How to read a Racecard
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How you read a racecard depends a little on what you are looking at. The format will be different depending on whether you are looking at a bookmaker online, a national newspaper, the Racing Post or a racecard printed for the day’s racing, bought at the track.
For information on types of races see this post Types and Class of Horse Races
Online bookie cards
I’ll start with a racecard from an online bookmaker – this one comes from Coral.
This is an extremely simple version, intended to give information about betting. There is no information about the type of race or very much else which could be of use. The horses are arranged in betting order with the favourite at the top. The numbers on the left are those that the horses will carry on their saddle cloths. Most of this is completely self-explanatory, but the form figures need some deciphering.
The separators – and / are used to split races in different years or seasons. If you see a horse where the last form figure is – or / it usually means it has not raced for quite a long time. The most recent race is shown last, so Join Together, with form figures 3/21-32 has finished 2nd last time and 3rd the time before, but before that raced only twice in the previous season. This horse, the favourite, would be described as “lightly raced” and “consistent” because he has run infrequently, but when he does race he tends to run well.
This is a jump race, so the form for some of the horses will be littered with letters as well as finishing positions.
F = fell
U = unseated rider
P = pulled up
R = refused
B = brought down
S = slipped up
Occasionally you will also see D or d for disqualified.
In addition you may notice in some race cards that some of the form figures appear in bold type. The convention for this is usually bold type for races on artificial (all weather) surfaces and ordinary type for turf, and bold type (in jump races) for point to point form.
Racing Post cards
I don’t have a racecard from a national newspaper, but they tend to contain more information than the Coral card above, but less than is in the Racing Post:
This is a racecard for an all-weather flat race from Lingfield. Note that most of the form figures are in bold, because most of the recent form is on the all weather (this race is in February, the turf season ended in November). You can immediately see that there is much more detail about the race itself and each of the horses. The horses are arranged in saddlecloth number order, not betting order, and the betting appears separately at the bottom.
Underneath the race details (time, race title, distance etc) you have entry and prize money details, and also the information about the official rating of the top weight (George Woolf here) which defines the exact standard of the race. This one is pretty poor, not surprising for a class 6 worth just over £1.5k to the winner.
For each horse you have:
Form, saddlecloth number and draw (in brackets – this is the stall the horse will come out of, flat races only).
Horse name and country where bred if not UK, days since last run, course (C) and distance (D) wins if applicable (CD means has won over this exact course and distance), colour (useful for identification), sex and breeding, trainer (in bold) and owner.
Jockey – the (7) after Urban Kode’s rider means this is an apprentice rider with a 7lb weight allowance. Mr, Mrs etc denotes an amateur rider.
Equipment *, age, weight carried and form rating**. The top rated is in the black circle – there are joint tops in this race.
*Equipment is an important factor. There are various pieces of equipment which must be declared by the trainer when the horse is confirmed as a runner. These include blinkers (b) which prevent the horse from seeing behind it, visor (v) which are blinkers with a hole in for restricted rear vision, cheek pieces (p) which are sheepskin side pieces on the bridle with a similar function to blinkers, eyeshield (e) a mesh cover for keeping dirt out of the horse’s eyes, hood (h) a lycra hood covering the head and ears, tongue strap (t) for preventing the horse’s tongue from drawing back and restricting its breathing. If the equipment has not been worn by the horse before, a 1 will appear after it. This can sometimes result in a significant improvement in performance.
Underneath are the details of last year’s winner of this race – number of runners, name, draw, trainer, age, weight, odds, jockey and official rating. Note that last year’s winner was rated 65 and carried 9st 4lb – this year the top weight at 9st 7lb is rated 65 so this is a very slightly worse race than the corresponding event last year.
**The form rating is expressed in lb weight and is adjusted to compensate for differences in weight carried. It is intended to give a direct comparison between the horses, and in theory the top rated horse should win. However, these ratings are only someone’s opinion of the value of past results, and may have been earned several races ago or under completely different conditions. Underneath the racecard is a detailed assessment of each horse’s chance by one of the Racing Post’s correspondents. The ratings should always be considered in the light of comments posted here, if you are going to use them at all.
In addition to all of this, the Racing Post provides detailed form records for each horse. This is where things start to get extremely detailed, with information about each recent race that each horse has run in, distance, going, weights and winning distances. You can go on adding more and more factors and making very complicated systems, and then find that everything is scuppered because someone knows something that isn’t in the paper…
JuiceStorm Race Card – the best there is
When I go to the races the first thing I look for is a JuiceStorm race card. This one was from my last visit to York races, in July 2008. The amount of information here is staggering – there is a detailed explanation of everything on the inside front cover of each card. They are not cheap, but I would be lost without one to consult and write my scribbles on.
Here we have a tricky 5 runner race where the favourite, Philanthropy, was a JuiceStorm “horse in focus”, which was probably partly why it was favourite. As with the Racing Post, the ratings on the right indicate the relative abilities of the horses, and there are 3 very close at the top. The difference here is that JuiceStorm provide individual ratings for all the recent races, so you can throw out the ones which are not relevant. In addition the comments on the horses are priceless.
This is how I used JuiceStorm for this particular race, over 12 furlongs on good to firm ground:
First glance shows that Mister Fizzbomb is rated well below the others, so I would leave him out of it even though he has been placed in all 3 of his most recent races. Quince is also some way behind – at this distance 1lb equates approximately to 1 length, and his rating of 90 was 3 races ago. He has been running over shorter distances recently. He is also described as “quirky”.
Peruvian Prince is consistent, but his 96 rating was earned 4 runs ago, more recently he scored 93. He has also been running over shorter distances, but his last attempt at this distance earned a dismal rating of 59.
Birkside ran badly last time out (he didn’t even merit a rating), but that was on heavy ground and this is quite different. His 98 rating was scored in his previous race, under similar conditions to today, and he has won at this track.
Philanthropy is at the top of his form and favourite. His best form is at this distance and he has won at this track.
I went to look at the horses in the paddock trying to decide between the top 2 horses, favouring Birkside but worried about Philanthropy as a big danger.
My notes show what made up my mind. I wrote “lw” (= looks well) beside both Quince and Peruvian Prince, indicating that they had shiny coats and an alert appearance. Birkside stood out in the paddock – “looks fabulous” – with a gleaming coat, although the difference between this and the normal “looks well” is hard to define. This is a comment I have only written twice in 30 years or so, and both horses won (the other, Jodami, parading before a hunter chase at Wetherby, later won the Cheltenham Gold Cup).
In total contrast Philanthropy had patches of sweat darkening his coat (I wrote “swtg” = sweating). This isn’t always bad, but crucially, if a horse tends to do this JuiceStorm will say so. There is no mention of sweating in Philanthropy’s comments.
From the official result you can see that Birkside won, with Quince running his best race for some time in 2nd and Philanthropy a disappointing 4th. This was my 3rd winner of the day assisted by the JuiceStorm comments although neither of the others were actually top on the ratings.
Deciphering the racecard information in a useful way takes considerable practise, and even the JuiceStorm card uses language which can be puzzling to novice racegoers. “held up” for example (from Birkside’s comments) means that the horse usually runs towards the back for the first part of the race before making his challenge near the finish. These comments give you an idea of what to expect from each horse, and might caution you against betting on a front runner if there was another similar horse in the race, as this could result in both exhausting themselves trying to get to the front. There are many such scenarios which can affect the result of a race, and because there are so many horses you can’t possibly learn all their charactaristics for yourself. This is why these comments by professional race readers from JuiceStorm are so useful.
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