Horse Racing Strategy
Horse Racing is one of the most popular sports to bet on in Ireland with a famous history and some of the greatest race horses and trainers in the world with a host of homegrown international stars. With race meetings taking place almost every day there is a host of opportunities to have a bet, but for the new punter and even for hardened racing punters alike it can be a minefield on where the best place and the best way to place a bet is.
This article is aimed at trying to help you understand the best strategies (there are many) to make a bet, win more often and lose less, and indeed how to specialise
Horses for Courses
You may often hear the phrase 'horses for courses' and many people use this, but what does it mean?
Well the first thing to understand is that in Ireland there are many different courses holding different types of racing events – We have:
All Weather racing (flat only)
Even if you stick to one code of racing it can be true that even if you look at only flat tracks and bet on them, that they can differ enormously from one track to the next. The most obvious differences are the direction of orbit. Do they run left handed or right handed. Then we can look at things like if the track is flat all the way round, Does it have undulations where the horses have to run both uphill and downhill during the course of the race and also to take into consideration is the finish, some tracks will be uphill, others downhill and yet more will have a flat and level run-in to the finish line.
Horses may prefer any of these differing conditions and as such it is worth noting in their previous form if they have performed better or worse under the condition that they will race on the given day you are looking to bet.
National Hunt course have jumps, these can be most frequently hurdles (smaller obstacles) or fences (larger, these races are called chases), there are other types of obstacle on occasion for chase races called banks etc, most regularly found on cross country courses. For the latter, you will be looking for a runner who specializes in this type of race and in the main have stamina as they are run over longer distances.
And then we have all-weather racing at Dundalk. This is an artificial surface that is not so severely affected by weather conditions and can host racing all year round (in most cases), hence the name. Again, it is common to find horses that prefer, or indeed perform better on this surface than they do on turf tracks.
Yet more to look at. How about the bends? From course to course you may find that the bends are long and sweeping, suiting a more settled galloping runner, or they could be quite tight and sharp which again some horses will prefer and others won't. Be sure to check the form, learn about courses and compare how your fancied runner have performed at similar courses in the past. It is a detail that can often be missed by many punters and give you and edge.
The GoingOnce you have got a feel for the tracks, their idiosyncrasies and who prefers running on them, you then have to factor in the “going”
Basically, the going that is referred to so often and is a key part of horse racing, is what the ground (turf tracks) is like underfoot for the runners. This can vary from ‘hard’ which is the fastest going, generally found in the summer on dry tracks that have had very little rain (I know we are talking about Ireland here), and it can range to ‘Heavy’ which is the polar opposite when the ground is very wet, the hooves will sink deeper into the ground and make it harder to run in.
The latter is not always true however as there will be horses that will indeed perform better in the heavy ground than on a fast surface and you will often hear a trainer or jockey state that a horse ‘will want it bottomless’, this refers to the runner needing heavy ground to show its best form.
In between, hard and heavy, there are a range of descriptions from good to yielding (soft), and combinations for the degrees of measurement in between.
The going information is readily available on racecards before events start but it often a good idea to take note of the first race and just see how the ground looks or wait for the jockeys comments after the race, they may indeed report that the ground is different from that advertised and it is not unusual for the ‘official going’ to be changed at any time during a race meeting, especially if the weather changes too.
Weights & Handicaps
This is some of the toughest information to understand in horseracing but with a little practice and research it is perfectly understandable
There are different type of races and what we are talking about here specifically is handicapping. This is where the official handicapper will assess a horses ability and give it a rating, often referred to as a ‘mark’, as this is it’s official handicap mark. This score is then a guide to what weight a runner will have to carry in any handicap races it partakes in.
Each runner in a handicap race will have one of these marks and therefore be eligible to enter certain races that are open to entries within a range of marks that the horse qualifies. The top rated horse will be allocated the top weight and each runner in the race will be allocated a relevant weight based on the difference in handicap mark it has. For instance, if the top weight is to carry 10-0 (ten stone exactly), then a horse rated 5lbs lower, would carry 9-9 (nine stones and nine pounds). The ultimate idea is that every horse is given equal chance and should, by the book, all finish in a line. This however never happens, although there can be some close calls
Many punters prefer to specialize in these types of races as the belief is that the handicap marks are allocated by the official handicapper's team and mistakes can be made. Indeed, this is often where one can find the advantage and is the prices on offer for the chance of the horse to win look bigger than they should be, the punter gets the edge and the perceived “value” to bet on.
Whether the effect of the weight carried has a greater effect over longer or shorter distances is another factor to consider is open to debate, some punters will suggest a 6lb penalty (penalties are awarded when a horse wins a handicap race), will have a lesser effect over a 5 furlong race, than it would over a 3mile chase event
Handicapping and weights are the ultimate puzzle that has kept punter trying to unravel and find the value in betting for as long as racing has taken place
Going the Distance
As mentioned in the handicapping section previously, races can be run over a wide range of distances. From a 5 furlong (A furlong is 220 yards) sprint race on the flat to mammoth races like the Grand National at Aintree which is run over further than 4 miles. There are in fact even longer races around the world!!
You will usually see the youngest of horses starting off over 5 and 6 furlongs, and as they mature perhaps move up in distance to a mile or further. Sometimes a 2yo will not race and may debut as a 3yo over a mile, and step up again
Some runners prove to most effective over shorter distances and sprints and remain running at the minimum distance for their entire careers
In National Hunt race, races usually start at 2miles in both hurdles and chases, these are the jumping sprinters if you like, and will extend to the stayers divisions of 3 miles and above
Jumpers over the short trips have to be very accurate with their jumping as the races are undertaken at speed whilst the stayers are known also for their jumping ability but also to have the stamina to maintain the balance and effort of further
Again some punters will specialize in these areas looking at just sprinters on the flat, or the more classic mile to a mile and a half distance, or national hunt fans can choose short or longer, hurdles or chases to learn the most about and the runners who partake. With so much racing to choose from, it can pay to take in as much of one area of these as possible and know more than the next punter.
Many shrewd punters will look at the breeding of the horses in these areas as often families and bloodline will produce runners much like their parents.
Understanding Class & Ratings
It is important to understand the basis of class ratings for races. As mentioned earlier in the handicapping section, races will be open to a certain level of ability determined by the handicap mark the horse carries
As a horse improves its form it will often be forced to compete in higher class races. By the same token, sometimes a horse will win in a certain class, have to race in better class races and find that it is no longer competitive. This will be noted in a string of defeats and as the mark comes down, so a lower class of race will be able to be entered again.
It is often worth noting if a horse has won in a better class race in the past than that which it is racing in today. It may be that it will never find the previous good form that allowed it to win a better race, but it also means that if it does find that previous form, he could win a lower class race quite easily
The lowest class races are run for those with the poorest of ability and then naturally rise to the very best
The classic races and the very top races will be class 1 or grade 1 races that often attract not only the best horses for that type in the country but also from other places in the world
As you would expect, the better prize money is on offer the higher up the class rating you go
Different Bet Types
The simplest and most popular form of bet, you are simply betting that your horse will win the race
This bet is most often found on course with the tote bookmakers, but now can be used on many online bookmaker sites. You are betting that the horse will finish in one of the “place’ positions. This will be 1st only in races of four or fewer runners, the first 2 in races up to 7 runners, and then the first 3 for races with 8 or more runners. There are extended places as well with 4th place qualifying in certain races. And even 5th place may be played in big events when bookmakers are offering a special deal. It is always worth checking for which bookmaker is paying the most places on the race of your interest
You will win a place bet if your horse finishes in the requisite places
Each way betting is a combination of the above two bets
It is indeed 2 separate bets but often mistaken for one. Half of your stake is placed to win at the win odds and the other half of the total stake on the place odds. Usually ¼ or a 1/5th of the odds depending on the race conditions
These are by no means the only bets you can make betting on horseracing, there are lots of different types including predicting the first and second, even adding a third place finisher
And then you can bet doubles, trebles and more, as well as some more exotic permutation type bets where you have multiple choices and bet them in different ways. Look out for the article on bet types
Take the BEST PRICE Available
How do you take the best price available?
Well, different bookmakers will all have odds on the race but they will not all agree, so you may find one bookmaker offering 4/1 about the runner of your choice, whilst another may only be 3/1 and yet another 5/1. Plainly in this instance, if you bet with the bookmaker offering 5/1 you will collect more winnings than if betting with the other bookmakers if your selection wins
The easiest way to make the best of this opportunity is to have multiple online betting accounts and use an odds comparison website to check which bookmaker is offering the best odds on the horse you have selected.
Ensuring you are getting the best odds available for every bet you make could be the difference between making a profit or a loss over the long term
Keep records of Your Bets
Keeping a record of all bets that you place is essential
Not only will you be fully aware of how much you have either won or lost but depending on the level of information you record, you can also analyse your records and perhaps discover you are better or worse at backing certain type of races, codes, distances, tracks, trainers or jockeys. The more information you collect on your betting activity, the better you will be informed on how to bet in the future to your strengths
Managing Your Money
It is impossible to be a successful horse racing punter, or any type of punter for that matter, without an adequate money management plan.
Before you even begin your road to betting on horse racing you must establish a bankroll. There are any number of staking plans out there that you can put into practice, but without a bankroll, they are all useless.
A bankroll is essentially just a pool of your total betting funds. A lot of punters will just reload their betting accounts when they run out of money, but if you want to be successful this is not a good strategy. A bankroll is a necessity but something that most average punters ignore.
Figuring out what size bankroll to use can also be a difficult task. Largely it will depend on how much you feel comfortable betting per race. Most bets you place will be in the 1-2% of your total bankroll range, so if you have a bankroll of £2,000 you can expect most of your bets to be $20-40. A reasonable rule of thumb for beginners is to have a bankroll 100x the value of your average bet size. The need for this is so that you can ride out any big run of outs which are inevitable in betting and not go broke because of them. Even if you are a great handicapper, if you over bet your selections you will almost certainly go broke at some stage due to variance.
There are a number of staking plans out there to use once you have got your bankroll sorted. While there is no one correct answer to what the best staking plan is to use, you should read up about them and come up with something that suits your personal needs.
Using all the information above you should be able to make a selective approach to betting
Some people may suggest that the best way to bet is to bet in every possible race, indeed some do make a success of this, but it also opens you up the greatest potential off loss in the shortest amount of time
There are hundreds of horses running every day in many many races. Find out what you like to look at, what type of race you prefer to bet on, the quick hit of a flat sprint race or the longer lasting bet for a marathon chase race over fences
Analyse your previous betting performance from the records you keep and see which races you have been most successful in perhaps betting only on those types
Keep your discipline and you will find your chances enhanced and the likelihood of losing lessened
With hundreds of races on every week, there is no need to try to get involved with every race. One of the advantages the punter has over the bookies is that while the bookies have to put up odds on every race, the punter can be more selective and only bet on the markets where they believe they have an edge. It is important not to throw away this advantage by trying to force bets on races that you don’t need them.