How to Read a Horse Racing Program

Horse racing programs compile a tremendous amount of data due, in part, to the sheer amount of analysis required in order to assess and select the possible victors of a race.

The terminology and references are often not only overwhelming, but sometimes make no sense at first glance. Here you will discover the basics on how to read a horse racing program and be given information to review for handicapping.

For the beginner, a race program can appear daunting, but learning how to correctly read one is essential to placing winning horse wagers.

What is a horse racing program?

Racetracks offer several variations of racing programs that include statistics for each race at their venue, as well as details for other tracks hosting races around the country that same day. In addition to print copies, most facilities also offer downloadable horse racing programs online.

Whatever format is selected, all horse racing programs serve the same basic purpose: to provide information to the bettor.

Here in the United States, the Kentucky Derby is arguably the most famous horse race. Contested at Churchill Downs, the “Run for the Roses” is globally recognized and generally draws more than 140,000 spectators for the event, usually held on the first Saturday in May. The Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes, along with the Kentucky Derby, are known as the Triple Crown, the winning of which is one of the most coveted achievements in the sport.

More wagers are placed on the Kentucky Derby than any other horse race in the world. To that end, online wagering using horse racing programs has proved to be extremely popular, which are often created from program proofs produced by the track. Typically the only difference between a print or virtual version is the increased use of graphics for online programs.

For a quick reference on what horse racing programs look like, TVG’s online platform provides a solid example. The online horse racing betting company offers racecards, handicapping and bookmaker promotions. It covers horse racing in North America, Europe and other parts of the world by recording tracks simulcasting feeds and providing their own staff analysis.

The TVG horse betting site offers one of the most comprehensive online and video platforms in horse racing as well as exclusive content focused toward the bettor.

The basics on horse betting

A horse racing program includes information about the track surface, distance, weather conditions and track history. All racecourses in the United States are different distances and offer varying types of races, but all are the same in that all run their races counterclockwise, or “left-handed.”

Information in a horse racing program is specific for each race and is key when attempting to determine horses that can Win, Place or Show.

Here is the data is provided for each race in a program:

  • Horse names
  • Silks, or colors, the jockeys wear when riding
  • Number of each race and the order it is on the card
  • Distance of the race
  • How much weight each horse carries
  • Condition of the race
  • Owner
  • Jockey
  • Trainer
  • An overview on how a horse has been performing

Horses are walked and saddled in the paddock prior to a race. Bettors can witness a horse’s attitude and fitness by watching them there. They can be identified according to the color of a jockey’s silks and their post position number, as well as race number on the saddle pad. Silks are selected and designed by owners, many of which like their horses to perform at particular tracks. Jockey and trainer statistics are also essential when bettors are reviewing which horses to wager on, as their records at specific tracks or with certain types of horses are an excellent handicapping resource. The amount of money the horses are competing for is also available in the program. The higher the purse usually indicates the higher the quality of the race.

Data on each horse

The primary goal of horse betting is to place a wager on the horses with the best opportunity to win, or finish first, second, third, fourth or fifth for exotic wagers. A horse’s record is general and includes a record of how a horse raced, and what type of race it competed in. This part of the program provides information on a horse’s form and what they are capable of without reviewing each of the races. This data also includes dates that indicate a horse’s best and worst performances.

Listed below are the essential elements of horse racing programs:

  • Races performed in that year
  • Races from prior years
  • Horse’s career record
  • Record breakdown based on what surfaces and distances the horse performed at
  • Purse money won

This segment of a horse racing program offers insight on a horse’s ability and how it fits in a specific race.

How has a horse performed previously?

This section of a horse racing program is an essential portion of the guide. Lifetime records for each horse are revealing but many handicappers prefer to review their records in each race. The data below is provided for each race and is often considered when selecting horses to wager on:

  • Abbreviated name of the track and the race number
  • Race name
  • Condition on the track: soft, good or firm
  • Type of course
  • Race time split times
  • Overall race finish time
  • Race conditions
  • Type of race
  • Post position
  • Position behind leader at points of the race
  • Where a horse finished
  • Where a horse finished behind other horses
  • Jockey’s name
  • Weight carried, equipment used or medication used
  • Weight carried by first three horses
  • Odds
  • Insight
  • How many horses are in the field
  • Morning workout times
  • Weather conditions

A quality horse racing program will present the key factors for a specific race, such as the type of race, restrictions, conditions and racetrack. Additionally, past performances are useful, but other elements can impact the conclusion of a race. Astute handicappers, however, often rely more on a horse’s previous form.

Terms of the trade

With so much information needed in a relatively small program, space is hard to come by when choosing what format and data to include. Common language used in horse racing can be confusing to people not familiar with the industry. There is also a tremendous amount of information for each race and horse. Online horse racing programs typically are more flashy and can use graphics more appropriately than print publications. No matter what type of horse racing program is used, the following abbreviations are standard:

Type of race

Handicappers and bettors should review a track dictionary to become familiar with the types of race abbreviations. The most frequently used are:

  • Hcp: Handicap
  • Shp: Starter Handicap
  • Stk: Stake

There are a number of resources available, online and in print, that explain all abbreviations used in horse racing programs.

Course conditions

Course conditions outline how the weather has affected  the track. This is important as horses typically have varying performances on different surfaces, which makes past statistics on similar track conditions essential to bettors. The weather, specifically the amount of rain, is instrumental in determining the track conditions. Ascertaining how each horse has performed in the current conditions is key to handicapping races in order to help select the horses with the best performances in similar environments.

Below are some of the key course condition abbreviations:

  • ft: fast
  • wf: wet fast
  • sf: soft
  • sy: sloppy
  • my: muddy
  • yl: yielding
  • hd: hard
  • gd: good
  • hv: heavy
  • sl: slow
  • fz: frozen
  • fm: firm

Race conditions

Horses that are 2 years old can only compete in races specific to their age group. When a horse turns 3 years old, it becomes eligible for races in their own age group, as well as those against older horses.

Here are the abbreviations for race conditions:

  • R: Restricted
  • F: Filly
  • S: State bred
  • 3 up: For horse age 3 and older

The restrictions are for what type of race it is and what conditions apply to it.

Medications and equipment

Here are the main abbreviations used to denote the most widely used medications and equipment in horse racing programs:

  • L: Lasix
  • B: Bute
  • b: blinkers
  • f: front bandages

Race-day medication and equipment do not play a key role when comparing horses to wager on. It can, however, give insight for bettors as a horse can improve or worsen when adding or detracting medication or equipment.

Summing it up

A quality horse racing program will aid the selection of potential winners at races. There are many elements and angles to review when analyzing a race, such as career records, past performances, track conditions and medication and equipment.

A program brings together each variable and offers an outline for every horse in each race. Online and offline programs possess the same utility and perform the same function, and when it comes to analyzing races the same data applies for each format.

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