How to Pick Winners at Horse Racing

Picking Winners Horse Racing
Credit: Guilhem Vellut Flickr

If picking winners at horse racing – or any betting sport for that matter – was easy, we’d all be millionaires (all except for the bookies of course). It’s not easy though and few people will ever find a way to beat the odds by consistently picking horse racing winners at odds that make it profitable.

In this betting guide we offer up some of the main ways people go about trying to pick winners on the gee-gees, ranging from the scientific to the basic to “Mystic Meg” approach. Also be sure to check out our guide on how to pick the Grand National winner for specific tips on that one.

Using the Form to Assess your Racing Bets

Horse Racing Form

This is the way anybody serious about their racing goes about trying to find their winners and it is the scientific approach that tipsters, including us at this website use.

There is a wealth of statistical data on races, horses and trends and by analysing these, punters aim to decide which horse has the best chance of winning a given race. Factors such as the going, the draw, the weather, the track bias, past results and the form of the horse, trainer and jockey are all considered.

The biggest problem with this method is that this is exactly what the bookies do to set their prices and they have more time, more resources and, quite probably, more inside information than most punters.

Moreover, they factor in a profit margin of around 10% for themselves, whilst the value for your average racing fan is reduced further by the fact that people connected to the horse and sport are allowed to bet on their animals, meaning any value can be quickly snapped up by those in the know.

Ultimately, as said, few racing fans will find a way to beat the bookies in the long term but studying the form gives you a great chance of making short term gains. It is also an enjoyable part of the hobby of betting on horse racing for many and if you view your betting as a hobby done for fun, rather than a financial investment made for pure profit, then not only will you find things more enjoyable, you’ll also have more realistic and achievable goals.

The key to studying the form is putting in lots of time and effort. The basic mechanics are quite simple, with clear stats on which horse finished where on what type of course and the going on the day (whether the course was soft, good, firm or whatever). Perhaps the best way to try and get an edge over the betting sites that create the odds and your fellow racing fans who will try to grab the best odds before you, is to look beyond the cold, hard numbers and to read between the lines.

It’s very easy to see that a horse has won its last three races and therefore assume that 10/1 is a great bet. However, serious bettors will look at how it won those races, against what standard of opposition and in what conditions. Similarly, a horse that has finished third in its last three races may not appear great value. But if one of those races was its first race back after injury, the second saw it unluckily boxed-in and in the third it lost by just a head on ground that didn’t suit, then perhaps on the right ground it is now actually a superb bet.

Value Betting

Value Betting Horse Racing

Key to all of this is value betting, which means looking for bets where the odds are disproportionately large in comparison to the probability that the horse will win its race. You might think that Hurricane Fly is almost certain to win a given race but does that mean you should bet on him no matter what? Some people would argue that if you think a horse will win you should back it regardless, but if that’s the case, would you back it at 2/1? Evens? 4/6? 1/2? 1/10?!

That is perhaps the easiest way to consider value for those that argue value is meaningless and it’s simply winners that count. If Hurricane Fly is even money then of course it is more likely to win than an outsider at 10/1 but that doesn’t mean that Hurricane Fly is necessarily the better bet. Even money means a horse is expected to win 50% of the time, or has a 50/50 chance of winning the race. If you imagine the race being run 100 times, if Hurricane Fly wins 48 times, even money is a bad bet. On the other hand, 10/1 equates to a 9% chance of winning, so if our outsider would win just 10 times out of 100, it offers considerably better value than the horse that is almost five times more likely to win.

Using Betting Tips

Horse Racing Tips

If you are really serious about betting on horse racing then doing your own research is the only way to go. However, there are many self professed experts out there who are happy to do the work for you, although you should never pay for them and always read them alongside your own research. You can find betting tips and news all over the internet for all of the biggest races in the UK, including of course the Cheltenham Festival.

If you’re heading to the races for a day out, betting tips are a great companion and save you the effort of wading through all the stats or helping to confirm what you were already thinking – just don’t trust them blindly as they are only someone else’s opinion after all.

Similarly, if you’re new to betting on horse racing then tips will help you get to grips with the form and how to weigh up a race, and even for an experienced racing fan, having your own thoughts confirmed elsewhere is reassuring and it’s always good to know what the general market is thinking.

Leave it to Luck

Lucky Horse Shoe

This isn’t a strategy anybody serious about racing or betting would use but for many it is an option we wouldn’t necessarily advise against.

Betting on the races should be fun and in truth, much like sticking a needle into the stocks and shares section of a newspaper (which would often beat all the so-called experts, really) using pure luck can often lead to an overall result not too dissimilar to that gained through hours of studying the form, in the short term at least.

So, if you like the name of a horse, get a good feeling or just like the colour of it, why not have a bet – ideally a free one – and see if your luck is in?! People do it on the Grand National every year.