors
As all of us well know, it is perfectly possible to have a bad day where nothing seems to go right. This applies to horses just as much who will occasionally have luckless races or outings where for no discernible reason they just are not at their best. Whether they were feeling a little ill, lost a shoe mid-race, ended up blocked off or didn’t enjoy the long trip to the course, there are multiple reasons that can at least partly excuse a poor performance.
Weight & Official Rating (OR)
In many horse races, especially those at a lower level, horses will not run at the same weight. Weights are always provided on the racecard and for most handicaps, the horse with the highest official rating (OR) will run with ‘top weight’.
The highest rated horse (65) runs here with 9st 12lbs and because the next highest horse is rated just one less (64), they only run with one pound less. Weight allocations, relative to one another, can end up being very important especially in tightly run contests. If a horse wins one race, but is then bumped up 8lbs in the ratings (say for instance their official rating goes from 80 to 88) then they might find this hard to overcome next time out. That said, there is a limit to how much a horses’ OR will increase based on a single race and it may well be that they have far more to give, even with any extra weight.
With the weights just bear in mind it is always the ratings not the absolute weight that is important. A horse can win a race at 10st 5lbs, have their official rating subsequently increased, and then run with 9st 4lbs the next race. This would happen if, in their next race, the gap between themselves and the top-rated horse was much more than it was previously.
Should you see a number followed by ‘ex’ beside the weight, this indicates a horse has been hit with a penalty for a recent impressive run. This is used as stop-gap measure when the handicappers have not had time to adjust their rating accordingly.
Some racecards will add the penalty to the rating (officially Symbol of Hope still had a rating of 55 prior to this race) but others will not. Effectively though, he will run as though he was an officially rated 60 horse.
While penalties can be added, horses can also compete with less weight (known as an allowance) when running with a claiming jockey. An apprentice or amateur jockey can ‘claim’ between 3lb and 7lbs depending on their experience. When this applies, the ‘lb’ reduction will be noted beside the jockey’s name. A talented non-professional in the saddle can make a big difference as they can perform as well as their professional counterparts but have the benefit of riding lighter.
Although the exact location can vary, somewhere prominent on the racecard you are likely to see some letters, or combination of letters, like below. These can quickly tell us some useful information about the horses involved.
The letters you may come across are as follows:
- C – Indicates that the horse as won at this racecourse before
- D – Indicates that a horse has won at least once over the same distance before
- CD – The horse has won a race previously which was at the same course and over the same distance.
- BF – Last time out the horse was the beaten favourite (or joint favourite)
A former course and distance winner is the best thing to have but of course there are still other considerations such as whether or not the other win came at a lower level. Even if it was exactly the same race, it is very possible that the horse is running at a higher weight this time around. Also note that ‘CD’ is not the same as ‘C’ ‘D’. In the case of the latter, the horse will have been a course winner, and a distance winner, but they have never ticked both boxes in the same race.
As for BF, this is not a concern most of the time especially if they were only narrow favourite in a very open field. It is something to pay attention to though when a horse was well fancied last time out but fell way short of expectation as this could indicate something is amiss. They could well have a fair excuse but it could also be that the market is simply over-estimating how talented this horse is.
Some horses run better with a little help from some additional attire and any headgear worn will always be listed on the racecard.
Normally it is not something you really need to factor into your decision making but it is if a piece of headgear is being worn for the very first time, or has been brought back after a while out. When tried out for the first time, the equipment (indicated by a single letter) will be marked with the number 1. In this case we know that Gordontheorgan will be running with cheekpieces (p) for the first time, in additional to his usual tongue strap (t).
- b – Blinkers
- e – Eye shields
- h – Hood
- p – Cheek pieces
- t – Tongue strap
- v – Visor
- x – Used when a horse wore headgear previously but not this time
Headgear can make a significant impact to performance although there is no guarantee that a horse will necessarily perform better with its introduction or removal.
For many races, the draw is not something you need to worry about. There are no draws at all for National Hunt racing, due to the long minimum distance of races. And in flat races if the distance is over a mile then it is extremely unlikely any notable bias exists. For shorter races though, at a select number of courses, the draw can easily make the difference between winning and losing.
Chester is one of the famous examples, as is Beverley’s 5f sprint track with its sharp dog-leg turn. At both these courses, an inside draw is of real benefit and so much so that it simply has to be factored into your betting.
If you are aware of draw bias existing at a particular course, finding which starting stall a horse as been allocated is an easy task. It will usually feature on the left-hand side by their race number (be sure not to get these mixed up). In the example above, Carter Cowboy is starting from stall 7 (higher number is always on the outside regardless of the course direction) while Antagonize is on the very inside in stall 1.
RPR, TS and Trainer RTF
So far we have covered all the key parts of the racecard and how you should interpret them. To finish though it is worth quickly mentioning some of the less-than-obvious abbreviations that the Racing Post uses. Trainer RTF%, represented as a number, indicates how in-form a trainer has been over the last 14 days. The higher the number the more in-form the trainer and the better their results of late have been. This could be a sign they are doing something well, or it could just be they have had some strong runners out lately.
The other two figures you see are the ‘Top Speed’ rating and the ‘Racing Post Rating’. Both these figures are produced by the Racing Post themselves with the former a measure speed (adjusted for current horse weight) and the latter being a kind of alternative to the official rating system. Some punters swear by them, others will use them as an extra point of consideration and some dismiss them entirely. For anyone learning the racecard basics, you are probably best off ignoring them at first, but it is something to look at more closely when you are fully up to speed.
Please note that all racecard examples are courtesy of racingpost.com