Thursday, November 10, 2022

Reading Form and Picking a Selection

A Guide To Reading Form To Select a Horse To Bet On

By The UK Horse Racing Tipster

This is a guide to help you select a horse to bet on. Whilst selection is subjective and different tipsters have different methods and systems they use to select runners to bet on, including me, there are some common attributes and statistics that help narrow down a selection. 


I use a short code system to help me quickly identify runners who have the right KPI's or Key Performance Indicators, for a race. I have a score against each runner for both WIN and PLACE and when I run a report on a race it is easy to see which runners have the right values for the race, whether they have won or just placed with them. 

C = Course 

If the runner has won or placed within the standard place spots, not extra markets that Betfair offer, but the BHA place spots, then I put a C in the quick form guide.

D = Distance 

If the runner has won or placed over the race distance give or take 150 yards, either way, I put a D in their guide. Along with Course, this is probably the most important stat to have. Knowing your horse can handle the Course and Distance are the top KPIs and you will see these 2 stats on most race cards. 

For example, Betfair

A Betfair Race Card

As you can see on Betfair they order the race card by price so that the favourite is always first and then it goes down to the longer-priced runners.

However, if you look at Twilight Heir, the favourite, you can see next to it's form of 500212, the letters C1 D1 CD1, this means that the horse has won over the Course, the exact distance, and has won over the exact Distance at this Course one time CD1, if it had won over the exact distance on this course 3 times it would show CD3.

Another Example Sporting Life

A Race Card

As you can see on the race card for the same race, they don't order the runners by price from favourite to longer priced runners. They are all mixed up for some reason. However, you can see that Ernie's Valentine the 1st runner, and 2nd favourite to Twilight Heir, has CD at the end of the row of details about its Age, Weight, Jockey, Trainer and Official Rating (BHA) instead of the C1 D2 CD1 that Betfair showed for it. 

This means it has won over this course and distance but does not tell you how many times it has won over each KPI as Betfair does. However, all we need to know is that the horse can handle the Course and Distance so I put in my KPIs for both WIN and PLACE (if it's won then it's obviously placed), CD, and build on from there.


This is the next most important form KPI, as the ground can affect everything if it is not to a horse's liking. For instance, in flat races, you would expect most horses to like fast surfaces, or a going of FIRM or GOOD TO FIRM. In jump races where you don't want your horse to break its legs it's the opposite and most jump horses like GOOD TO SOFT, SOFT, SOFT TO HEAVY, and then there are the mud slugger experts who love it HEAVY.

Some flat horses have their quirks like Trueshan who would often be declared in a race but if the ground was too firm it would get pulled at the last minute. It preferred GOOD TO SOFT and a bit of give in the ground to run on, In this aspect, it was a bit of a stand out amongst flat horses as most are bred to love the fast firm ground.

However especially in the FLAT if the surface is too heavy, you want to make sure your horse has won on HEAVY going before, or at least placed. This is why it is so important the horse can handle the going of the race it's in. If a horse can handle HEAVY going then it should be able to handle SOFT TO HEAVY and SOFT but I try to stick as close as I can to the exact going of the race and the history of the horses previous races and the ground they ran on.


The weight of a horse can affect everything. If it's in a handicap race where horses with higher Official Ratings are given more weight than other horses to even them out, trying to make the race an equal opportunity event. The better the horses OR (official rating), the higher the weight they carry unless it's in a Group race where each horse carries the same weight. You want to look out for horses who have recently won or placed well and are having another race within a short space of time to avoid the handicapper putting it up a load, and instead, it only carries a penalty. 

If the horse can run when turned out quickly from its previous race and has a penalty then they are good horses to look for backing. Also, you get jockeys who haven't won yet and often claim an allowance which means they can take the weight off a horse to make it lighter.

However, bottom dollar, you ant to make sure the horse can handle the weight and has won/placed in other races with either heavier weight or lighter weights.


This is pretty basic and comes down to whether the horse has won or placed on the surface they are running on in the race. Some horses are All Weather specialists who only race on Polytrack surfaces or only on Turf. If we expand it out we can get US surfaces of sand or dirt but in the UK we tend to stick to All Weather courses or Turf. Knowing whether a horse can handle either is another KPI I log.


This is also pretty basic and means that the current jockey riding the horse in the race has either won on that horse before or placed on it. Horses are clever animals and will remember if a jockey mistreats them, maybe with the over-use of a whip, and they make bonds with humans as they "see no lies" as my old Equine Therapy teacher told me once in class. So I log whether the jockey has won or placed on the horse before as it is just another indicator of a successful combination, like jockey and trainer, owner and trainer, and we have jockey and horse.

L = Class / Level

The last KPI I log is the class of the race and whether the horse has won at this level or placed at this level before. I couldn't use a C for class as it's already in use for Course. However knowing that a horse has won in a Grade 1 or Group 1 race before is very important, when you slip down the ranks we can track the maximum level they had ever won at, and see whether the class they are now running at is one they should be able to WIN or PLACE in.

Therefore I will end up with two columns in a report that can tell me at a glance whether the horse is a good bet or not just by the length of the string.

SCDGWJL = Surface / Course / Distance / Going / Weight / Jockey / Level

It's a pretty good key to use, but unless you have your own Database you will probably struggle to get all that information in such a succinct format where you can just tell whether a horse is likely to win or not.

Race Days & Official Rating

Knowing when the horse last ran can be an important factor when weighing up whether to back it or not. If it's been off for a whole year or more then you might want to think why that is as the jump season really goes on all year, just as there are flat races all year as well. It could be that the horse had an injury, or at the top level they are training it for a specific race and only want it lighly raced.

Then there are horses that are left to stand in fields for a year or more so that their handicap rating goes down, before they are placed in a race where the trainer thinks they should win due to it being much more classy than it's current Official Rating. I like to see in my report not only the last time it ran, but the current Official Rating (OR), it's last OR, the highest OR it's had, and the maximum OR it won at as well as the last OR it won at. This way I can see whether the horse has gone down a lot in the Handicappers estimation, as well as if it is running below it's last OR that it won at as that is a good sign for a BACK bet, and how many times it has won at an OR above it's current rating.

Some horses need a run after a long break, even classy GRADE/GROUP 1 runners, and I would always prefer to BACK a horse who had raced within the last 35 days than one who hadn't raced for over a year. Some runners do perform well fresh but the longer they haven't been at the track, eyeballing other horses, the noise of the crowd in the parade ring and stands, the more it will be a shock to it when it comes to the racetrack. The last race time, or "Days Last Run" on Betfair is shown when you expand the horses recent form.

On the Last Run Days sits to the right of the horses name, after any headgear or accessories the horse is using in this race like blinkers or a hood. In this example it is 19 days, and appears after a lower case t which means a tongue tie it has worn before. If it was a capital T it would be the first time it was wearing a tongue tie or any other piece of equipment My older article on reading form lists all the different letters you might see, as well as explaining any letters in the form like F for FELL or PU for Pulled Up. 

The OR history should be found on most race cards if you expand them to show the runners last 6 or so races like this example from where you can see the dates of its previous races, the course, class/level they were running at, the distance, the going, the Official Rating and the Position it finished at, as you can see below.

An expanded race Card showing the Horses last 6 races and key info.

Changes To The Type Of Race

When horses change the type of race then there are certain form attributes to look at. If a horse placed in a Group 2 in its last run but is now down in class to a listed event, or maybe it was racing in Class 1 races but is now handicapping in lower class events. Both of these can be positive as long as they are not competing against other runners who have done the same. Also, runners who finished strongly in their last event but didn't win and who are now up in trip are good to look for, the same as those who faded in the last furlong and are now down in trip by a furlong. 

At festivals, especially Royal Ascot or 2m Stayers Events on the flat, look for runners who have won or placed at that longer distance before but also check for NH runners being raced in a 2m flat event. Willie Muillins often likes to put jump horses into long distance flat races as they will have the stamina for the distance as all jump races are above 2m. If a top flat jockey has also been hired to be on board then take note! There have been many horses, like Japan for instance, who ran in multiple Group 1 races and lost but when dropped to Group 3 events won. A horse usually performs it's best at a certain class and when moved up fails to make an impact. Therefore look for runners who may have placed in a race with a higher class than the current event which it has been dropped down to and has won before.

Things To Avoid

Whilst the list of form attributes to avoid is subjective I have my own list of things I would avoid when studying form to pick a runner. You might decide that if the runner matches all the positives above but has some of these negative attributes and is a long price in it's current race, it might be a worthy longshot to bet on, however that is up to you to decide.

1. Maidens, especially where many horses have no form at all, and the only objective facts are the runners Sire and Dam. You might find that no matter how much the horse cost to buy as a yearling and whether it's sire was Galileo or Dubwai, that a cheaper runner with less well-known parents still wins. This is the danger of betting in a race where there is a card of unknown quantities to pick from. 

2. Bookies Races. So-called because they are sponsored by Bookmakers and held at night mainly at All Weather grounds. The horses that fill the card all have uninspiring forms such as 97/53-80 and the favourite is only there because it is the only horse to have placed in its last run. Usually, people will lump onto the favourite in these races but it will lose, ensuring the Bookmaker comes away on top in most cases. Where the form of all runners is full of high numbers and the race is a Class 6 Novice / Handicap with runners who have raced 20+ times but haven't won for 10 races, then I would avoid the event.

3. Horses with really long odds when there is a strong favourite and 2nd favourite. When the race looks to be between the top 2 on the card who have forms full of 1's and have Course & Distance experience then the 100/1 longshot in the race who doesn't probably deserves that price. Now don't get me wrong, I have won on some big-priced runners before, especially Torquator Tasso @ 80/1 in the Arc and Many Clouds @ 60/1 in the Grand National Antepost market, after it won the Hennesy Gold Cup, now called the Ladbrokes Trophy. However in both these cases, there were strong arguments for selecting them and for certain races such as the Epsom Derby, The Grand National and the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe there are certain form profiles that do better than others. If a horse fits a profile of previous winners and is still highly priced then the bookmakers may have overlooked something and over-priced the runner. This is different from betting on random runners just because they have high odds which makes no sense. 

4. Not looking for value. Just as betting on random longshots because you like the name is not logical, betting on short-priced and especially odds-on favourites is as well. The clue is in the price, and the bookmakers agents have already done most of the hard work coming up with the tissue prices early in the morning. It is your job to find value in those runners they have incorrectly priced too high, not to bet on a 100/1 horse because you like it's name or a 2/7 favourite because it is unbeaten. Yes you might get a winner but is it worth it at such short odds? You want to find those runners that have good form and at a good price, if you do that consistently you should end up in profit and not in the red because 50% of odds-on favourites lose and 66% of odds-against faviourites lose

5. Horses whose form is full of letters. If a runner, especially in the jump season, has a form full of F's, U's or P's then I would avoid it. You can see what all the letters mean on my first form guide page here.  Horses are clever animals, they remember events like humans. Therefore a traumatic fall at a jump in it's last race may make it psychologically scared for future jumps. Also horses who refuse to run often or are always being pulled up need to have an over-riding form feature if I were to bet on them. Many good jump horses have fallen at the last fence at Cheltenham and it's a combination of Jockey and Horse errors if they do fall multiple times. Unless the only letter is way back 6 races ago I tend to avoid those runners with letter soup form e.g FPU90/4FU.

More to come later,,,,,,

The UK Horse Racing Tipster


  1. A useful beginner's guide to reading form there, if you don't know the basics then you won't know the more complicated stuff, weight, allowances and claimers, different courses, and their difficulty riding them such as Cheltenham.

  2. Thanks for this, I never bothered to read form before just followed people's tips. Nice to be able to at least verify some of their tips.

  3. Thanks for this guide, I used to look at form cards at just stare confusingly at all the form, symbols, and numbers not knowing what half of them meant and then just plopping for the favourite and losing. At least I will know what each part of the race card means the next time I look at one and hopefully make better choices.