How To Pick A Winning Horse

‘There are no certainties’ is the oldest cliché in horse racing. So, lots of punters ask us how to pick a winning horse.

There are lots of factors to consider when trying to pick winners. The handicapper’s assessment of how good horses are is the best place to start, as his ratings tell you which horses have officially achieved the most. But what ratings don’t tell you is how much potential horses have to improve their ratings. Current ratings also don’t tell you if a horse is regressive.

You also need to consider the conditions that horses achieve their ratings under, and what rating they are capable of running to under different conditions. Below are several factors that should be considered when debating how to pick a winning horse.

Going Conditions

Going conditions are how clerks of courses describe the conditions of the racetracks and different going conditions are one of the main reasons why horses don’t always perform to their best. Typical ground conditions can vary from firm, good-to-firm, good, good-to-soft, soft, soft-heavy, and heavy. Some racecourses also use a special going stick to give a more accurate reading of how the course is riding.

Some horses can win on all types of goings, but most have will only perform to their optimum capabilities on one type. Some horses will act on ground ranging from good-to-firm to good-to-soft, but won’t handle firm or heavy, while others relish the extra demands of speed and stamina respectively called for by these two extremes.

When higher-rated horses don’t perform to their best on the official going description, it often pays to bet on lower-rated horses that do.


Horses races are run over a wide range of distances. Flat races start at 5-furlongs but can be as long as 2 miles 6 furlongs. Meanwhile, jumps races start at two-miles, while the Grand National is run over 4-miles 2½ furlongs.

Many horses will perform well over a variety of distances, but most will specialize at one. As horses get older, optimum trips can change. Some horses will get quicker, while others develop more stamina that helps them stay longer distances.

Breeding can be a good pointer to what distances a horse should excel at and what age they will peak at, but this is not an exact science. Horses can take more influence from either the sire or mare or even relatives further back in the bloodlines.

However, recognizing when horses may benefit from racing at shorter or longer distances can be another reason to bet lower-rated rivals to beat more fancied horses.

Horses For Courses

Horses for courses is another well-used cliché in horse racing, but it’s still one worth bearing in mind when considering how to pick a winning horse. Racecourses can be very different from each other, especially in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

There is no hard and fast rule about which horse will excel at which types of courses, but many will prefer either running left-handed or right-handed. Some will also prefer flat tracks or undulating ones. Of course, you can also mix and match these options, such as a flat left-handed track.

Knowing the various courses can help you understand which other courses a horse may run well at if it has shown its best form at a similar track.

The Draw

There are no stalls in jumps racing in the United Kingdom and Ireland, but which stall a horse gets drawn in can have a massive effect in flat races. For example, an inside draw can be a massive advantage at tight courses such as Chester, where the horses are turning left for much of the race.

When thinking about the draw, you also need to factor in the run-style of horses. For instance, if you have a front-runner that is drawn widest of all in stall-10, the horse may struggle to adopt his normal front-running position if there are other prominent racers in the field, greatly affecting its chances of winning. But if there are no other front-runners, your horse may still get an easy lead from that wide draw.

The Pace

The pace of races is one of the hardest factors to consider for punters, though the recent increase in sectional timings has helped this.

Races are often run to suit one type of horse more than another, and this has a massive impact on the chances of some horses winning or losing.

Some horses relish a slowly run race that allows them to conserve energy for a late winning thrust, while others prefer an end-to-end gallop. The number of front runners in a race often dictates how quickly a race will be run.

If there is just one front-runner, being able to dictate the race at their own pace can massively increase their chances of winning. But if there is more than one front-runner, these can often force each other to go faster than ideal, setting up the race for a closer.

Weights Carried

The conditions of different horse races mean horses can carry a variety of weights. In graded races and condition races, some horses must carry penalties. But in handicaps, horses are allocated weights that correspond to their ratings. This handicapping is designed to give horses a more equal chance of winning.

What you find is some horses excel when carrying a lightweight in handicaps, while others are better at conceding weight to lower-class horses. Past editions of races can be a great pointer as to what types of horses win different types of handicaps.

Trainer Form

Most trainers come in and out of form in a season and there can be several reasons for this. Many trainers will target specifics races, meetings, or times of the season to have their horses at their peak, and these patterns are often repeated.


Jockey bookings are often an indicator of when some trainers think their horses have a good chance of winning. While some trainers have stable jockeys that always ride their horses, others will book a top jockey to take the ride when they fancy it.

Another jockey trend is to book a good conditional jockey for a big target, as these types of jockeys can claim up to 7lb weight allowance. This can make a difference of a few lengths, and some conditionals are just as good as some professional jockeys.

Considering All Factors

When it comes to how to pick a winning horse, you now know there are a lot of factors to consider. Picking winners isn’t as easy as just selecting the highest-rated favourite, especially when all factors are not in that horse’s favour. Sure, lots of favourites still win, but backing them blindly is normally a sure way to the poor house.

What professional gamblers do is look for value in a race, with value selections being horses that have a good chance of winning that are available at bigger odds than they should be. To find this value, you need to find reasons why lesser-fancied horses might win. For example, the favourite might be unproven on heavy ground, may not like the course, have a bad draw, or be running over a distance that might be too far, etc.

That’s not to say that all favourites are bad value, far from it. You can also look at a race and decide that a favourite has everything in their favour, while the other runners do not. This is normally when a professional gambler will bet the favourite.

How Long Does It Take To Pick Winners?

Picking winners in horse racing is not easy. As you can see, there are lots of factors to consider and lots of the process is still speculation. But betting value-priced selections is normally a good way of making long-term profits, be it with a few ups and downs along the way.

It takes a lot of hard work to pick horse racing winners, and most professional gamblers spend their days with the heads buried in the formbook or watching replays of past races to find reasons to bet on horses at value-odds.

But don’t worry if you can’t dedicate the time to picking winning horses, you can still profit from it by following the advice of professional tipsters that dedicate their lives to it.

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