How to Read a Racecard and (Maybe) Predict the Winner in Horse Racing

By their very nature, the vast majority of sports are unpredictable – if they weren’t, nobody would be interested in watching them!

But when it comes to horse racing, there’s a sense that you increase your chances of predicting the outcomes by understanding the racecard, and the various abbreviations and pieces of information it provides.

By fitting together these pieces of the puzzle, perhaps you can predict the winner of a race.

Race Type and Class

In UK horse racing, each renewal is graded based on the quality of horses it expects to attract.

Betting on Cheltenham Festival 2024 confirms as much, with a wide range of different race types being contested. There’s a bumper (no fences or obstacles), hurdles (smaller fences), chases (larger obstacles), and cross-country outings, which mix traditional fences with manmade flights such as hedges and steep grass banks. The Gold Cup, for which Galopin Des Champs is the -120 favorite to win again, is a classic three-mile chase.

The Cheltenham Festival 2024 race results will confirm the winner of each type, with faster horses more likely to prevail over hurdles, and strong jumpers with plenty of stamina the most likely victors over the larger obstacles.

Each race at a meeting is given a class rating too, with Grade 1 being the highest – generally attracting the elite – through Grades 2 and 3, Listed, and those with a specific official rating; only horses that are graded in this band are allowed to enter them.

Distance and Going

The distance of the race can often hold the greatest clues as to which horse will prevail. From sprinters to stayers, it’s ideal to find out which runners have had success at that particular distance before – be it a short six furlong event or renewals held over more than a mile.

Watch out for horses that are trying out a new distance for the first time. Their trainer may have seen something in them to suggest that stepping up or down in a trip would be a fruitful move – perhaps the horse has ‘stayed on’ and now the trainer wants to see them compete over a longer distance.

The going, meanwhile, is the consistency of the ground. A descriptor usually reserved for racing on turf, a hard and dry surface may be described as ‘good’ or ‘fast’ – the 2023 Breeders’ Cup Turf was won by Auguste Rodin on firm ground.

Rainfall will soften the grass and require a deeper stride – the 2023 Grand National was contested on good-to-soft ground while yielding, soft, and heavy are just some of the other variations of going in racing. Races on this ground favor those with a stronger stride.

Like humans, individual horses tend to prefer specific conditions – matching the horse to the prevailing going on race day is a smart strategy.

The Form

The recent form of each horse is also displayed on the racecard.

The numbers show the finishing position in their most recent outings, with their latest run shown on the right. For example, a form line of 1-3-1-2 indicates a horse that recorded a second-place last time out, while in their prior three starts, they had won twice and also finished third. An ‘0’, meanwhile, indicates that the horse did not finish within the top nine places in that particular run.

You may also see a series of letters within the form line. In jumps and steeplechase races, F stands for ‘fell’, U or UR for ‘unseated rider’, and BD for ‘brought down’. R stands for ‘refusal’, e.g. the horse refused to jump a particular fence.

The form should be used as an indicative guide only. A horse winning a lower grade race may not go on to be successful at a higher level, and vice versa – a horse that has struggled at a higher grade may not necessarily be successful when stepping down in class.

Past performance is not an indicator of future success – just one of the lessons you can learn from studying the racecard in horse racing.

Christopher Stern

Christopher Stern is a Washington-based reporter. Chris spent many years covering tech policy as a business reporter for renowned publications. He has extensive experience covering Congress, the Federal Communications Commission, and the Federal Trade Commissions. He is a graduate of Middlebury College. Email:[email protected]

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