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Reading the race card

How to read a race card

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. So spend a few minutes familiarising yourself with this and you’ll actually save 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.


Handicap races


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 (RPR)

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.


Form figures

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.


Claiming Jockeys

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.


Non-Handicap races


Racing Post Ratings (RPR)

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.


Jockey bookings

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.


Weights carried

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).


Picking a winner

It’s difficult picking a winner at the races. Sometimes it’s just as effective to pick the funniest name or prettiest silks. However, there are sources that can assist you make an informed decision on which horse to bet on.


The Paddock

The paddock is an excellent place to start. Whilst the horses are paraded round the paddock, punters get the chance to assess a horse’s race fitness and temperament. If a horse is sweating or appears agitated, then this is usually a bad sign. Look for a calm and composed, physically imposing horse. These are usually primed for a good race and fare better.

The Form

Reading the race card can help understand how likely a horse is to win. The form numbers represent the position that horse finished in it’s most recent races. A horse who shows consistent low numbers such as ‘124121’, would be preferred over an inconsistent horse with the form; ‘891798’. Letters on the race card are another important feature than help understand a horse’s chances in a race. The letters ‘C’ and ‘D’ represent Course and Distance, which help identify those horses who have won over that distance or at that course before. Utilising all these tools won’t guarantee a winner, but it will help  you narrow down the field and allow for an informed decision.

The Betting

You may notice that in the final moments leading up to the race, the odds may change. This is the effect of other people’s bets being placed. If a horse’s odds are shortening then the support for that horse is increasing. If the odds are getting bigger (drifting) then the support for the horse is weakening. A significant change in odds is worth noting, as this usually signifies heavy support from connections who may know something the rest of the punters don’t.

Who to listen to

The Racing Post has a whole host of professionals and experts who pick winners for a living. Simply grab a copy of the newspaper, download the app or visit the website to find out the latest betting advice. There are also podcasts available online with in-depth race analysis which can give you a great insight into the best races of the day.

What is the going?

Range of the going


The going is a term that is used to describe the conditions of the turf that is raced on. It is largely dependent on the weather leading up and during a race meeting. The more rain that falls will slow the surface, while little precipitation will allow the ground to harden, quickening it up.  This information is important for trainers, jockeys and punters, everyone really, as some horses act and behave differently on different types of ground. Furthermore, it is consulted when assessing the safety of the track for racing. In some cases, the going may be managed by the clerk of the course, who may water it to stop the ground becoming too firm.


The range of terms used to describe the going goes from: firm-good to firm-good-good to soft-soft-heavy.


Each term can be altered in way that accurately describes all areas of the turf,. For example, GOOD (Good to soft in places) or SOFT (Heavy in places).


The Going Stick


The going of the course has traditionally been measured by the clerk using a stick and assessing the penetration resistance. As such, each reading is based on opinion and makes it difficult to compare and contrast with other locations.

The Going Stick is a now widely used piece of apparatus that is endorsed by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA). The Going Stick measures the penetration resistance of the surface, up to 100mm, in a way that accurately replicates the force a horse galloping would have on the ground. The measurements are presented as numbers on a 15 point scale. Readings from 3.0-6.9 representing softer ground, 7.0-8.9 good ground, and anything above 9.0 indicating firmer ground.



Betting tips from the bookies

If you study and shop around, you will have an excellent chance of coming out on top

Some will say you’d be wise not to take tips from the bookies – after all, they are only interested in taking your money, aren’t they? Not so. James Knight, head of racing at Coral, shares his top tips for punters in their ongoing war with the bookmakers. It could prove wise to listen . . .

1 Specialise

Most bookmakers now price up every race the night before they are run. The advantage the punter has is they can pick and choose in which races to bet. Your best chance of winning is to get to know a certain pool of horses inside out. If you’re aware of their subtleties – for example, maybe a horse failed to get cover, was poorly positioned or had no chance from its draw on previous starts – then you’re giving yourself a real chance of beating the bookmakers.

2 Focus on quality

This might sound counter-intuitive as you would perhaps expect the best races to be the most accurately priced. That’s true to an extent, but the edge the punter enjoys here is that the televised races are where the bookmakers fight each other for market share through their pricing. The result is that collectively the firms bet close to zero overround (the mechanism that ultimately gives the bookmakers their profit) on many top races. If you do your study and shop around, you will have an excellent chance of coming out on top in these races.

3 Play ante-post when fields might cut up

Bookmakers are betting on far more races ante-post these days and it’s worth looking out for races that may cut up to fewer runners than the layers expect. For example, if you’re betting on the Cambridgeshire, bear in mind that there will be 35 runners on the day (and extra places on offer), so maybe 14-1 each-way about your fancy ante-post might not look so clever come the off. But there will be races offered, particularly during the jumps season, where if you can find a definite runner ante-post (and you can look out for trainer quotes on running plans) then you have probably found yourself a bit of value.

4 If a price looks too good to be true, tread carefully

If a price looks far bigger than you were expecting, consider when you’re playing and who you’re playing against. If you are betting early with a bookmaker before a market has settled down, then there’s a chance they have made a mistake and you’re getting big value. However, if a horse is drifting violently to a seemingly huge price just before the off, then the likelihood is that someone knows something you don’t. Of course, drifters do win, but there is no question that the late market is very accurate when the smart money is going down, so it pays to proceed with caution.

5 Use the betting market as part of your form study

Form study is traditionally associated with trawling through ratings and watching past videos, but what the betting market has said about a horse on previous starts is something that should be built into your analysis. The late market is a very accurate guide to a horse’s chance and is basically giving you a steer as to the expected form level the horse will run to that day. That information can be invaluable when assessing races down the line. For example, if a horse is punted off the boards on its debut but then runs deplorably, it’s likely to be much better than the bare form suggests.

Top tips from Pricewise

Pricewise pearls: top tips from the professionals

Want to know how the professionals do it? Top Pricewise tipster; Tom Segal, shares his thoughts and advice on how to pick a winner.

1 Stick to what you know best.

Racing can be incredibly complicated and there are many ways to approach winner-finding, but attempting to use all of them is extremely hard mentally. Work out which method suits you best, whether it be using speed figures or form ratings or whatever, and stick to it because the losers are easier to take when you’ve done all the work that has been successful for you in the past.

2 Watch as much racing as you can.

Race reporters do an incredibly good job on the whole but you have to remember they can only read a race through their own eyes and their own way of thinking. More often than not, you will see a race differently and therefore watching races and making up your own mind about horses is hugely significant.

3 Analysis to paralysis.

The racing media and fans often make racing far more complicated than it really is. Ground and draws are often discussed to near death before a race and then forgotten about when the actual contest is run. None of us really knows the ground and the draw advantage on any given day and they can change quickly, so simply trying to identify which horse can run the fastest must always be the first port of call.

4 The importance of jockeys.

It amazes me that intelligent people still massively underestimate the importance of the jockey. Of course they can’t make a horse run faster than they are able to, but their actions can prevent a horse achieving its true level of ability very easily and do so in every race, every day.

5 Have fun!

Remember, it’s supposed to be fun – it’s only horses running round a field after all. The whole point of having a bet is to find some enjoyment and help us get through the day with a smile on our face. It’s crucial to work out what sort of betting suits your own personal temperament and not to take it too seriously.


Pricewise are a daily tipping service available online and in the Racing Post newspaper. Click here for today’s Pricewise tips.