Start at the top.. Then work your way down
Avoid the temptation to dive head-first into the colourful runners’ list section in which horses are always presented on a racecard in order of the amount of weight they are carrying, hence the term topweight. A racecard has a deliberate hierarchy – there is some crucial information within the race details and race conditions at the top and spending a few minutes familiarising yourself with this will actually save you time as you’ll then know which bits of content to prioritise.
Race details and conditions
Consider the type of race first, establishing the code (Flat race, chase, hurdle or bumper) and the whether the race is a handicap. Then address course and race distance, before moving to going and field size – although the racecard itself offers no indication of whether a runner will be suited by the ground or is more effective in big or small fields.
Key Elements to consider
In a handicap, the runners are essentially presented in ability order – highest at the top – and it makes a lot of sense to analyse the horses in saddlecloth runner order. The horses’ weight reflect their official ratings and to create a theoretical level playing field the runners the handicapper believes have shown the best form carry more weight, so are higher up in the list (have higher saddlecloth numbers). The challenge is to find horses who are well in (have more ability than their ratings suggest) and the racecard features a number of elements that can steer you in the right direction.
Racing Post Ratings
Make these the first port of call. Listed against each runner in the right-most column of the card is their Raicng Post Rating which, crucially, has been adjusted to the day’s weight terms. Take note of the horses with the highest RPRs as these are more likely to be well handicapped according to the Racing Post expert handicappers.
You should read the form figures from right (most recent run) to left – the last six are shown. There is usually a strong relationship between the attractiveness of the form figures and the prices available , with horses with better recent form figures shorter in the betting. Form figures can also be a quick route to establishing how likely it is a horse will leave their previous form behind. To be eligible for handicaps, most horses are required to have three runs so handicap debutants running for the fourth time merit close inspection as they have the potential to improve. Generally speaking, the horses showing fewer than the maximum of six recent form figures are less exposed so more open to improvement.
The market can be a good guide to the prospects of horses in handicaps. Two groups of runners with poor recent form figures who always merit further investigation are those popular in the betting, and those with winning course form – denoted by symbol C. With such horses, you should dig into their form and find out whether they have winning form off handicap ratings that are the same or lower than their current marks.
Winners who are turned out quickly before their revised handicap mark has come into effect carry a weight penalty. They are easy to spot with the extra weight bracketed by their names. When the size of the penalty plus their handicap mark totals less than their revised future rating, a horse is theoretically well in at the weights.
A trainer can reduce the amount of weight their horse is required to carry by booking a jockey with a weight allowance – the amount is usually shown in parenthesis. These are usually apprentice/conditional or jockeys at the start of their career, whose claims are reduced as they ride more winners.
Racing Post Ratings
The ability difference between runners can be wide-ranging in non-handicaps. Racing Post Ratings provide a quick and simple way of separating the wheat from the chaff.
Similarly, the quality of the jockeys riding in a race can be informative with regards to which horses are most likely to win. This is particularly important in maiden races and contests restricted to novices. A race featuring fewer big-name jockeys, especially one in which these riders are the more fancied runners, can be a sign that the race lacks strength in depth and you should be focusing on the mounts of the top jockeys.
There are often marginal weight differences between runners. However, horses can be penalised for previous wins, requiring them to carry substantially more weight than some of their rivals, and these penalties can often prove barriers to success.
Winning form (course and distance)
Any basic racecard which shows horses having winning form at the course, and over the distance, denoted by respective symbols C and D. Upgrade the importance of a course win when the race is at an unusual course. This could be a venue with a unique surface, like Southwell’s all-weathers circuit which is the only course in Britain/Ireland with a Fibresand surface. An uncommon configuration such as Chester, which was tight bends. A downhill elevation profile like Epsom’s sprint course. Upgrade the importance of a distance win when the race is run over a specialist distance, 7f on the flat. An extreme trip, such as 5f, the minimum flat distance, or a marathon distance over jumps.
Finally, the devil is in the detail
Always check the small print. The smaller type on a racecard that is easily missed can be indicative of a horse who is about to show significant improvement. Two key ones are; superscript 1 at the end of a trainer’s name (denoting that the horse has changed stables and is running for that trainer for the first time). Plus a headgear symbol with superscript 1 (denoting the horse is running for the first time in the headgear).