1. Race Types
A typical race meeting has a combination of MAIDEN races, NOVICE or GRADUATIONS, PROGRESS and HANDICAPS. Here’s who they are designed for.
- MAIDEN race is for horses that have not yet won a race. All horses of the same age and sex carry the same weight. At certain times of the year 4yo maidens may have to carry more weight than 3yo maidens, to compensate for the 3yo’s lack of maturity (they still are “juniors”).
- NOVICE race is for horses that have won one race only. All horses of the same sex carry the same weight.
- GRADUATION race is for one-time and two-time winners. The two-time winners of the same sex all carry the same weight, and give weight to one-time winners of the same sex.
- PROGRESS race is a variation on Graduation races. Here winners of one or more races carry weight depending on the number of races they have won, and give weight to those that have won fewer races.
- HANDICAP, according to the Rules of the Jockey Club, is a race where weights are allocated by the official handicapper to give all runners an equal chance to win. If this is done properly, the field should be large and the favourites in the betting will be at a relatively long price (4/1 or more). The official handicapper has a Merit Rating for every horse, which is used to set weight in handicaps. At present horses are handicapped in divisions from high A to low E, races which are open to horses with a certain level of Merit Rating.
- JUVENILE races are for 2yo horses only. For most of the year these youngsters, who are in their first year of racing and often still inexperienced and immature, race against their own age group only.
- SEX ALLOWANCE. Males (colts or geldings) and females (fillies or mares) often compete only against their own sex. When the two meet in mixed company, males carry more weight than females to compensate for the difference in strength between the sexes.
Jockeys are weighed before and after each race, to make sure that the horse they ride carries the weight it is meant to. It is generally accepted all over the world that weight has a material influence on the performance of a horse.
- One extra kilo is said to have a slowing down effect of one length over 1600m, of half a length in sprints (1000 to 1200m), and of two or more lengths over distances of 2000m and more (one length is about 2.5m). In other words, the further a horse runs, the greater the slow-down effect of weight carried.
- Horses usually carry different weights to compensate for differences in ability. A better horse may have to carry more weight to give his lesser opponents a chance to compete.
In South Africa horses usually get a weight penalty of 3 kilos for each race they win, regardless of the distance over which they win. This is peculiar, because as we saw earlier 3 kilos in a 1000m race is the equivalent of 1.5 lengths, but over 2000m it counts for something like 6 lengths!
- In South Africa the older, more mature horse will sometimes have to give weight to a younger horse just to compensate for that difference in maturity. In the same way, fillies normally receive weight from colts when they run together in the same race. Each race will have its own conditions which stipulate how the weights to be carried are arrived at.
- By analysing the results of races, and taking note of the difference in lengths at the finish and the weights carried, it is possible to devise a rating system for horses. Such ratings then represent kilos weight. The difference in ratings between two horses indicates the difference in weight they should carry to give them an equal chance if they race together.
3. The Betting Market
The majority of punters bets on the Tote rather than with the bookmakers. Even so, all punters are aware of bookmaker’s odds which are used to indicate the betting market.
The difference between betting with Tote or bookmaker is big.
With the Tote you bet against all other punters. Your return on a winning bet depends on the size of the total pool, and how many winning tickets there are. Winners share in the pool proportionally, after a deduction of some 17% has been made (for tax, prizemoney, etc.) from the pool.
With a bookmakers you know exactly where you stand when you take your bet. The bookmakers gives you a fixed return on your bet if you win. You also know that a 6% tax deduction will be made from your winnings.
You should compare Tote odds with bookmakers odds to see which of the two gives you a better deal.
Odds given by bookmakers are supposed to reflect the probability of a horse winning. A horse quoted at “even money” or “evens” should win one out of every two races, a probability of 50%. A horse at quoted at 2/1 should win one in three times, a 33% probability. In the same way you have 3/1 (one in four, or 25%), or 5/1 (one in six, or about 17%).
If you the odds of all horses in a race are “true” odds, they should together add to 100%. This is never the case, because the bookmaker adds a certain percentage for himself: his gross profit margin (at 100% the bookmaker would merely break even). The total odds for a professional bookmaker with integrity normally are in the region of 120%. Look in the result section of Sporting Post, where for each race the total odds % is given, to get some insight into bookmaker’s practices around the country.
Professional punters always look for what they call “value”. This is when their idea of the probability for a horse winning is bigger than the bookmaker’s price indicates. If they think a horse has a 40% chance (15/10) to win and the horse is priced up at 2/1 (33%), they have a Bet. Getting “value” is an important part of any punter’s betting strategy. For instance, you may be able to pick a high percentage of winners, but if their price is too short you will still lose money. Someone else with a lower strike rate, but who gets “value”, can show a profit.
How do you determine “value”? Decide how many horses you think can win a given race, and allocate their probability of winning. Compare that to the price quoted on the bookmaker’s betting board. If the price is too short, don’t bet – at least if you want to keep winning in the long run!
4. The Draw
The effect of the draw is thought to have a major influence on the outcome of races. Trainers even go so far as to rather not declare to run in a race than to race from what they think is a poor draw. Or alternatively, only to accept to race from a wide draw with a horse they think can’t win anyway. As a result, what is seen as a”poor” draw often becomes a self fulfilling prophecy – trainers simply don’t race horses with a chance from “poor” draws, and those draws therefore hardly give winners.
Statistics show that horses do win from all draws, at all tracks, over all distances. But the key is to ask: how often do they do so, and do certain draws give better or worse percentages of winners?
In races round a bend, a wide draw often gives a disadvantage if the start is close to the bend. This is because the horse cannot find a position close to the fence and has to race wide. Racing wide usually costs a few lengths. More importantly, coming into the straight it is easier for a horse to accelerate the closer it is to the inside of the bend.
Sometimes, when a horse likes to race from behind, a wide draw becomes less important. The jockey simply drops back with the horse and the draw will not be a disadvantage.
At other times, when a natural front runner is drawn wide, the jockey will jump quickly and get to the front right away. If there are no other front runners drawn closer to the inside, the horse should not suffer too much from his wide draw.
It’s clear that every case must be judged on merit, and that it is important to know the running style of the contestants to judge whether a wide draw is really is disadvantage or not. The expected pace – fast or slow – also comes into it. So you see: a draw seldomly is what it seems at first glance.
Despite all that, at certain tracks over certain distances, there are draws that give a much higher percentage of winners than other draws. Careful study of past results goes a long way in showing you what to watch out for.
Finally, if a horse you really like has what you think is a “poor” draw, you should back it all the same. But only do so if the price you get is a bit longer than you would have expected with a better draw. After all, only when you look for value will you make a profit in the long run!
5. The Going
One of the most underrated factors in the process of finding winners is the state of the going. This is a variable which can greatly affect performance, not merely to the extent of a few pounds, but sometimes dramatically overriding all other considerations.
There are horses to whom the state of the ground is immaterial, who are as effective in the mud as they are on firm ground. But with most horses the going does make a difference, one way or the other. Good detective work in this area can be well rewarded, especially because South African course managers tend to make their own rules. They seem to see it as a reflection on their competence if the going is any other than good, and often fail to appreciate the value of information about the going to knowledgeable punters. There is a tendency these days to quote penetrometer readings, but these are taken at certain points only, and often aren’t as informative about the going as dedicated observations about times and draws can be.
Bear in mind that words like heavy, yielding, soft, dead, good, firm and hard are adjectives used to describe what is in fact a continuum. The significant distinction is between horses that need an easy surface (on the wet side of good) and those that are at their best on a sound surface (the dry side of good). Try to identify them. But look for positive evidence and don’t jump to conclusions when it is not there. If a horse wins one or more races on soft or heavy going, you can presume with justification that such ground suits him well. But unless the horse has run disappointingly on firm going, there is no positive evidence that firm going might not suit the horse even better.
So pay careful attention to the effects of the going – it is as important a factor as weight!
6. Time & Time Value
A time figure represents the time-value of a performance, just as a handicap rating represents the value of a performance translated into weight. The actual time recorded by a horse over a given distance by itself means little. It has to be read in relation to the track, weather and surface conditions on the day. At Gosforth Park a maiden can run the 1000m in 56 seconds, but at Kenilworth the very best sprinters have never broken the 57 second barrier, even with the wind behind them. Similarly, horses capable of running a 1200m in 69 seconds on firm going wouldn’t get within five seconds of that if the going was heavy, or with a gale-force wind blowing against them. Also of importance are the ages of the horses (showing how far they are from maturity) and the weight they carry.
To interpret a time correctly means comparing it to other times recorded on the same day on the same track, as well as to times shown historically over the course and distance (sometimes also known as standard times). Of course, all depends on the reliability of the official times given at race tracks – some of which leave much to be desired even in these days of technological competence. It is almost mandatory for serious time analysts to cross-check times with their own handheld stopwatch. Doing this gives the serious punter another major advantage, in that a race can be timed in segments. Races are seldomly run at an even pace throughout – some are slow to begin, others fast, and in every case a different emphasis is placed on the adaptabilities of the horses competing.
There’s nothing like timing a race in segments yourself to help you understand what actually happened in a race – regardless of the final time. Such understanding often leads to unique betting opportunities when next the same horses meet.
This Christmas, ask for a watch!
The Weight-for-Age concept was first introduced in England in 1850. It is based on the assumption that younger horses need time to mature before they can compete with older horses on equal terms. Just the same way as a human junior athlete needs time to develop before he can compete at senior level on equal terms. To that end a table was devised which shows how much more weight an older horse should carry to compensate for the age difference.
As the younger horse matures, so the weight difference shown in the table gets less. Also, because weight counts heavier the further a horse runs, the weight difference in the table is not the same for all distances.
That is why the Weight-for-Age (or WFA) table shows the allowance for a specific time of the year as well as for a specific distance.
For example, according to the offical South African WFA scale, a 3yo who runs over 1000m in December should carry 4kg less than a 4yo to compensate for the 3yo’s lack of maturity. If the distance is 1600m, the weight difference should be 6kg to make the 3yo and 4yo equal. And over 2200m it should be 7kg.
A few months later, the difference is less. For instance, in April the WFA table shows the 3yo must receive 2kg over 1000m, 2.5kg over 1600m and 4kg over 2200m.
Several big races are run at Weight-for-Age, to discover how the best horses of different ages compare. Running at weight-for-age means that horses of different ages compete on level terms. It also means that in theory the best horse will win.
“Blinkered” is the description for a horse wearing headgear which partly obscures his vision. Because the eyes of a horse are set on the side of the head, he has virtually all-round vision – and can see perfectly alright behind him. When it comes to racing, that is not always an advantage.
Some horses are frightened by competitors running closely around them. Other horses find it difficult to concentrate on their racing, and look around all the time. Blinkers can help in those cases, because they prevent a horse from seeing behind him. They’ll calm the frightened horse, and give the lazy one a wake-up call!
Blinkers come with different sized cups, the smaller ones giving at least partial side-vision. Sometimes blinkers have a slit in the cup to give some extra vision (then they are called ‘visors’). Sometimes the opening in the blinkers is covered with fine mesh, to give a calming effect (then they are called ‘pacifiers’).
For the punter the trick is to find out what, if any, effect blinkers have on certain horses. You’ll never know for sure until it’s tried in a race (which is why it is so starnge to see trainers try horses with blinkers first time in an important race). Some horses respond well to blinkers, and race much better with them. Others run badly the first time they are tried, then respond positively the second time. And then there are others still who simply hate the blinkers and don’t show their form at all.
Sometimes horses race very keenly when blinkers are tried, with the result that they have nothing left at the end. A horse that races in front or with the pace wearing blinkers, then drops out quickly towards the end of the race to finish well back, usually will do much better without blinkers the next time – and often at value for money odds in the bargain.
Trainers sometimes bring horses that used to wear blinkers back from a rest without the equipment. This usually indicates that the horse isn’t fully fit and may need the run. When the blinkers go on the next time and you see the odds shorten – watch out!
9. Fitness On Track
One of the hardest parts of assessing a horse is to tell whether it’s fighting fit, ready to run for its life. The most common mistake is to try and apply the same standards of fitness for different types of races. Sometimes an apparent lack of fitness has little influence on the outcome of a race. In early 2yo races (up to February or even March), the fitness of the horses matters less than their ability to run. A half fit highclass horse will invariably outrun a fit horse of lesser class – remember that early 2yo races pitch future feature winners against eternal maidens… at level weights!
Races where fitness matters most are the feature events. Most trainers have their horses trained to the minute in those races, so if you want to learn to recognise really fit horses, that’s where to start. Observe all feature runners close-up, and make their general appearance your standard.
Signs of unfitness include profuse sweating, a dull coat, dull behaviour and a flabby belly.
Sweating doesn’t always point at unfitness. Some horses often sweat before their races, without it affectiong their performance. You should remember who those horses are from previous observation. Most of the time sweating is a negative pointer (especially between the hindlegs), more so if it goes together with a dull appearance. Don’t confuse sweating with a plain old bucket of water, though, which some trainers throw over their runner on a hot day to keep it cool.
A dull coat resembles a pair of unpolished shoes. This in contrast to a healthy coat, glossy and shiny, with rippling skin. Horses with dull coats usually are short of peak fitness.
Dull behaviour means that a horse walks round the parade ring listlessly. A fit horse is normally pretty well keyed up and will show obvious signs of wellbeing, such as “being on its toes”.
A flabby belly isn’t always easy to detect. Better to look for the opposite: a fit horse often reveals a hint of ribcage and distinct muscle definition. You’ll notice this near the horse’s stomach area, in the variations of light caused when it moves around.
Unfitness usually is related to when the horse last raced. If you judge a horse to look unfit and it ran respectably during the last two or three weeks, then maybe you should take a second look!
10. A Rise In Class
Astute punters tend to pay attention to the class of opposition horses race against. Many believe that horses which drop in class from one race to another will do better at a lower level.
How do you evaluate or recognise “Class”?
One way to measure class is by categorising races according to their conditions. In South Africa these often relate to the number of races a horse has won, which is used in set-weight races (maiden, novice, graduation). A better guide is obtained through Merit Ratings, which are used to set weights in handicaps, but which are shown in the Sporting Post for all races. This allows to you pick the horses with the highest Merit Ratings without effort.
Another way to measure class is by taking prize money as a guide, especially where horses from one centre go to race in another (for instance Gauteng to Natal and vice versa). Here “dropping in class” relates to racing for a lower stake than in previous run(s).
The table below shows a combination of both methods for measuring Class; race categories are listed in order of class.
11. Do Horses Benefit From A Break?
We have discovered the fallacy of the “second run after a lay-off” syndrome, based on some simple research.
When we originally researched winner’s percentages for horses returning from a lay-off, we also took note of what happened to those same horses at their second and third runs.
That makes interesting reading.
The table shows that second run and third run after a break are pretty close to the normal average, and fairly stable. The overall impression is that the longer a horse has been off the track, the longer it takes for it to return to normal form.
It seems that 12 weeks (about 84 days) is the magic mark: on average fewer horses than normal win after such a lay-off, be it first, second or third run after a lay-off.
But there are also segments with percentages higher than average.
Horses returning from a break, % winners/runners (expected average 8%)
|lay-off in days||on return||2nd run||3rd run|
|over 100 days||6.0%||6.0%||6.0%|
A break of four weeks improves performance….Generally speaking, horses that race after a break of at least four weeks tend to do slightly better than those returning after a shorter period. The highest percentage is found after a 6-7 week break (42 to 49 days). The same pattern appears to exist for those same horses’ second run and third run after that break.
….but six weeks is best.This seems to indicate that horses do benefit from a break of 6-7 weeks (about 45 days). The figures also show that a very short period between races generally is not beneficial, with lower percentages for the three runs following a very short “break”.
Summarised it looks like this.
from a 6-7 week
(42-49 days) lay-off
|%winners/ avg SP
Compared to first, second and third run after a lay-off of 12 weeks and more (which we showed last week), the winning percentage goes from 6% to over 9% – that is better by half (50% better!).
…the winning percentage after a 6-week break is 50% higher than after a 12-week lay-off
12. Doubles And Trebles
With the feature season looming in Gauteng, and the long Natal haul after that, punters tend to become keener on doubles and trebles involving feature races. Many use them as a method to obtain better value on their big-race fancies, who might otherwise be to.
Not all punters, though, are fully aware of how odds for doubles and trebles can be calculated, and bookmakers usually aren’t slow to take advantage of this.
To arrive at the odds for a double the following methods exist. They give rather different results.
1. Simply multiply the odds offered on two horses. For instance, 3/1 and 5/1 gives 3×5 = 15/1.
2. Multiply the initial stake plus the winning from the first horse by the single odds offered on the second horse. Using the same 3/1 and 5/1 horses you take 3 plus 1 (=4), multiplied by 5 = 20/1.
3. Add one point to each of the set of odds offered, multiply and take off one. For the 3/1 and 5/1 odds this becomes 3+1 (=4) times 5+1 (=6) = 24, minus 1 = 23/1.
4. Multiply the two odds quoted, and to this add the sum of the odds. This gives 3×5 (=15) plus 3+5 (=8), or 23/1.
Methods 3 and 4 give the same result, and are the most commonly used. The result is a mathematically correct representation of the correct odds. The result is the same as if the stake and winnings from the first odds were all put onto the second odds (tax doesn’t come into it until the final outcome of the bet).
The odds the bookmaker will lay on doubles and trebles are of course at his discretion, but you have every right to try and obtain true odds for the combination. If the bookmaker himself took a bet with another bookmaker he wouldn’t accept anything less than the odds shown in example 3 and 4. The odds are quite some way better than those offered in the other examples.
And as always: make sure you get value!