Experience of the runners
Races in which the horses have never run before are notoriously difficult to pick the winners. The problem with betting on them is that you have no previous form on which to base your assessment. This is where the pedigree of the horse needs to be studied. You can glean the horse’s potential by studying the racing records of its parents, the dam and sire. A much clearer indication can be achieved by going back several generations. They may also have produced other offspring that have already run that gives you more information on which to base your selection. The trainer, jockey and owner will also play a role in your selection.
A horse’s experience can be particularly important over jumps. An inexperienced horse that has only recently been trained to jump is more likely to fall than one with more experience.
Flat races where the horses must start in stalls can cause problems. Experienced horses are more used to the stalls and less likely to be nervous. A nervous horse can easily injure itself and or the jockey in the stalls or simply refuse to race once it has been let out. You will also know of experienced horses that are nervous in the stalls.
Although an older horse has more experience, it may also be less fit than its rivals. You will need to decide at what stage the age of a horse becomes a negative factor. This is not always easy as some horses do have exceptional records even at an old age. Red Rum was 12 years old when he won his third Grand National. In 1980 Sonny Somers won two steeplechases at the age of 18. The record for the oldest horse ever to win a race is held by Marksman, a horse that won a flat race at Ashford in 1826 aged 28 years old.
Condition of the ground (‘the going’)
The condition of the ground on the racecourse is called the going. Before the start of racing the clerk of the course will inspect the condition of the ground and declare the going. The going is classified from the fastest to the slowest conditions as follows:
Since the courses do not drain evenly there may be patches of ground where the going differs from the rest of the course. For example, you may see the going quoted as good (good to firm patches)’. In order to get more consistent ground some tracks are watered. On all-weather tracks where the racing surface is made of fibre-sand, the going is fairly consistent and is quoted as standard.
The condition of the ground may affect how well a horse runs. For example, some run well on heavy ground, while others run poorly. You will have to ask yourself if the ground suits your selection. A horse may have won its last race on hard ground but if its next race is on heavy ground, you will need to assess what impact this change will have. By going back through the records you can see how well a horse performed on particular ground. If you attend a race meeting, you will be able to inspect the ground yourself and draw your own conclusions about how it will affect the horses.
A good time for betting can be towards the end of the flat season when the ground has usually dried out. This removes one of the unknown factors. Also by this stage the performance of the horses is known. This is traditionally a time of year when bookmakers start losing money.
Always take note of the weather forecast. If it is expected to rain, bear in mind that the going may change. Ground that started out as good can easily become heavy after a huge downpour. Some horses fare better than others depending on weather conditions. Hot weather has a more adverse effect on bigger horses than it does on small ones.
In the United States, the racetracks are of less importance, as they are mostly the same oval-shaped dirt tracks. In Great Britain, where the courses are all different, this can have an effect on how well a horse runs. Some courses have left-hand bends and others right. Some are flat. Others have slight inclines and some steep hills.
You will need to consider how the racecourse is going to affect a horse. The horse you select may have a preference for right-hand turns; therefore, you will need to assess the impact of a course with left-hand turns. A horse may run well on a flat course, but how is a hill going to affect his performance?
Starting stalls are used in flat racing to ensure that each horse starts at precisely the same time. The draw is the position in which the horse starts in the stalls – not to be confused with its race card number. At a lot of racecourses there are advantages to starting in certain positions in the stalls.
Some horses are distracted by other horses and do not run well. Blinkers are an aid that allow a horse to see only in front of it; the other runners are excluded from its field of vision. If a horse is wearing blinkers for the first time, it is possible for there to be a marked improvement in its running.
Condition of the horse
In the course of racing and training horses may get injured. Nowadays, veterinary care is of the highest quality with excellent treatment available. The effect of an injury on a horse’s future performance can be negligible. However, some horses may have recurrent injury problems that can make their performance unreliable. Keeping up to date with all the news will highlight any horses that are not entirely fit. Be wary of horses that are running after a long absence as they may have been injured or ill. They may have previously had good form but the impact of an injury or illness will need to be assessed.
Pregnancy (in foal) can be a big advantage to a horse. This is due to an increase in red blood cells, which allows more oxygen to be carried to the muscles and increases their efficiency, meaning a horse can run much faster.
The owner of a horse can also be included in your assessment, Some owners have particularly good reputations for spotting and buying good quality horses with the potential to win races, Your knowledge about owners can also help with the selection of horses on their first outings. If a particular owner has a good record of winners, a horse on its first outing entered in a race by him may have a better chance of winning than novices of other owners.
All trainers are different. They employ a variety of methods for training horses – some are better than others. Some trainers also have good reputations for bringing out the very best in a horse. You will need to keep up to date with the latest news to discover which trainers are producing winners. Another important factor is a change of trainer. A better trainer may improve the performance of a horse.
Avoid unproven jockeys. Over shorter distances the jockey is less crucial. With longer distances, experienced jockeys will generally fare better as tactics play a part in the outcome. They will be better at pacing a race and keeping out of trouble. Stick to experienced jockeys over the jumps. An inexperienced jockey is more likely to fall off or pull up.
Keep up to date with jockey changes. A jockey may become ill or injured resulting in a horse having a different rider. The replacement may be better or worse so you will need to review your selection.
Number of runners
If you are making place or each-way bets keep up to date with the number of runners. A bet may not be worthwhile if you only get 1/5 odds instead of 1/4. A rule 4 deduction can also impact your bet.