Beginner’s Guide to Horse Racing

With Australia hosting so many elite racing events all throughout the year, horse racing is always attracting new fans and novice punters keen to get in on the action and excitement thoroughbred racing has to offer. Below we answer some of the most common questions people new to the horse racing game may ask to get you on your way to the races.

What is a Racing Form Guide?

The racing form guide is a publication of key information and statistics about a race meeting. Basic details including the race name, number, time, type and conditions will be listed along with more detailed information on the horses competing in the race such as their barrier, weight, trainer, jockey and jockey colours. You will also find helpful statistics about the runners recent form and career performances like their finishing positions in their last four starts, number of wins from starts, longest and shortest distanced wins and amount of career prizemoney earned. All of this information can be analysed to help you make well-informed wagers on the races and understand the chance each horse has of success in an event.

What are the Barriers?

The barriers, also referred to as the gates, are the starting positions of the horses in a race. Modern starting barriers are now computerised and automatic. The barrier draw is when the racing club conducting a race selects and announces which horse will start from which gate. The draw and starting position can have a huge effect on a runner’s chance of winning a race, as drawing too wide means a horse will have to work harder to make up the ground. Also different running styles of horses suit different starting barriers better. For example, some horses prefer to have a bit more room to run and set their pace in a race so a middle gate, where they could get caught up with the horses on either side of them, would not be advantageous.

What is a Handicap Race?

A handicap race is when a racing official, i.e. the handicapper, assigns the contending horses a set weight that they must carry. The handicapper determines the amount of weight for each horse by examining their past performances and recent victories as well as the quality of the competition they have defeated. Basically it is the handicapper assessing the chance each horse has of success in the event and the higher seeded a horse is, the more weight they will carry. The idea behind handicap races is to even out the field and give all the horses a more equalised chance of winning.

What are the Different Race Track Conditions?

There are a number of different ratings a racetrack can be given depending on the condition of the surfaces. The track conditions are related to factors including how firm, dry, resilient, even, soft or wet a track is prior to the start of a race. There are set terms for each condition that relate to these factors, they are: fast, slow, good, muddy, sloppy, frozen, hard, firm, soft, yielding or heavy.

What is a Stayer?

A stayer refers to a horse that displays much stamina and is able to “stay” the distance in long races and perform well in races distanced over 2000metres.

What is a Furlong?

A furlong is a measure of distance used to illustrate the length of a race. Furlongs were used to describe the distance of Australian horse tracks up until the early 1970’s when we adopted the metric system, however, you will still hear racing aficionados use the term today. Also still used in the USA. A furlong is equal to 1/8 of a mile, 220 yards, 660 feet or approximately 200 metres.

What is a Length?

A length is a measure of distance used in horse racing to indicate the space between horses in a race, especially the winning margin and how far back from the winner each runner finished. A length refers to the approximate length of a horse from its nose to its tail, which is around eight feet.

What is a Maiden Race?

A maiden race is an event for horses that are yet to win a race.

What is a Scratched Horse?

A scratched horse is one that has been withdrawn from a race that they were due to run in prior to the start of the event. Horses are scratched from a race by either their trainers or the racing club’s vets due to things like injury or ill health, or the adverse conditions of a track.

What is a Weight-for-age Race?

A weight-for-age race is one where the horses are all allocated a set amount of weight to carry according to a scale that is determined by factors including their age and sex. Weight-for-age conditions are used in the same way as handicap weights, to equal out the field and allow each runner a more even chance of success. In weight-for-age races fillies and mares carry less weight than colts and geldings, and older runners carry more weight than their younger rivals.