For many people, few things beat a day at the races. Picking out your best outfit and heading to the track to enjoy everything that the course has to offer; from the social element to the often-beautiful views, and on to the abundance of food and drink options available. All that, and we still haven’t mentioned the actual horse racing itself.
Whilst there is plenty going on besides the events on the track, the horses and races on offer are nevertheless the stars of this sporting show. For many, an interest in the action and surrounding betting activity serves to enhance the experience and excitement of the day.
Whether you be an ardent racing fan, novice racegoer, or fall somewhere in between, it is helpful to have a guide to the day’s entertainment. Happily, just such a guide is readily available at all meetings in the UK, and it comes in the shape of the Race Card. Here we guide you through this simple-to-follow booklet which provides all the information you need to keep track of what is going on and pick out your betting selections.
The above images show the front cover of a race card from the excellent track at Newcastle, together with an example of how the races are displayed inside the card. Each of the day’s races will have a double-page spread similar to that shown above, providing details of the race itself and the individual runners taking part. To those new to the sport, this may at first seem like an overload of information, but as we will explain, it is all rather easy to understand.
Race cards are readily available at the track with sellers usually located close to the main entrances. A cost of only a few pounds represents excellent value for a slim handbag-friendly guide to the day’s action, with many racegoers also opting to keep their race card as a souvenir. Alternatively, many courses now provide the option to download a free digital race card in advance of the meeting – a decent option for those who wish to pick out their selections in advance, or simply prefer to view the race card on their mobile device. So, that’s what a race card is. Let’s now take a look at a selection of its key features.
The number one benefit of obtaining a race card is that it quickly and easily enables you to distinguish between the various horses. Handy when making your betting selections, and also useful in helping to follow your horse during the race.
Each runner taking part on the day will have a box of information similar to that shown below, often coming with a handy Key to assist in identifying the various elements of the race card. In the example below, the Key quickly points the way to the Jockey – Jack Garrity, Trainer – Jedd O’Keefe, Owner – Highbeck Racing, and more.
Having found the race you require and identified the horse by its name – Scottish Dancer in the above example – the two main identifying characteristics are then found to the left of the name.
Most useful are the jockey’s silks, which display the colours the jockey on board will be wearing, in this case, a fetching red and black ensemble, complete with a red cap. A handy hint here is to pay particular attention to this cap colour. Whilst the bodies of the jockeys can become obscured when runners group together during a race, the cap will almost always be visible.
The second identification element to note is the horse’s number. Found immediately to the left of the name, this shows the number the horse will be wearing on their saddlecloth – 1 in this instance. Not only can this help to pick out the horse during the race, but it is also handy for spotting runners in the parade ring before the jockeys have mounted the horses.
Whilst many racegoers like to keep things simple and make their selections based upon the names or colours that they like, or perhaps their lucky number, the race card also presents further useful winner-finding information.
When attempting to predict how a horse will fare on the day, it is helpful to know how it has performed in its most recent outings. This information comes in the shape of the runner’s form figures, found to the right of the horse’s name – 606505 in the case of Scottish Dancer.
This information details the horses latest finishing positions, reading from right to left. A figure of 0 indicates that the horse finished outside the first nine, whilst a letter rather than a number means the horse failed to finish the race. Looking at Scottish Dancers figures, the horse finished fifth last time out, outside of the first nine the time before that, fifth on its third most recent run, and so on.
Handy as the form figures are, it still never hurts to have the opinion of an expert judge when picking out your selections. Race cards again deliver in this regard via the Timeform ratings. Timeform being an independent body focussed on analysing the form of racehorses and assessing their ability to win particular races.
On the race card, Timeform Ratings are displayed at the bottom of the information box for each horse. Labelled as Timeform View in our example, this section comes complete with comments on a runner’s recent outings, and their likely chance of winning. These comments are then followed by a star rating; one star indicates very little chance of winning, and five stars a strong chance of winning. Of course, a five-star rating doesn’t guarantee that the horse will win the race, but it does indicate that the racing experts believe it has a very good chance of doing so.
In addition to the names, numbers, colours, form, and Timeform Ratings, race cards also contain an estimate as to the likely odds for each of the contenders. To locate this information, simply scan to the bottom of the race card – below the last of the listed horses – to find the Probable SP’s section. SP stands for Starting Price, and this section is simply the race card’s informed guess as to what the odds on each of the likely runners are likely to be.
In our example above, we can see that Got Carter is expected to start as the 7/4 favourite, Scottish Dancer the 10/3 second favourite, and so on, all the way down to the 40/1 rank outsider, Merlin’s Gold.
It is important to remember that these odds are only a guide. To find the actual odds on offer you will need to look at the display boards of the on-course bookmakers, or the TV screens in the racecourse betting shop – both of which are easily located at all racecourses. The on-course bookmakers in particular are hard to miss with their large boards, and often even larger umbrellas!
The information discussed above will likely provide more than enough detail for many racegoers. However, for those who seek to know a little more, we conclude with a slightly deeper dive into the data found within each horse’s information box.
In almost all flat races, runners will start from starting stalls, with the runners being randomly assigned a specific stall. This information is displayed in the draw section on the extreme right of the race card. We can see that Scottish Dancer is drawn in stall (6) for this race. One important thing to remember is not to confuse the draw number with the number the horse displays on its saddlecloth – although Scottish Dancer is drawn in stall 6, it will still display the number 1 on its saddlecloth.
Whilst at some tracks the draw makes little difference to a horse’s chances, at others it can be significant. For example, at a course which requires the horses to run around one or more bends, it can be an advantage to have a low draw towards the inside of the bend.
In addition to the form figures, a quick way to assess the ability of a horse is to look at the BHA rating, shown in the bottom right of the race card box – BHA 62 in the case of Scottish Dancer. This number is assigned to all horses in training by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) and is designed to reflect the overall ability of the horse – the higher the number, the better the horse. Some race cards may label this rating as (OR), standing for Official Rating, but BHA ratings and Official Ratings are essentially the same things.
The number in the “st lb” column displays the amount of weight the horse will be carrying during the race, including the total weight of the jockey and their racing equipment, saddle and so on. Under the rules of racing, all runners are allocated a specific weight that they must carry in a given race. Should the weight of the jockey and their equipment be less than this amount, the difference will be made up by thin lead plates inserted into the saddlecloth.
Race types fall into two broad categories: handicaps and non-handicaps. In non-handicaps, runners will often carry the same weight, with small allowances according to age and sex – runners aged four and older carry more when competing against weaker younger horses, and stronger males (colts and geldings) carry more than the smaller females (fillies and mares).
In handicap races, however, the amount of weight to be carried is determined by the horse’s official rating. The higher the rating of the horse, the more weight they will be required to carry. One ratings point equates to one pound in weight, so a runner rated 74 will be required to carry eight pounds more than a horse with a rating of 66.
Using our Scottish Dancer race as an example, we can see from the race title, “The Vickers. Bet Proud To Support British Racing Handicap Stakes” that this is a handicap event, and as such runners will be assigned weights according to their BHA rating. Incidentally, the (Class 6) following the title of the race indicates the quality of the race. British racing operates on a 1-7 Class scale, with Class 1 representing the highest quality of the race, and Class 7 the lowest.
Returning to the handicapping process, as Scottish Dancer and The Churchill Lad both have a BHA Rating of 62, they each carry the same weight i.e. 9st11lbs. Silver Vision however has a BHA Rating of 53 and therefore only needs to carry 9lbs less than both Scottish Dancer and The Churchill Lad, i.e. 9st2lb.
A handicap race aims to provide all runners in the race with an equal chance of winning, making for often closely fought contests and an exciting betting spectacle.
Whilst the numbers contained in a horse’s form figures are fairly easy to understand, some racegoers may be confused by the letters which occasionally feature. Far more common in jumps races than on the flat, these letters indicate that a horse did not finish a particular race. There are various ways in which a runner may fail to complete the course, all of which are denoted by a specific letter, as follows:
Some races are open to runners only of a certain age. The Scottish Dancer race, for example, was open only to three year olds, as detailed below the title of that race. Other races, however, are open to runners of varying ages and will have an additional column showing the age of each of the runners, as seen in the example below.
In general, horses are thought to reach their peak at around four or five years old in flat racing, with jumps horses hitting their best form between seven and 10 years of age.
That just about covers all of the most useful information on the race card, but for those who like to have the complete picture, we return to the Scottish Dancer information box and explain the elements not yet covered.
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