Horse Racing & Form Card Explained - Ultimate Guide (2018 Update)

  • 1st January 2018
Horse Racing & Form Card Explained

In this guide we explain all you need to know about horse racing including a history of the sport, the different types of races, a list of racecourses, common terms and phrases, the various types of bets available, how to place a horse racing bet, how to read a racing form card and more.

A Beginner’s Guide To Horse Racing

Horse racing is one of the most popular sports to bet on. In fact, it is the second largest spectator sport in the UK with the Grand National and Cheltenham Gold Cup two of the most watched and attended sporting events in the calendar year.

At first, learning how to bet on horses can be quite overwhelming. However, once you know the basics, you’ll have no problem navigating through this potential minefield and be well on your way to becoming an expert.

Before we look at a form card, we’re going to run through all the basics of horse racing.

So, where did it all begin?

History

In one form or another, horse racing has existed for as long as humans and horses have been in contact. Horse racing as we know it today, is believed to have began in the 17th century during the reign of King James I.

Through the centuries, horse racing became more and more popular and thanks to TV and the internet, it is now one of the most watched and bet on sports in the UK.

Types Of Horse Races

There are two main types of races in the UK.

  • Flat Racing – Flat races traditionally take place during the summer and are run over distances between 5 furlongs and 2 miles 5 furlongs 159 yards on courses without obstacles. They are a test of speed, stamina and skill.
  • National Hunt Racing – National Hunt (also know as Jump) races traditionally take place during the Autumn, Winter and Spring and are run over distances between 2 miles and 4 1/2 miles with obstacles from hurdles to fences.

We offer free horse racing tips for both flat and national hunt races throughout the year including all the big festival meetings from the Cheltenham Festival to the Grand National to Royal Ascot, plus a range of other racecourses.

Classifications Of Races

In both Flat and National Hunt racing, there are a series of classifications that are designed to help indicate the prestige, prize money and quality of the race. Both are split into classes from 1-7.

Class 1 Flat races are divided into the following:

  • Group 1 – Races of major international importance.
  • Group 2 – Major international races but of slightly less importance than Group 1 races.
  • Group 3 – Important domestic races.
  • Listed Races – Just below group races.

Class 1 National Hunt races are divided into the following:

  • Grade 1 – The best championship races where the weight a horse carries is determined by age and sex.
    Grade 2 – The weight a horse carries is determined by age and sex but they are also made to carry more for any races they may have previously run.
  • Grade 3 – The weight a horse carries is determined by the horse’s handicap rating.
  • Listed Races – Just below graded races.

After Class 1 races, we then have Class 2 through to 7 which apply to both Flat and National Hunt Racing and are based on a horses handicap rating as follows:

  • Class 2 – Heritage Handicaps, Handicap rating of 86-100, 91-105 and 96-110.
  • Class 3 – Handicap rating of 76-90 and 81-95.
  • Class 4 – Handicap rating of 66-80 and 71-85.
  • Class 5 – Handicap rating of 56-70 and 61-75.
  • Class 6 – Handicap rating of 46-60 and 51-65.
  • Class 7 – Handicap rating of 46-50.

So, how do handicaps work in horse racing?

What Is A Handicap Race?

A handicap race is where each horse is allocated a weight (based on their perceived ability) by a ‘Handicapper’ in order to level the playing field and give every horse an equal chance of winning. Famous handicap races include the Grand National (UK) and the Melbourne Cup (Australia).

What Is A Handicap Race?

The speed at which a horse can gallop is affected by the amount of weight it carries. Handicap weights are calculated based on the official ratings published by the British Horse Racing Authority and are expressed in imperial pounds.

So, what are horse handicap ratings?

Horse Handicap Ratings Explained

Horse ratings represent a horse’s level of ability in relation to the weight carried and are expressed in pounds (lb). The bigger the number assigned to a horse, the more capable it is considered to be.

Horse Handicap Ratings Explained

For example, a horse with a rating of 140 would carry a total weight (including jockey, saddle and irons) of 140 pounds (10stn).

The Official Ratings (abbreviated as OR on a racecard) use the same criteria as the Racing Post Ratings (abbreviated as RPR on a racecard), but are compiled by the British Horseracing Board (BHB).

Race Courses

There are 60 licensed racecourses in Great Britain and a further two in Northern Ireland. These include: Aintree, Ascot, Ayr, Bangor, Bath, Beverley, Brighton, Carlisle, Cartmel, Catterick, Chelmsford City, Cheltenham, Chepstow, Cheste, Doncaster, Down Royal, Downpatrick, Epsom Downs, Exeter, Fakenham, Ffos Las, Folkestone (Temporarily Closed) Fontwell Park, Goodwood, Great Yarmouth, Hamilton Park, Haydock Park, Hereford, Hexham, Huntingdon, Kelso, Kempton Park, Leicester, Lingfield Park, Ludlow, Market Rasen, Musselburgh, Newbury, Newcastle, Newmarket, Newton Abbot, Nottingham, Perth, Plumpton, Pontefract, Redcar, Ripon, Salisbury, Sandown Park, Sedgefield, Southwell, Stratford Upon Avon, Taunton, Thirsk, Towcester, Uttoxeter, Warwick, Wetherby, Wincanton, Windsor, Wolverhampton, Worcester, York.

Horse Racing Betting Terms

Below we explain some of the most common phrases used in relation to betting on horses.

What Does Starting Price (SP) Mean?

Starting Price (SP as an abbreviation) refers to the odds of the horse at the start of the race. When you place a bet you’ll usually be given the choice of the current odds on the selection and the Starting Price. However, most online bookmakers offer best odds guaranteed which means you will be paid out at the bigger price.

What Does Non-Runner (NR) Mean?

Non-runner (NR as an abbreviation) is a term used when a horse will no longer be taking part in the race. Almost all bookmakers will refund your stake if you back a horse that later becomes a non-runner on the day.

Horse Racing Bet Types

There are a range of bets you can place when it comes to horse racing. Below we’ll explain each in detail.

  • To Win – This is the most simple and common bet. When placing a ‘To Win’ bet, you are backing a horse to win the race (makes sense) and will only get paid if it finishes first.
  • Each-Way (E/W) – Each Way betting is most common when wagering on horses with bigger odds. When placing an ‘Each-Way’ bet, you are effectively placing two separate bets. The first bet will be on your horse ‘To Win’ the race and the second bet will be on your horse to ‘Place’. The amount of places that each bookie pays out on can vary but generally most bookies pay out on the top 3 places at a quarter (1/4) of the odds.
  • Double – A Double bet consists of 2 selections taking part in different events. Both must win for you to see a return.
  • Tricast – When placing a ‘Tricast’ bet, you are required to predict the top three horses in the exact order they finish. As you can imagine, this can be extremely difficult, but the rewards can be huge.
  • Trixie – A Trixie bet consists of 4 bets: 3 doubles and 1 treble. When placing a ‘Trixie’ bet, you need at least 2 of the 3 horses you have chosen to be successful. The advantage of a Trixie bet is that should 1 selection fail, you will still get a return.
  • Patent – A Patent bet bet includes 3 selections consisting of 7 bets: 3 singles, 3 doubles and a treble. The main advantage of a Patent bet is that you only need 1 successful horse to generate a return.
  • Yankee – A Yankee bet includes 4 selections consisting of 11 bets: 6 doubles, 4 trebles and a 4-fold accumulator. With a Yankee, you need at least 2 selections to be successful to generate a return.
  • Lucky 15 – A Lucky 15 bet includes 4 selections consisting of 15 bets: 4 singles, 6 doubles, 4 trebles and a 4-fold accumulator. With a Lucky 15, you only need one selection to be successful to generate a return.
  • Super Yankee – A Super Yankee bet includes 5 selections consisting of 26 bets: 10 doubles, 10 trebles, 5 four-fold’s and a 5-fold accumulator. With a Super Yankee, you need at least 2 selections to be successful to generate a return.
  • Lucky 31 – A Lucky 31 bet includes 5 selections consisting of 31 bets: 5 singles, 10 doubles, 10 trebles, 5 4-folds and a 5-fold accumulator. With a Lucky 31, you only need at 1 selection to be successful to generate a return.
  • Canadian – A Canadian bet includes 5 selections consisting of 26 bets: 10 doubles, 10 trebles, 5 4-folds and a 5-fold accumulator. You need 2 selections to be successful to generate a return.
  • Heinz – A Heinz bet includes 6 selections consisting of 57 bets: 15 doubles, 20 trebles, 15 4-folds, 6 5-folds and a 1 6-fold accumulator. With a Heinz, you need at least 2 selections to be successful to generate a return.
  • Lucky 63 – A Lucky 63 bet includes 6 selections consisting of 63 bets: 6 singles, 15 doubles, 20 trebles, 15 4-folds, 6 5-folds and a 6-fold accumulator. With a Lucky63, you need at least 2 selections to be successful to generate a return.
  • Super Heinz – A Super Heinz bet includes 7 selections consisting of 120 bets: 21 doubles, 35 trebles, 35 4-folds, 21 5-folds, 7 6-folds and a 7-fold accumulator. With a Super Heinz, you need at least 2 selections to be successful to generate a return.
  • Goliath – A Goliath bet includes 8 selections consisting of 247 bets: 28 doubles, 56 trebles, 70 4-folds, 56 5-folds, 28 6-folds, 8 7-folds and an 8-fold accumulator. With a Goliath, you need at least 2 selections to be successful to generate a return.

Horse Racing Betting Odds

Before placing your horse racing bets, you need to familiarise yourself with odds. We’ll explain the basics below but for a comprehensive explanation you can read our ultimate guide to understanding how betting odds work.

  • Fractions – Traditionally used by bookmakers in the UK and Ireland. Fractional odds quote the amount that will be paid out (on the left) should the bet win relative to the stake (on the right). For example, for odds of 5/1, for every £1 you place, you will make a profit of £5 (should the bet win) meaning the total return would be £6.
  • Decimal – Traditionally used by bookmakers in continental Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Decimal odds quote the exact amount that will be paid out should the bet win. For example, for odds of 10.0, for every £1 you place, you will receive a total return of £10 (10.0 x £1).
  • American – Traditionally used by American bookmakers. American Odds can be either (-) or (+) and are based on a 100 take. A (-) number shows how much you have to stake in order to achieve a profit of $100. A (+) number shows how much profit you will make if you stake $100.

Horse Racing Form Guide (Card) Explained

Once you know how to bet on horse racing, the next natural step is to learn is how to read a horse racing form card.

A horse racing form card (or racecard) has a deliberate hierarchy and gives you information about each race. Being able to read a horse racing form card is, understandably, very important if you want to be successful.

How To Read Horse Racing Form

Below we explain the different aspects of the card along with other factors you should consider before placing your bets. You can use the image below of a fairly standard online UK racecard as reference.

Horse Racing Form Card Graphic

NO.

The first larger number (far left) is the number of the horse in the race (which you will also see on the horse’s saddle throughout the race) assigned by the track officials. These numbers are always displayed on a racecard in order of the amount of weight the horse is carrying.

Draw

The smaller number (to the right of the horses number) represents the draw that the horse has got in the stalls. The lower the number, the closer the horse will be to the rails which can be an advantage on certain tracks and distances.

Form

Below the horses NO. is a line of numbers which represent the horses form. Form runs from left to right, with the oldest races on the left and the most recent on the right.

  • The numbers 1-9 indicate the position the horse finished in the race.
  • The number 0 indicates that the horse finished outside the first 9.
  • The symbol – separates racing seasons. Numbers before the – are for last season.
  • The symbol / indicates a longer gap – for example if the horse missed an entire racing season.
  • P or PU indicates that the horse was pulled up by the jockey and did not complete the race.

The following abbreviations normally apply to jump racing:

  • F indicates the horse fell.
  • R indicates a horse refused.
  • BD indicates the horse was brought down by another runner.
  • U or UR indicates that the horse unseated its jockey.

Horse

The second column displays the name of the horse along with the shirt (known as silks) that the jockey will wear. You will also see a number (which shows how many days it was since the horse last ran) and some abbreviations.

  • C indicates a horse has won on that course before.
  • D indicates a horse has won over that distance before.
  • CD indicates a horse has won over that course and distance before.
  • BF stands for beaten favourite and indicates a horse was favourite for a race, but did not win.

Age

This shows the age of the horse (fairly self explanatory).

Weight

This is the amount of weight the horse will carry (including the jockey and the saddle) as decreed by the conditions of the race. You may also see some more abbreviations depending on whether the horse is wearing or using any equipment.

  • b indicates the horse is wearing blinkers.
  • v indicates the horse is wearing a visor.
  • e/s indicates the horse is wearing an eyeshield.
  • c/c indicates the horse is wearing a eyecover.
  • h indicates the horse is wearing a hood.
  • t indicates the horse is wearing a tongue strap.
  • p indicates the horse is wearing a cheek pieces.

Underneath the weight is the official rating of the horse.

Jockey & Trainer

This shows both the name of the jockey and the trainer of the horse. If a jockey has a number in brackets to the side of his name then it means he is an apprentice jockey and is claiming a weight allowance.

Odds

The final column shows the odds bookmakers are offering for the horse to win.

Other Factors To Consider

There are a number of other factors you should consider before placing your bets.

  • Race Details – It is important to account for the type of race (flat race, chase, hurdle or bumper) and whether the race is a handicap. You should also look at the distance of the race as well as the size of the field.
  • Conditions – Different horses perform better on different surfaces so the condition (also known as the ‘going’) of the track can have a key bearing on the outcome of a race. You can find up-to-date going reports on Twitter by following @RCAGoingReports or by downloading the Racing Post app.

The table below features basic going descriptions along with their abbreviations that you may come across.

Going DescriptionAbbreviation
FastFST
FirmFM
GoodGD
Good To FirmGD-FM
Good To SoftGD-SFT
Good To YieldingGD-YLD
HardHD
HeavyHVY
SlowSLW
SoftSFT
Soft To HeavySFT-HVY
StandardSTD
Standard To FastSTD-FST
Standard To SlowSTD-SLW
YieldingYLD
Yielding To SoftYLD-SFT

Horse Racing Bookmakers

Most, if not, all online bookmakers (at least the good ones!) offer horse racing betting. Below is a table with those that we recommend.

BookmakerBonusLink
New Player BonusCLAIM
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BetBrightNew Player BonusCLAIM
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MatchbookNew Player BonusCLAIM
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New Player BonusCLAIM

Bear in mind if you’re yet to have joined any of the listed sites above then you are probably entitled to some form of bonus. Conveniently, we have a page with a full catalogue of the best new customer free bet offers.

How To Place A Horse Racing Bet

Placing a horse racing bet follows the exact same process as any other market or sport.

  1. Login to your account.
  2. Select the event you want to bet on.
  3. Select your market.
  4. Add your selection to your bet slip.
  5. Enter your stake.
  6. Confirm your bet.

For a more detailed explanation you can read our guide on how to place a bet online.

Conclusion

As you can see, there is a lot to get your head around when it comes to horse racing. From the various types of races available to bet on, to the various types of bets you can actually place.

There are also many aspects of a horse racing form card and it is easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information presented.

However, it is crucial that you understand all of the above and familiarise yourself with the common terminologies, as well as the different factors you need to be considering when placing your bets, in order to increase your chances of being a successful bettor.