How to Read Horse Racing Racecards & Form Guide Symbols

Understand how to read form, track information, and what all the different abbreviations on the racecard mean, plus what to look for before backing horses

A horse racing card gives you information about each race and the runners involved. Being able to decipher race cards is a minimal requirement for any punter who wants to assess probabilities and find out if the current odds represent a true reflection of the horses’ chances.

Unfortunately, most beginners come to a hasty decision right after scanning the finishing positions. But experts know that reading racing form cards is not enough. Understanding all the information shown on the racecards is crucial.

A punter should unravel the race details that can be found on race meeting cards before scrutinising betting previews and betting tips. We know that there are lots of factors to consider in UK horse racing, and it can be tricky to get your head around if you don’t understand the abbreviations. That’s why we devised this straightforward guide to horse racing!

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Racecard Header Example (TimeForm)

In regards to the races specifically, all racecards will feature the name, time, venue and the distance of the course – the length is typically measured in furlongs and miles. The prize money for the winning horse is often referred to as ‘Penalty value'.

But perhaps the most important factor is the Going, that is to say, the ground conditions that the horses will probably encounter on that day.

There are seven grades of Natural Grass Turf in the UK & Ireland:

  • Hard (HD)
  • Firm (FM)
  • Good To Firm (GD-FM)
  • Good (GD)
  • Good To Soft (GD-SFT) or Yielding
  • Soft (SFT)
  • Heavy (HVY)

The official grades for Artificial/Synthetic surfaces (known as All Weather or AW) in the UK are:

  • Fast (FST)
  • Standard To Fast (STD-FST)
  • Standard (STD)
  • Standard To Slow (STD-SLW)
  • Slow (SLW)

Be aware that ground conditions are subject to change. For instance, rain makes the ground heavy. All British racecourses have to report the GoingStick readings on the day of the race. Tracks deemed Hard (HD) are no longer raced, as they are considered to be unsafe for both horses and jockeys.

Remember that different horses perform better on various surfaces, so don't be surprised if the odds move quite a bit when the weather changes.

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Racecard Example (Racing Post)

Odds correct as of 11:45 03/06/2020. Odds are subject to change.

In regards to the horses, racecards will feature, besides self-explanatory info’s like the horse's name, silks design, age and odds, other useful bits of information that any punter must be able to decipher in order to understand what's going on in the respective horse race:

Number & Draw – The first number is the saddlecloth number, while the second number represents the draw that the horse got in the stalls, and is used for Flat Racing only. The lower the number, the closer the horse will be to the rails at the start of the race. Note that the inside positions can provide a slight advantage on certain tracks and distances.

Form – The positions the particular horse placed in previous races, with the oldest races on the left and the most recent on the right.

How to read horse racing form guide symbols:

  • Numbers from 1 to 9 indicate the places where the horse finished the races, whereas 0 indicates a finish outside the top 9.
  • The dash (-) symbol separates years, and the slash (/) separates seasons.
  • R indicates that the horse refused to start or refused a jump
  • P or PU reveals that the jockey deliberately ended the race
  • F reveals that the horse fell
  • U or UR indicates that the jockey has fallen off the horse
  • B or BD denotes that the horse was brought down by another participant

Equipment & Extras – The figure next to a horse’s name portrays the number of days since the horse last raced, whereas the letters that may appear are abbreviations representing:

  • b implies that the horse is wearing blinkers
  • v specifies that the horse is wearing a visor
  • e/s means the horse is wearing an eyeshield
  • c/c indicates the horse is wearing an eye cover
  • h signals that the horse is wearing a hood
  • t reveals that the horse is wearing a tongue strap
  • p points out that the horse is wearing a cheekpiece.
Royal Ascot, the Epsom Derby and Glorious Goodwood are the major Flat racing festivals, whereas the Cheltenham Festival and the Aintree Grand National Festival are the most celebrated National Hunt events.
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Below is a breakdown of the extra symbols that may appear below a horse's name:

  • BF shows that the horse failed to win despite being the favourite
  • C indicates that the horse has previously won at that course
  • D points out that the horse has previously won over the distance of the race under consideration
  • CD signals that the horse has won over the course and distance in the past
  • WS specifies that the horse has its first run after having undergone a wind surgery.

Jockey (Allowance) – The number displayed after a rider's name indicates how many pounds they are claiming. Inexperienced jockeys start most races with a weight allowance.

Trainer (RTF) – The number that appears after the trainers' name represents an estimated percentage of a trainer's horses who have ‘run to form' in the last 14 days, and is done by the experts from the Racing Post.

Weight (WGT) – The weight that the horse will carry (including the jockey and its saddle) is shown in stones and pounds (i. e. 9-5). However, if the jockey has an allowance, that number has to be deducted from the WGT to reveal the actual weight that the horse will be carrying during that race.

Official Rating (OR) – The horses’ Official Ratings are compiled by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) – the higher the OR, the better the horse is, however, it will be carrying more weight than lower-rated opponents in handicap races. This score is also referred to as BHA Rating or BHA handicap mark.

Top Speed Rating (TS) – This complex speed rating calculated by the Racing Post incorporates each horse’s preferred conditions and adapts according to the current race conditions. Most punters agree that this rating is more relevant in Flat Racing, as stamina is at least equally important as speed is in National Hunt races.

Racing Post Rating (RPR) – Although many punters believe that RPR is another name for the BHA’s Official Rating, it is not. The RPR value represents a similar evaluation that’s performed by the connoisseurs’ from the Racing Post.

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Racecard Example (TimeForm)

Some racecards may feature additional information, such as:

Colour – The starting letter in the horse’s history info box indicates its colour:

  • b – bay
  • br – brown
  • ch – chestnut
  • gr – grey

Gender – The smaller letter epitomises the horses' sex:

  • c – colt
  • h – horse
  • g – gelding
  • f – filly
  • m – mare

Breeding – The name and birthplace of the three horses shown represent the father (Sire), mother (Dam), and the maternal grandfather (Damsire). Family history is a noteworthy factor for punters who may even analyse the peculiarities and form of their parents and siblings.

Betting forecast – Prediction models anticipate what the odds may look like based on many different stats before any prices are listed.

Comment – Some racecards will feature a comment for every participant. Additionally, there can be a one to five-star rating assigned to every horse. This information is provided by the sports data and content company Timeform. This is what a comment looks like: ‘Modest performer. Below form last time out here 14 days ago. Will go close if able to reproduce best form.'

That’s about it.

We’ve shown you everything you need to know about how to read a racecard in a nutshell. We hope that you’ve realised that form figures are not the only important sports bet indicators you need to unfold when analysing horse races.

Aspects like the type of race, the going, horses rating, and details on jockeys and trainers can help you better estimate the probabilities of a race. If you want to learn more about horse racing betting refer to our other guide that explains all the basic stuff like how Starting Price (SP) works, what Best Odds Guaranteed (BOG) means, and some horse racing tips for beginners.

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