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Horse Racing Betting

Betting on horse racing was the original, and for many it remains the purest, form of sports betting. Think gambling and people immediately start conjuring up images of the sport of kings - the on-course bookmakers, the tic tac men, the glitz and glamour of Royal Ascot, the thrills and spills of national hunt racing and, of course, the participants themselves, the thoroughbreds and their fearless pilots. These days horse racing betting represents only a fraction of the big bookmakers’ turnover, but can anything really beat the satisfaction that comes from seeing your selection cross that fabled winner’s line in front?

But how can you make a success of betting on horses? Well, here are our 4 cornerstones of successful horse racing betting, which should help you to better focus your horse betting strategy and, hopefully, come out on the right side of your tussle with the bookies.

Form: Of course, form is crucial, but how do you interpret the form so as to sort the wheat from the chaff? Thanks to the introduction of the two dedicated TV racing channels and the growth of various forms of online media, it is now possible to watch and re-watch every race run in the UK, and there is no substitute for viewing as many contests as possible.

The key is to spot a reason why a horse might improve its performance next time out - for example, it may have made a mistake at a crucial time in the race, it may have weakened in the last furlong over 7 furlongs, suggesting that a drop back to 6 might be in order, it might have been staying on at the death, suggesting it needs a step up in trip, or it may have met interference in running.

You can also glean a lot of this information from reading the in-running analysis of each race, different versions of which are published in various places such as the Racing Post. To take one of the above examples, the analyst would note something like “stayed on close home” or “outpaced” for the horse that needs to step up in trip.

But any view of a race is subjective and you might prefer to back your own judgement rather than rely on someone else’s.

Once you start watching and analysing races for yourself, keep a notebook of horses to follow or use one of them many “horse alert” services now available to make sure you are notified when one of your plot horses next visits the racecourse.

Going: It almost goes without saying that underfoot conditions are vital to a horse’s chances. Some horses will often need soft ground to be at their best (for example because stamina is their forte or because they have problems with their joints that are less of an issue when they race on the cushion of rain softened ground), whilst others will only ever show their true worth on a quicker surface (for example because they have a breathing problem which is exacerbated if they are asked to slog through the mud or because they can jump better off a firmer surface).

These days, the traditional going descriptions such as soft, heavy, firm, good to firm, etc are supplemented with a more accurate reading from a GoingStick, which is a device that Clerks of the Course use to give an objective numerical reading that will reflect the state of the going. A GoingStick reading is specific to an individual racecourse and is most valuable when considered in the context of historical readings at that course.

Once you know the underfoot conditions, a look back at a horse’s form should quickly tell you whether or not those conditions are likely to suit that horse, but of course anyone can find that out, so how do you get an edge? Well, there are a couple of possible angles.

Firstly, breeding can often be a clue, meaning that you can potentially work out a horse’s likely ground preferences before it has run or before it has run on all surfaces. For example, horses by Captain Rio and Hawk Wing often like soft ground, whilst jumpers by the likes of Presenting often need decent ground to perform at their best, as do flat performers by Singspiel and Exceed And Excel.

Sires like Dubawi and Red Ransom have plenty of success on the Polytrack and, interestingly, a lot of the worst performing sires on the Polytrack also appear in the list of horses whose progeny prefer soft ground. By contrast, “soft ground” sires have plenty of success on the Fibresand so it may be that there is some truth in the belief that Polytrack equates to fast turf and Fibresand equates to soft turf.

Trainer Form: Lots of punters like to follow their favourite trainer blind and, of course, handlers like Paul Nicholls, Richard Hannon, Nicky Henderson and Aiden O’Brien can almost always be guaranteed to churn out the winners, day in, day out. However, if, for example, you followed Paul Nicholls blind last season, yes you would have backed 134 winners, but to a £1 stake you would have shown a loss of £78.

The trick, then, is to follow the right trainer at the right time. Just like anyone involved in sport at the highest level, trainers have hot and cold streaks and it is amazing how well an in form trainer’s apparently out of form horses can start running and, conversely, how poorly apparently in-form horses can run when a yard is out of sorts.

With this in mind, it is always worth checking the stats before having a bet to see if your trainer is in or out of form (every day, the Racing Post publishes a list of hot and cold trainers). Even better, if you can identify a trainer coming into form before anyone else does, you will immediately have an edge over the bookies.

Course: So, you’ve found an in-form horse, running for an in-form trainer on its preferred going, but will it act on the track?

The phrase “horses for courses” was coined for a reason and, whilst it is rare to find a case as obvious as Manhattan Boy, who won 14 times at Plumpton, certain courses do suit certain types of horse.

If you look hard enough, every track has its idiosyncrasies: always beware of Towcester and Chepstow form as both courses are often plagued by very soft ground and have extremely stiff uphill finishes, whilst Chester is a very tight track which suits small, nimble horses, and the amazing cambers of Epsom and Lingfield suit well balanced types.

The home of National Hunt racing - Cheltenham - is something of a specialists’ course and, despite its famous uphill finish, suits speedy types (unless the ground is soft) as the horses are almost always on the turn (unlike at galloping tracks like Newbury and Ascot).

But don’t just take our word for it. Trainers have been quick to cotton on to the types of horse required to win at different courses, which means that we have both horses and trainers who are course specialists.

From a profit perspective, Nigel Twiston-Davies is the man to follow at Cheltenham with a profit to a £1 stake of £62.29 in the last five years. Likewise, the main men at Goodwood, Fakenham and Bath are Mark Johnston, Evan Williams and Brian Meehan respectively.

The other course factor to take into account on the flat is the draw bias. Which stall a horse is drawn in can, on some courses, massively influence that particular horse’s chance of winning. The most obvious example is Chester, where it is almost impossible to win a sprint from a high draw.

It is worth noting that since 30th March 2011, starting stalls at racecourses that have been classified as right-handed tracks have been numbered in ascending order from right to left if you look through the stalls from behind. Previously, starting stalls at all tracks were numbered from left to right from behind the stalls.

Key publications which make draw statistics available were consulted about the change and should all have amended their existing statistics so they maintain their accuracy.

The above are just a few of the factors to be taken into account when trying to beat the bookies and we will be expanding on each of them over the coming weeks, when we will also be looking at the different ways to bet on horses and the things to look for if you are actually having a bet at the racecourse.

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