General,  Horse Racing

How to Read the Form Guide

I’ve had this post planned for a while, especially with new people potentially attending the races for the first time over the autumn carnival. While the races are now closed to the general public, this is still a handy post for those of you watching and betting from home (though I never encourage betting on my tips). For when you do attend the races though, you can read what I look for it racehorse in my previous post “The Secret Revealed: How I Pick Racehorses“.

To help me explain things, below is a picture of the form guide I used when preparing my tips (taking from CRIS). This race is the perfect example as I actually picked the winner, but it was also a fairly evenly matched race, with a good number of runners too.

The Horse

Previous performance

When I first look at the form guide, I’ll eliminate horses based on their previous races. If they’ve run badly in their previous run, with no real excuse, for example, they couldn’t get a clear run in the straight or “boxed in” (which are usually written in the stewards’ report), then I’ll put a line through that horse.

Their previous performances can be found in the first column in this form guide (as shown below) but is generally recognisable in all form guides. I normally like to look for a horse who’s placed or won their previous races. However, if they’ve had a bad run but were racing well before that, I’ll also consider them. I’ll take into consideration what distance they placed out (fourth column) because if they’re a long-distance horse and didn’t do well in a short race it wouldn’t bother me.

Sometimes a horse is having their first start or is first up in their preparation (explained in the next section). If this is the case, I’ll look at their trials. A trial can be identified by the letters “TRL” in the fifth column (shown below), with this column outlining the class of the race.

Having owned horses, I’m not worried if a horse doesn’t win their trial, as I know some trainers don’t like to push their horses to their max in trials. What I do look for is for the horse to have not finished off near the end of the field, ideally finishing in the first few and for them to “hit the line strongly” (not slow down until after they’ve passed the post).

Where are they in their preparation

Some horses perform better when they’re fresh, while some take a while to build their fitness up. therefore, there isn’t a set thing you look for in this section.

To tell where a horse is in their preparation, you look at how many starts they’ve had after their break (or spell as it’s known in the industry). As you can see with this horse (below), they last raced in September and then had a trial in February. Therefore, they are first up in their preparation. You then look at their first up record, with this horse having five starts first up for only one second, which is not a very good record.

I look for a horse to have at least placed in that part of their preparation before. Third up statistics are also available on other websites (I use racenet.com), which can also be helpful.

Ability

While it’s always hard to tell a horse’s ability by just looking at them on paper, there are two things you can look at.

The first thing I look at is the horse’s “turn of foot”. This means how fast can they run. You start by looking at the last column to see where they were in their run. Then look at the first column to see where they placed (shown below). If a horse was last and then managed to win, then they have a fantastic turn of foot.

A turn of foot means it doesn’t matter if a horse gets too far back, maybe because of a wide barrier or because they like to run from the back. Therefore, this is a huge consideration when I tip horses and you would have heard me mention it many times before.

In terms of ability, you can also look at who a horse has beaten. As we can see with the horse below, he had fantastic previous performances (first column), but it was in the country (second column) and they hadn’t beaten any horses that I know (twelfth column).

I would say that this isn’t the bee all and end all and other things definitely guide my decision more (especially previous performances), but it is something to consider.

Conditions

Track Conditions

One thing that will vary each week is the track conditions, depending on the weather. A horse may also run at distances at each start. These can be found on either the home page which outlines all of the races for the day or at the top of the form guide.

As we can see, this race was run on a soft 5 track, which means it was slightly wet but not a complete mud pit (which would be a heavy 9). Therefore, I’d look for a horse that liked this type of track. This information can be found in the second line of information under a horse’s name. As you can see below, this horse has raced on a soft track eight times and never placed, so I would put a line through this horse.

One reason I use two form guides is that CRIS doesn’t have all of the statistics available. Racenet, however, has a horse’s track and distance record, which is tailored to those race conditions. Statistics weren’t available for the form guide I’ve been using so far, so these were taken from a race today at Ascot.

As you can see below, this horse does have ability (five starts for two wins and two seconds), but all of these wins have been at Ascot (two for two). All tracks are different, whether that be the distance of the straight, how sharp the corner turns are or the state of the ground, so certain horses do have track preferences. This horse has also raced at this distance three times before, one win, one second and one unplaced.

Horses are just like humans and they have preferences, so I definitely consider all statistics covered by this heading. Again, I’d look for a horse to have at least placed, especially if it’s a soft track.

Weight

There is some debate on whether weight really impacts a horses’ performance, as a horse’s own weight varies, and we don’t weigh them. I mostly look at what a horse has previously carried.

As you can see in the examples below, this horse has carried 58kg in four of their previous runs and 60kg in another. They also finished in the first four in all races (even winning two). Therefore, dropping down to 57.5kg is a positive. Do keep in mind though that a horse often decreases in weights when they go up in class, so it is a bit of a double edged sword sometimes.

While there are no examples in this particular race, if horses have raced against each other before then I like to compare the difference in weight between that race and now. Anything less than 1.5kg probably isn’t going to make a difference. However, if that number creeps up and there was a small finishing margin in their previous race, I do take weight into consideration.

Barrier

There is some debate as to watch barrier is best, generally somewhere in the middle is better or if it’s a large field any of the single digits from three up. I also like to take where a horse likes to sit in a race into consideration.

As you can see in the example below, this horse usually likes to lead a race, or at least be in the first few. For this reason, the outside barrier does concern me. This is because the horse is either going to have to use a lot of energy to beat all of the other horses to the front or if they “miss the jump” then they could have no choice but to sit at the back.

If a horse likes to sit midfield then as long as they’ve drawn somewhere in the middle than that’s fine. If they like to sit at the back or the field is quite small, where there’s no chance of getting stuck in traffic, then out wide is fine.

Jockey

If you’re a novice, then picking a horse based on its jockey is probably familiar to you (#backPikedrinkwhatyoulike). While William Pike in big races is usually a safe bet, for other races there is a little bit more to consider.

The first thing you look for is apprentice jockeys. To help them get rides due to their inexperience, they have what the industry calls a “weight claim”, which means depending on how many winners they’ve ridden, anywhere from 1.5kg to 3kg can be taken off. An apprentice can be identified by the “a” after their name (though this is only available on certain form guides). The number after the “a” is how much their weight claim is. Therefore, in the example below, C Azzopardi can claim 2kg so her horse will only have to carry 55kg, while M Derrick can claim 3kg, so her horse will only have to carry 51kg (though this does depend if she can ride at that lightweight)

Other things to look out for is how often that jockey has ridden that horse and what the result has been, as some horses just like certain jockeys better. There were no obvious examples of that in this race, but we can see that Brodie Kirby has ridden this horse in his previous five starts with good results and is riding him again here.

One of the biggest things to look for is if a jockey has ridden a few horses multiple times before and then what horse they pick in this race. This is because jockeys have knowledge sometimes that tipsters don’t, and they usually pick the horse that they think has the best chance.

The Gut Feeling

Sometimes there are two horses who are so close regarding all of the above boxes that it’s almost impossible to choose between them. Trust me, I’ve spent ages tossing up between horses sometimes. If this is the case, then sometimes you just have to go with your gut. While it’s not scientific, it has served me well in the past and also prevents disappointment, as there’s nothing worse than swapping your pick and then your original pick winning.


So, I hope you have learnt something from this post, whether it’s how to read the form guide or a deeper understanding of how I tip horses. Hopefully next time you’re at the track or betting, you’ll be able to tip a winner and not just because it was wearing your favourite colours!

Let me know in the comments below who would have you picked in the example form guide after reading my tips? If you have any useful tips yourself when it comes to reading the form guide, feel free to share them as well!

Learn my tips & trick on how I go about decoding each element in a horse racing form guide so you can look like an expert the next time you're at the track.

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