How to Pick a Winning Horse – Racing Betting Guide 2024

Betting on horse racing is easy but picking a winning horse can be difficult. Indeed, picking a winning horse is a science, and the best horse racing bettors can pull it off more times than not. 


Regularly successful horse racing bettors have methods and systems to provide winning selections. There is far more to selecting a winning horse than picking an odds-on pony. 

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Luck is overrated when it comes to picking a winning horse. You aren’t likely to hear successful bettors claiming gut feeling helped them pick the right horse either. There are some tips and strategies available to help you pick a winning horse. 

So, next time you visit an Irish betting site ahead of a big race festival or a daily horse race, you need to consider several factors before placing your wager.

How to pick a winning horse – methods

There are several factors to consider before placing a bet on a horse. These factors could be the difference between selecting a winner and the horse that finishes the race dead last. Experienced bettors with a proven track record of success will consider these factors before placing a wager. It may take time and due diligence on your part, but in the end, it can pay off. 

  • Horse racing form

A horse’s racing form is the first factor to consider before placing a bet. The form will consist of the horse’s recent races. Recent performances will give you an idea of the horse’s ability, potential, and current results. 

It is always a good idea to bet on an in-form horse. But there needs to be context to the racing form. You need to determine the strength of the races it did well in. You should also determine the strength of the competition for the races the horse performed poorly in. 

There is more to a horse’s form than just wins and losses. You will need to devote some time to studying the race form. 

  • Distance

Race distance plays a big role in a horse’s performance. Some horses run well over short distances, while other horses excel in longer races. There are two types of racing in the United Kingdom and Ireland: flat and jumps. 

Flat racing has a minimum distance of five furlongs up to a maximum of two miles and six furlongs. The jumps races are for horses with strong stamina, as they jump over different barriers along the way. Jumps racing has a minimum distance of two miles and a maximum of four miles and four furlongs. 

You need to know a horse’s speed and stamina capabilities for a race. Previous race results will help you determine whether your selection has the potential to win a race.

  • Going

The Going is the condition of the racing surface. British and Irish horse racing defines the going as Firm, Good, Soft, Yielding, and Heavy.

Firm going is a hard, fast surface. Heavy is wet, muddy, and potentially difficult to run through. Horses usually have a preference when it comes to the going of a racecourse. 

You need to select horses that run well on a particular going. For example, you don’t want to select a horse that runs well on firm going for a race with heavy conditions. 

  • Trainer

A trainer can make a major difference in a horse’s performance in a race. Top-tier horse trainers like Willie Mullins and Nicky Henderson routinely churn out winners. 

Picking a horse from a well-respected trainer’s stable is a great way to find a winner. It is also a good idea to research a trainer’s performance at a particular racecourse. Strong performances at certain racecourses may yield future wins for the trainer and their horses. 

  • Age

Age can play a role in a horse’s performance. A young up-and-coming horse may be stronger and faster than a field of older runners. Older horses could be hitting their peak or starting to decline. Age can tell you a lot about a horse and its potential. 

Jumps horses tend to have more stamina than flat horses. They often peak later in life around the ages of seven to 10 years old. Flat horses peak earlier in their careers, around three to seven years old. Flat horses are slightly faster and depend on sprinting speed more. The younger horses will have more pace.

Flat horse racing is more about speed than jumps. Moreover, flat racing has lighter jockeys to enable the horses to sprint as quickly as possible. 

  • Head-to-head

Each race will have a favourite and a long shot, while some contenders will fall in between these areas. You will need to put the pieces of the puzzle together to come up with a winner. One tip for selecting a winning horse is to research the head-to-head record of the competitors.

There is a strong possibility that some of the horses for a certain race will have run against each other previously. The favourite may have defeated the other horses in the race, making it a strong selection. Perhaps the favourite failed to defeat the other horses in previous races. This would raise a red flag over the possibility of the horse winning the event. 

  • Jockey

It has been said that a good jockey will make a good horse even better and a bad jockey can make a good horse lose. Some bettors put a lot of stock in the jockeys, but others underestimate the importance of a good jockey in the saddle. 

Take it from us, the best jockeys in horse racing get the most out of their horses. Most trainers have a primary jockey on retainer. The primary jockey will ride all the big races for their trainer atop the best horses. 

The top jockeys don’t win every race. But they often win just as often as they lose. You should always consider the jockeys for a race. 

  • Time between races

You will often see a horse has had days off between their races. Horses are just like people. They need time to train, get fit, and prepare for a race. Fit horses will race once a month. Horses with gaps between their races may be fighting for fitness or healing from injuries.

Horses coming off longer breaks may need one or two races to regain their full fitness. A horse cannot magically return to the racecourse and perform at their full potential. 

  • Racecourses

Some horses run better at specific racecourses. There could be a few reasons that a horse performs better at one racetrack rather than another. All racecourses are different. Some have inclines or hills, and others are flat. 

Researching a horse’s form at a racecourse can give you insight into how they will perform in the future. You will want to select your horse accordingly. 

  • Rating

Horses that have run more than three races will receive a rating. Also known as a handicap mark, the figure will provide an indication of the horse’s ability. The racing authority will set the handicap mark. The number will also give bettors an idea of the horse’s standard compared to other horses. 

  • Betting odds

Betting sites will release the odds for daily races the day before they take place. Sportsbooks will release the odds for major horse races and festivals in advance. For example, odds for the Grand National will be up weeks before it takes place and before the runners are confirmed. 

You can get an idea of the early prices. You can even place a bet well in advance for some races to get a strong price. However, you should always wager with a betting site that offers best odds guaranteed. Best odds guaranteed will ensure you receive the best price on your selection if the price increases when the race begins. 

Tip: Many racing betting sites offer signup bonuses to new customers, ideal for increasing your potential return if your horse wins.

Using form guides

A racing form guide will provide you with information for a day of racing. You can find form guides online or in physical form at racecourses. Some of the information you will find in the form guides is:

Race nameThe race card and form guide will list the race, distance, classification, requirements for entry, and the prize purse for the event.
Horse name and numberYou will find the horse’s name and number for the race.
ColoursThe jockey’s silks colour will be indicated.
WeightThe horse’s weight will be displayed.
DrawHorses begin flat races in numbered stalls. The draw will identify which stall a horse will begin in.
Days between racesThe days between horse races will be displayed in the form guide.
FormYou will find letters and numbers listed by each horse’s name. These tell you how the horse has performed in recent races. Numbers mean: 1 indicates finishing first2 is second place3 is third place0 means the horse finished 10th or lower Letters mean: F – fallU – unseated jockeyS – SlippedP – Pulled upL – Left at the startR – Refused to race
GenderThe race card will indicate the horses’ gender via a single letter. Genders include: C – ColtF – FillyG – GeldingH – HorseM – Mare
Trainer nameThe trainer’s name will be written clearly on the form guides for each horse.
Handicap and ratingThe horses’ official rating, written as ‘OR’ will be displayed in the guide. The handicap rating will tell you how a specific horse matches up against the other runners.
Horse summaryUnder the names of each horse will be a summary. The summary will include a few sentences on their recent performances and races. You will want to read this before placing a wager.
Race summaryA race summary will be at the end of the form guide. There will be a summary of the race, the course, and the runners. The writer may even give their opinion of the race’s results. The race summary is important to read. It will help provide an idea of what the race’s outcome will be. It can also provide insight on the race.

FAQ on picking a winning horse

Is weather an important factor in horse racing?

The weather can play a key role in the outcome of a horse race. The weather can affect the going, making it soft, yielding, or heavy. Moreover, some horses may prefer warmer weather compared to others. The weather can play a role in the outcome of a race.

What are the most important factors in winning a race?

The most important factors in a horse winning a race are the horse’s form, the condition of the racecourse, and the strength of the jockey. All three are pivotal in the outcome of a horse race. 

What is the difference between flat and jumps racing?

Flat racing is on a flat racecourse. The horses start in stalls and run a set course length. Flat racing features quicker horses. It is based on speed and power. Jumps racing features barriers that the horses must leap over. Jumps racecourses are typically longer than flat tracks. The horses need stronger stamina to complete a jumps race. 

What does handicapping mean in horse racing?

The handicapping of a horse is the researching of a racehorse’s previous performances, pedigree, training, and other background information. Handicapping is done to predict the outcome of an event. It is typically done to help bettors make informed betting selections. 

Why is the going of a racecourse important?

The going is the condition of the surface of a racecourse. Some horses do better than others on certain surface types. The going can provide insight into how a horse will run a race. For example, a horse that excels on firm going is unlikely to run well on heavy going. The going is one of the key factors in predicting a winner.

Do horses compete in both flat and jumps races?

While horses can switch between the two formats, most horses will run either flat or jumps. Some horses will run flat races until they hit a certain age. Trainers will then re-train the horses to compete in jumps. Jumps race horses are typically older than flat race horses.