Beginners Guide to Horse Racing
Racing season is upon us, which means it is time to brush up on your knowledge of betting (as well as how to find an elegant hat to suit you). If you're a novice when it comes to the bookies, read our guide from Ascot's director of racing Nick Smith, who let us in on the secret to choosing your horse, placing your bet and deciding when to call it a day...
Decoding some terminology
One of the key things to take heed of is the "going" on the course. The going refers to the condition of the ground; if the ground is "good to firm" then it's on the faster side; while "good to soft", which often describes a course after it rains, means it's on the slower side.
Most horses have a preference and are significantly more effective on different surfaces so the going is vital. Sources such as the Racing Post, are good points of reference, and you can also look at the race card.
You'll rarely hear a seasoned racegoer talk about the odds; they refer to the "price" of the horse. When you look at betting on a horse, always ask what price it is. This will give you a guide to its form. If a horse is priced at 50–1 then the form isn't likely to be great; that's not to say it won't win, but its chances aren't favourable. If the price is even money, for example 1–1, then the horse is well fancied, but if it wins you will only double your money.
It is also worth paying attention to the "trip". The trip is the distance of a race. Horses often perform better over certain distances. For example, while a horse might be top level over one mile, they might struggle in a race over a mile and a quarter.
How do you pick a winning horse?
Pay attention to the horses that are clearly in form. To do this, refer to the race card which has each horse's previous performances listed next to it. A horse's last few placings are indicated by a series of numbers. It sounds obvious, but the lower the number the better the result and more wins clearly means the horse is in form.
As well as numbers showing the horse's most recent finishing positions, look out for the letters C and D. The letter C means the horse has won on the course previously, while the letter D means it has won at that distance. It's worth keeping an eye out on form commentary, or previews in the race cards and newspapers, which often highlight when a horse is running on different ground or in races with different conditions.
The Parade Ring is also a great opportunity to examine the horses. A relaxed horse, which isn't sweating, is a good indicator of a horse that is in the right frame of mind to race well.
How much research do you need to do before hand?
The great thing about racing is you can do as little or as much as you like. It's really up to the individual themselves. The majority of the racegoers at Royal Ascot come for the pageantry and the atmosphere, and are more likely to be found socialising and watching the Royal Procession than have their heads buried in the Racing Post. However, if you want to get seriously involved in form study, the opportunity is there too.