When people bet on horse racing, they want to bet on the winners, but finding them can be a lot more complicated than other sports. Unlike football, rugby, tennis, or cricket, there are more than two or three potential outcomes, especially in handicap races.
There are many variables to factor in and consider, like form, weights carried by a horse and how to read the odds. Need some helpful hints on how to pick a winning horse in a race? We also tell you how to spot the best-looking horse and which staking plan to use.
What to Look for When Picking a Winning Horse
Both online bookmakers and racecourses have racecards to help bettors and visitors to the track out. It lists the horses, owners’ colours they’ll be running in, trainers and jockeys, past form figures and official ratings. It should also highlight whether horses are previous courses and/or distance winners and the number of days since the last run.
If you have trouble absorbing the information, check our guide on how to read a racecard. All this data can help you find winners, but all racecards are subject to change. If you’re at the track having a day at the races, then courses will make official announcements over public address systems on jockey changes, non-runners and withdrawn horses.
Why Horse Racing Connections Matter
When you're wondering how to pick a winning horse, powerful horse racing connections should always be respected. Wealthy owners who have many racehorses in training often end up buying the best thoroughbreds at the sale. Betting traders are aware of this, and it can influence the odds they offer in the market on a race.
Racehorse trainers target particular races year in and year out and so develop a good record of winning them. However, like the horses themselves, stables go in and out of form. Statistics should be available on horse racing connections for the last 14 days, and you can thus use these to find out which yard, rider or owner is in-form and find winners that way.
The Importance of Past Performances
The previous form, particularly at the track where the race in question is taking place, can be beneficial. You only past information available when trying to predict the future. There is plenty of truth in the old saying about horses for courses. If a racehorse is familiar with a track and has a history of running well at it, that is an obvious plus if you are thinking of betting on it.
The type of race you are looking to bet on is also crucial. Flat races are always more straightforward than the National Hunt because, in the latter, you must assess a horse's limping ability, as well as its confidence to overcome hurdles. If you are not sure exactly what is the National Hunt and how it works, feel free to check our detailed article.
Racehorses that haven’t been on track for a long time may need a run. That is not a universal truth, as some go well fresh and enjoy the benefit of taking a break. Individual horses are best caught the first time out in the season or year.
This is why a more detailed study of the previous form can help you to find winners. Sometimes a horse only runs to rebuild its' form. A first race of the campaign may be a stepping stone to bigger targets (and more valuable events) somewhere down the line.
What Does the Handicapper Say
Most horse races that take place are handicaps. To compete in a handicap, a racehorse must have an official rating. Handicappers working for the overall organisers of the race set the ratings. You may need horse ratings explained to you to understand how to pick a winning horse. Horses that win races are believed to have improved, and so their ratings go up.
Those who do not win, but still run well and get close can also have their marks increase. Horses that finish off the pace and lose easily may have theirs reduced. When looking for winners, you must ask yourself if horses can reproduce past winning form or good performances of a higher rating.
If you feel confident about that, then horses are still improving. Official ratings decide how much weight racehorses will have in handicaps. This then raises the question: Does the handicapper treat the horses fairly concerning past form? Find a well-handicapped horse, and you could well have picked out a winner.
Race Handicap Weights
The greater the horse's handicap weights are, then the higher it is rating. A horse with the most senior official mark carries top weight, while the horse with the lowest rating has bottom weight. The principle is that inferior racehorses take a lighter load than the better-rated ones to make a handicap fair for all participants.
In horse races that aren’t handicapped, there may be weight-for-age or penalties given. In a weight-for-age event, younger horses are put at an advantage over older ones. Remember that when you're pondering how to pick a winning horse in these. For events contest off-level weights, in theory, the horse with the highest rating should win.
If racehorses are proven at a higher level in terms of class or grade, then they may have to carry a penalty. This means they may be giving weight away to some or all of the opposition, and that makes the answer to how to pick a winning horse tougher.
Fillies and mares always receive a sex allowance in races open to both genders of a horse. This put the females at an advantage. Careful studying of race terms and conditions can thus help you in your quest for building horse racing systems that work.
Where to Bet Handicap Races
How to Spot a Winning Horse: What the Odds Say
All of the factors mentioned above are taken into consideration by betting traders when they compile the odds for horse races. The market acts as a guide with fancied runners available at shorter prices than horses that are regarded as outsiders. The market helps you pick a winner by seeing which racehorse is a favourite and others that are prominent.
Betting is also a good indicator of how competitive the event is. If there are joint or even co-favourites, then this indicates that it will be tough to pick a winner of a race. There are also some other factors traders at the bookies consider:
Horse Racing Classes: Proven v Potential
Did you know there are different horse racing classes and grades? Black-type races are the highest class of race, but even these are split into four tiers: Listed, Group or Grade 3, 2 and 1. As a racehorse progresses throughout its career on the track, it should be going up through the horse racing classes.
When trying to pick a winner of a race, horses with proven form in the class or grade are of apparent interest. They have proven themselves up to winning at this level before. There is, however, the possibility that a past winner could be vulnerable to a younger, improving and less exposing horse.
As racehorses age, it logically follows that they have less scope to get better. The upward curve will stop one day. It is for this reason that old favourites may end up being a higher price than younger rivals in a horse racing betting market.
The decision you have to make in your hunt for winners is whether to side with a reliable horse or back a younger rival with greater potential to get better. There is no right and wrong with this. You are only judging each race and every horse on a relative basis according to their merits.
Best Looking Horse
Some people like to see horses parading in the paddock before they head out onto the track, and then place their bets based on what they have seen. You can learn a lot about a racehorse by studying its behaviour in the preliminaries before racing gets underway.
Flighty and excitable racehorses, who play up in the paddock or refuse to go into the starting gates, are expending energy that would be better conserved for the race itself. A horse sweating before racing is not necessarily a bad thing, though. Overly calm and docile horses in the preliminaries can make you as a bettor nervous. Are they up for the race?
Some horses appear to be taking in their surroundings in the paddock, and this can be a sign of intelligence. If you know what a racehorse’s behaviour is usually like on a race day, then you can put yourself in an excellent position to pick winners as you will identify anything that is out of character and adjust your betting strategy accordingly.
You need to have a staking plan and budget in mind that you stick to. After careful consideration in your search for a potential winner, the odds on offer at the bookies will play a part in what you stand to gain. Short-priced favourites require a higher stake to get a decent return than other horses at bigger odds.
The prices are thus a significant influence on your staking plan, but you should always gamble responsibly. Never bet more than you can afford to lose. Even for serious bettors, there should be an element of fun to taking a punt on horse racing.
In addition, you have to make sure you receive the best odds available. In a sport like horse racing, it is common for prices to go up and down in a flash, based on how many people back (or not back) a runner. This is why you should only play at the best odds guaranteed bookies because they ensure you are getting paid at the highest prices, no matter when you placed your wager.
Getting the Trip
As horses get older, it may be that they need to race over further than they used to. This is a natural part of the development and progress of some thoroughbreds. Others can be bred explicitly for speed or to become a horse with stamina. This poses a problem for you as a bettor when a racehorse tries a new trip for the first time.
There is no past form to go on that is relevant, so you are better off avoiding betting on them. If they won going away at the finishing line after coming from off the pace, then that is an indicator that they will appreciate a step up in the trip. A horse that was all out to win and just held on, meanwhile, may not stay any further than the distance of their last race.
Once horses have run over a trip many times, they are overexposed to it. The ground conditions will also play a part in whether horses can stay the distance. The general rule is the softer the ground is underfoot, the more stamina a horse needs to win. Thoroughbred racehorse pedigrees can help you pick winners if there’s little or no relevant form to go on.
Once you see what horses related to your fancy achieved on the track, then you may have a better idea of what they can be capable of. Flatter racetracks suit horses with speed in their breeding, while those with undulations and an uphill finish will bring the best out of ones with a stamina-laden pedigree.
Is there Value in Betting on a Horse to Win
Yes, you can make money betting on a horse to win. There are several things you need to consider when you think about how to pick a winning horse, though. If a horse has value, its price is the most important.
Good form in the book, the stable it is from and if the jockey riding it is having winners are some other critical aspects. When you figure out all these, you're ready to back a horse to win the race. Just make sure to stick on a strict budget and avoid chasing your losses. Research is key.
Full List of Horse Racing Betting Sites