The ‘Sport of Kings’ can often seem confusing for those new to the sport – it’s not one you learn the rules of during PE lessons in school. But, once you can make sense of some of the common terms and abbreviations used in horse racing, it becomes easier to understand.
With some of the world’s most expensive racing horses costing tens of millions, it’s clear to see that horse racing is a lucrative business. So if you are keen to get in on the action with a day at the races or simply by betting on the horses at home, read on to learn everything you need to know.
Finding a Meeting
If you are keen to experience the action first-hand, you’ll want to find out when the next race day is at your local racecourse. Several meetings are held throughout the year, some on the flat and some over obstacles (jump racing).
You might also find there are themed events in the calendar, such as Ladies’ Day, meetings held in aid of charitable organizations, and, of course, famous meetings such as the Kentucky Derby.
Reading the Racecard
Whether you are attending a race meeting or betting online, you will have to understand the racecard to determine which horse you want to bet on.
This can be quite difficult at first, as you will find there are many abbreviations and terms to make sense of before placing a bet. However, once you know what everything means, it’s really relatively easy to read the racecard and pick a horse that hopefully has a good chance of winning!
You’ll notice the name of the horse, jockey, and trainer on the racecard, as well as the horse’s age – these are all fairly self-explanatory.
You will also find the weight on the racecard – this is the amount of weight the horse has to carry (the weight of the jockey and equipment combined). If the race is not a handicap race, the horses should all be carrying the same amount. In a handicap race, the horses who have a better chance of winning are given more weight to carry to theoretically level the playing field.
You’ll also notice a string of numbers and letters, for example, 51P021. This is known as the form and shows you how the horse has performed in previous races. The numbers 1-9 indicate the position the horse finished in the race, while a 0 means the horse finished below the top 9. Letters mean a horse didn’t finish the race for various reasons and are more common in jump racing. For example:
- PU (Pulled Up) – the jockey decided the horse would be unable to finish and brought it to a stop
- F (Fell) – the horse fell
- R (Refused) – the horse refused to start the race or refused to jump an obstacle
- BD (Brought Down) – another horse caused the horse to fall
- UR (Unseated Rider) – the jockey was unseated
How do I Place a Bet?
So now you know how to choose a winner in theory; how do you actually place your bet? Whether you are betting online or with a bookmaker, the principle is essentially the same.
The main types of bets in horse racing are to win or each way. A win bet is exactly that – your horse must come first for you to receive your payout. Each way means your horse needs to come in a required number of places, which will be outlined on the racecard before you place your bet. In smaller fields, this could be the top 2 or top 3. Larger fields may offer more places, occasionally paying out on the top 5 finishers.
You’ll also need to understand the odds. With a win bet, should your horse place 1st, you will get your stake back, multiplied by the odds of the horse you bet on. Each way bets are a bit more complicated – you’ll still win big if your horse wins the race, but if it places, you will receive only a fraction of the payout. This is usually 1/4 or 1/5 of the win odds, and you can find this information on the racecard, too.
Should I Bet on the Favorite?
If you don’t want to read the racecard, betting on the favorite is, in theory, the most likely way to win. But, it has been shown that the favorite only places 1st in around 30% of races, so this is definitely not a fail-safe method!
Picking a Trainer and Jockey
You might also like to pick a potential winner based on the horse’s trainer and jockey. While this isn’t a fool-proof way to find a big winner, you can often pick out patterns based on a trainer and a jockey’s history.
Some trainers seem to always do well at particular courses, while others often fail to produce a winner there. Similarly, some jockeys perform well time and time again at certain meetings if their riding style is particularly suited to the course. Try to look for patterns to determine who would make a safer bet.
You might also like to look at favorite trainer and jockey combinations – if a pair has often seen success together in the past, they are probably a good bet!
Observing the Horses
If you are at the racecourse, one good way to pick a potential winner is by observing the horses as they make their way around the parade ring before the race. There are a few signs of a promising racer to look out for:
- A shiny coat – this is a great sign of all-round good health
- Physique – look for strong, muscular hindquarters and a deep girth with plenty of room for large lungs
- Temperament – a horse that seems too relaxed is perhaps not the best bet, but similarly, you don’t want to choose one that looks on edge and nervous. Look for a horse that appears confident and at ease, walking with its head held high but not too excitable.
- Head – look for wide nostrils as these will help a racehorse with the huge intake of air it needs during the course of a race. Also, check for bright, alert eyes.
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