Horse Racing – Conditions to Suit

When a Horse has Conditions to Suit, it’s More Likely to Win than Lose

I remember reading in Dave Nevison’s book, ‘A Bloody Good Winner’ once where he stated that if a horse has conditions to suit it’s more likely to win than lose, and at the time that just made so much sense – BUT, I ignored it for a good while after reading it, to my peril! This simple statement can transform your selection process, and it’s something that I realise now has to be the sole basis of putting up a selection on the board that has a half decent chance of getting it’s head in front when it matters.

There are 2 distinct advantages in ascertaining the race condition requirements for any selection:

1. It allows you to quickly eliminate horses from the race who don’t have conditions to suit. This often reduces the field considerably to just a handful of main contenders, and saves you having to waste time considering horses that just cannot win given the conditions they are racing in.

2. It allows you to find good value bets, because this aspect is still something the general public don’t consider seriously enough.

Proof of both of these aspects can be seen clearly in recent tip, Golden Chieftan, in the big race of the day at Wincanton.

By going through and analysing the conditions each of the 14 runners required to run a good race, I could quickly eliminate well over half the field in that race, allowing me to focus on the one’s that could win… and then from them narrowed it down even further to just the 1 horse in that race that had what it took to win it. Golden Chieftan. He won at 16/1.

So what are the bare minimum conditions you should be looking for:

1. The Going – This is my #1 priority now – before anything else I look at the horse’s ability to handle the ground. Anything that has not at least placed once on the stated going gets a big negative from me. If there is insufficient evidence based on the horse’s performance on the going, then a quick check on the breeding stats is a good fallback position.

2. The Distance – This is the second priority for me. I have to know whether or not the horse is a fit for the distance. If it hasn’t run over this distance, or is trying a new distance (either stepping up in trip or down), you should always determine the suitability of the horse to that new race condition being imposed upon it. Sometimes trainers experiment with distance, you see this a lot. What you have to importantly determine is whether or not this horse is a good fit for what is being expected of it.

I like to see the horse having at least placed at the distance. This is a good starting point for me. They may not have won, but at least it proves they get the distance and the fact they didn’t win may have been due to other factors in the race.

If the horse’s race history is limited, or uncertain, you should always revert back to breeding to answer any questions you may have. What I like to do is check selection’s performance over the race, and if it has placed I still check the breeding to see just how suitable that distance actually is for the horse. Some horses may get a distance at a stretch, and have placed, but it is not a natural distance for them and it could have been other factors that saw it gain a place – e.g a very slow pace that allowed the jockey to get a good breather into the horse during the race. In a fast run situation the horse might well falter at that trip again.

3. Race Fitness – This is now a crucial part of my analysis, it never use to be. I now look at the days since last raced, and the position the horse achieved in that race in relation to the number of runners, as a key factor.

Some horse’s bounce back quickly, others need weeks or months to recover. Some horse’s retain fitness over a longer period, some don’t. You need to know, factually, in which of these two camps your horse resides in. Importantly, it also gives you a valuable insight into whether the previous run was ‘prep run’ for the race he is now. Trainers often use this tactic, and it is easy to spot if you have the right information.

4. Weight – It’s easy just to look at the official rating and say this horse is ‘well in’ at the weights. Many punters have been burned by placing to much emphasis on this factor alone. Horse’s fall in the weights for a reason…. They have been performing badly at the higher weights and the handicapper has stepped in to help them out a bit. This is good, but a well handicapped horse can also run a shocker of a race. The handicap mark is just one of the conditions you have to take into account, but decisions should not be based solely on it.

I like to look at the horse’s history at the weights now before placing to much emphasis on the handicap mark. If the history suggests the horse performs better within a certain range of weights, then that is an optimal condition for that horse – so if the other conditions are good, but this one isn’t, then you can still assume the worst and pass over the selection.

Of course if the weight history falls in line with the rest of the conditions, then this is starting to look like a possible bet, but there are other factors to consider also.

Never discount a horse’s chance based on a penalty or a rise in the weights. These horses win races, lots of them. Always check to see if you think the horse is showing signs of being ‘progressive’ before discounting a horse running under a penalty for a last win, or one that has been reassessed by the handicapper and had their mark raised. Horses often run well in these circumstances, and bargains are there to be grabbed if you get it right and identify a horse that can defy the mark.

A good example of this in action was my recent tip on Realize. The handicapper kept raising him, and he kept winning! Weight eventually catches up with the horse, but until such time as it appears to have done so, keep backing it if it looks ‘progressive’.

5. Jockey – It’s a fact that a good jockey on a horse that doesn’t have conditions to suit will run a shocker of a race. The jockey is not running, the horse is! To much over-reliance is placed on the jockey, and unfortunately I see that a lot on the tipping board. The market also under-prices these selections considerably and you need to know that the horse is capable of winning, with a good jockey onboard, rather than having a good jockey onboard and hoping he can perform a miracle on a horse that doesn’t want these conditions. It happens that sometimes the jockey does get it home in front, but it happens more often that they don’t and the bet was a complete waste of money.

Bookies pay horrible tricks on punters with regards to the jockey booking, and unfortunately the results bear witness to the fact that the bookies make a lot of money from ‘mug’ punters who have placed an over-reliance on the jockey booking.

6. Trainer – Another way the bookie gets you is with the trainer stat. If you read the racing post you will know that they highlight trainers who are ‘in form’, and this is very deceptive. Yes, they are in form, but more important to me is how well do they do at the particular course. Some ‘in form’ trainers have a shocking record at some courses… and you need this stat to reinforce whether or not the horse is likely to be prepared for the particular course conditions.

7. Days Since Last Raced – This is a critical piece of information and gives a good clue about the possible performance today. What I like to see is a good stat that proves a horse can retain fitness over a specific period of time. Then I look at the last run, to see if it could have possibly been a ‘prep’ run for the race it’s entered in today. How has the horse fared in the past after running x number of days after a run, this can throw up some valuable clues as to the horses performance then, and what is expected today.

I missed a 20/1 winner the other day because I didn’t check this stat in a race I had bet in. Had I have looked, I would have seen immediately that the horse was at the optimal fitness level to win, and the race before was just a ‘prep’ race for this one. Needless to say, I double check every runner in the race now for this vital statistic!

Another thing to consider is how well the horse runs ‘fresh’ after a layoff. This is ‘risky’ to bet, but there is an angle there if you get it right enough times. My record in this area of late is not good, so will be dropping this angle now, but I know of times where the tipster has got it right and the odds have been huge. There was a good example on the board recently when Arwel put one up off a break and it was only narrowly defeated. Some horses run well ‘fresh’, you just have to find the right ones.

Last but not least:

NEVER believe what a trainer says! I learnt this a long time ago. Colin Tizzard was interviewed on Racing UK about Golden Chieftan recently and he gave a somewhat cautious appraisal of his chance, saying in particular… “the horse is more suited to a left hand course”. What a load of rubbish! A quick look at the stats and you would immediately see that the results are pretty much level as to whether he jumps on a left handed course, or a right handed one.

Of course the minute he said this the betting on almost immediately flashed and the price went back out a point or so. Markets place to much emphasis on what the trainer says, and unless it agrees with your own conclusion ignore what they say. They are always ‘cautious’, and most of the time they get it wrong anyway. No trainer will tell you it will definitely win, it’s their head on the block, so they understate the positives and accentuate the negatives – and the market believes them and reacts accordingly.

Let the horse’s performance, history and stats tell you what you need to know without the ‘noise in the background’ putting you off.

The same can also be said for reading the press. If I took onboard everything written about Golden Chieftain on that day I would never have put that selection up and we would have missed a lovely 16/1 winner!

I listened to the guy on Racing UK giving the preliminary positives and negatives about the runners in the race also – his comments were somewhat negative I thought, and if I was a punter I would have been put off by that possibly.

It happens time and time again… the press and TV pundits know as much as about horse racing as my granny does. It’s all guesswork, and they almost always have a favourable word to say about the favourite! Bookies like that, they drop it a point or two in the betting immediately and make even more money when it’s turned over.

But importantly, the pundits know that they at least have a 30% chance of getting it right if they put up the favourite, which incidentally the tv pundit did in this race… though to his credit he did highlight the ‘dodgy’ nature of the jumping for that one albeit just one minute before the off!

The only racing pundit I ever listen to with regard to All-Weather racing is Jason Weaver on ATR, he’s the only one who actually comes across as knowing what he’s talking about. And on the radio (William Hill) I like listening to Andy Holding when he’s on as he is a wealth of racing knowledge and well worth tuning in to for nuggets on both the day’s horse racing, and also the chances of horses in future races.

What I am trying to get at is this… one positive factor alone does not make a good selection or bet. It is multiple factors coming together, providing ideal racing conditions for the horse, that more often than not determine its chance of winning before the race has even begun.

The market is the enemy! If the market says a favourite will win, remember this… they only get it right about 3.5 times out of every 10 attempts. That leaves the door wide open for value bettors to prove them wrong 6.5 times out of every 10 attempts. And you only need to get it right a couple of times at decent odds and you have a big advantage over the market who are left scratching their head wondering why a top jockey didn’t get that horse home in front, when the betting suggested it was a sure cert!

We know the reason of course, the horse did not have conditions to suit. It wasn’t necessarily beaten by a better horse, it was beat by a horse that DID have conditions to suit!

Be a smart punter, take the time to check your selections thoroughly before betting. If you follow a tipster, check their reasoning for the vitals – and then do a random sample yourself to see if in fact the conditions are what this selection really wants. By doing this you will save yourself a lot of money in the long run and find yourself in the winners enclosure more often with some very nice results at the prices!