Horse racing | How to read the form

‘Form’ isn’t simply looking at the finishing position of a horse in its last race. In fact, horses coming into a race off the back of a bad run can sometimes be dismissed exactly for that reason.

This article will hopefully help you crack the code and pick a few winners at this year’s Cheltenham Festival. 

Previous finishes

Next to a horse’s name will be a string of numbers, lined up chronologically from left to right, representing their previous runs. Of course, a 1 represents a win and would suggest a horse would be coming into his next race ‘in form’.

However, it’s worth checking the type of ground, distance and class of the race, to name a few factors, that could have influenced that result.

If conditions are similar, then you may see the horses follow up and score back-to-back wins, but unfavourably soft ground or a step up in trip could see a change of fortunes.

Spotting a 0 in the horse’s form denotes a 10th or worse finish, while a dash (-) shows the off season and a / shows a significant break.


You’ll have to search a little deeper to consider whether ground conditions are in a horse’s favour.

By clicking on the horse and looking at its previous runs, you’ll be able to see how he/she has performed on certain underfoot conditions.

Particularly when soft or heavy appears in the going description, you’ll want to pick a horse who has proven good runs on similar conditions.

If a horse has run poorly on good (quick) ground for example and has no previous runs on soft ground, then it may also be worth taking a punt on them enjoying the change.


A ‘C’ or a ‘D’ by a horse’s name on the racecard denotes that a horses has won over the course (C) or distance (D), if a horse has both then they’ve won over both the course and distance.

Certain courses, such as Cheltenham on the National Hunt racing circuit, or Epsom Downs on the Flat racing calendar, are very unique courses, so it can be very helpful to know if a horse handles the track.

Similarly, seeing a ‘D’ by a horse’s name puts to bed any worries over whether a horse has the required speed or stamina to win over certain distances.

For example, 3m2f, the distance of the Gold Cup at the Cheltenham Festival, is considered a testing distance in Jump racing requiring plenty of stamina and it may pay to check and see if your selection has won over the trip before.


On a racecard you will also find a horse’s weight. This figure is the combined weight of the jockey and his saddle and is determined by a horse’s rating.

In Graded races, horses will race off level weights, though allowances are sometimes given to mares, while handicap races are the contests where looking at the weights is crucial.

In handicap races, horses carry different weights dependent on their rating which is determined by their previous runs.

In effect, all the horses should finish tied in a straight line, but this is not the case as certain horses will prefer conditions on the day or may have improved/regressed since their previous run.

What you’re looking for in handicap races is a horse that could run better than his/her current rating.

A change in ground, trainer’s form, distance, course or other factors can all play into a horse running better or worse than their handicap mark.

Now you know how to study the form, is important to consider it before placing your bets. Find out more Cheltenham Festival tips on our complete guide.




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