How to Read a Horse Racing Program

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A horse racing program consists of a great deal of information. There are many factors which you must assess to identify the potential winners of a horse race in the United States.

There is jargon and abbreviations that can appear like a foreign language. This guide will go through the fundamentals of a horse racing program and highlight the key issues.

Beating the bookmaker betting on horses is not easy but you will have the ammunition to create the best chance. How to read a horse racing program is covered in this article.

The Format Of A Horse Racing Program

When you go to the track you can buy a race card which is the offline version of a horse racing program. A typical race card includes the key information for the track and each race.

There are daily publications in the US that provide the same information. A physical race card or newspaper is replicated in the online version. There is more scope for graphics and interaction, but basically both the online and offline documents serve the same purpose.

This is to give potential bettors all the relevant information that is brought together in a horse racing program explained article.   

How to Read a Horse Racing Program
Photo credit: El_Sol on Visual hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

The most famous horse race in the United States is the Kentucky Derby.  It attracts a huge crowd at the track and a massive television audience.  Two other Triple Crown races and the Breeders’ Cup are the other main racing events in the US. Overseas races like the Derby and Grand National create the demand for a horse racing program. 

However, It’s the Kentucky Derby horses that attract most people to an informative horse racing program. Kentucky Derby online betting is huge so internet punters will be looking to refer to an online horse racing program. An online horse racing program is the internet version of the race card at the track and daily newspaper form guide. 

What does a horse racing program look like? We can refer to TVG. This is an online horse racing betting operator that features racecards, handicapping and bookmaker promotions. It covers horse racing in North America, Europe and other parts of the world.

TGV provides one of the best online services for readers looking for a horse racing program example.  It is a good destination for horse betting and a horse racing program example.  

Breeders Cup Program 2019

Although not part of the Triple Crown, the Breeders Cup World Championship is another big event to watch out for.

In the official program of 2019 you will find all the information you need: the entries, odds, past performances and wagering menu. Click below to find the program for each day and read our guide to help you understand its contents.

Basic Online Horse Betting Information

A racing guide will include information about the track and going. Racecourses in the United States are similar in that most are right-handed ovals. 

A racing program will feature the track characteristics and the projected underfoot conditions. This information applies for each race and is a valuable element of a guide to identifying the horse that can Win, Place or Show. 

The following information is provided for each race in a horse racing program: 

  • Name of horse
  • Silks (jockey colours)
  • Race card number
  • Barrier
  • Weight
  • Allowances
  • Owner
  • Jockey
  • Trainer
  • Summary of form 
example of horse racing program
From the Breeders Cup 2019 Program

Horses walk around the paddock before a race. You can pick up some clues about the mood of each horse which are identified by the silks and race card number. The silks are registered by the owner and some owners have favorite tracks. Jockey and trainer statistics are also useful when you are following guidelines for how to read a racing program. The distribution of the prize money is shown for each race and this gives an indication of the level. The purse defines the quality of a race.  

Records For Each Horse

The objective of online horse betting is to pinpoint the runners with the best chance of winning or making the payout places.  The historical records will not feature an analysis of how each horsed performed in previous races. The information is generic and will include overall records in each type of race, by conditions and distance.  This part of the program provides an overview of a horse’s form and ability without looking at individual races. These records include dates that mark key races in a horse’s racing career. Even though this information will not compare relative form, it is still worth examining as part of a horse racing program.

Here are the key dates and elements of this part of an online horse racing program:

  • Races contested this year.
  • Form from previous years.
  • Career record.
  • Record by type of track such as turf or dirt.
  • Prize money won.
  • Number of wins. 

This part of a race guide provides a good indication of the ability of a horse and the suitability to a specific race.  The next section examines how a horse has performed in specific races.

past performances in a horse racing program
McKinzie’s past-performances, available in the Breeders Cup Program 2019

Previous Form For Horse Betting

We are now getting into the “nitty-gritty” of a racing guide. The life records for each horse are relevant but there is much more value in the records in each race. The following information is available by race and can be used when comparing the form of each horse in a race: 

  • Date of the race.
  • Abbreviated name of the track and the race number.
  • The going on the course:  soft, good, firm.  
  • Type of course: oval or rectangular.
  • Race time fractions.
  • Overall race time.
  • Race restrictions: handicap or conditions.
  • Type of race.
  • Post position.
  • Position behind leader at various stages of the race.
  • Finishing position.
  • Finishing race distances behind the other runners.
  • Name of jockey.
  • Weight carried including general equipment and medical equipment.
  • Odds.
  • Weight carried by first three horses.
  • Comments.
  • Number of runners.
  • Morning workout.
  • Wind direction. 

A good horse racing program will highlight the key elements of the form guide for a specific race.  The type of race, restrictions, conditions and course are the most important pieces of information. Past performances are a useful guide but other factors may influence the outcome of a race. However, you should have a good idea of how a horse will race from previous form.

Horse Racing Symbols And Abbreviations

Space is at a premium when creating a useful racing guide. Horse racing terminology can be confusing. There is potentially a vast amount of information for each track, race and horse.  Online racing programs can be more creative than offline publications. However, both types of horse racing program uses symbols and abbreviations in the following areas:

Race Type

Readers should look at a track dictionary to become familiar with the range of race type abbreviations.  However, here are the most common types of race: 

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

There are plenty of online resources that explain the features of each type of race.

Course Conditions

The going report describes the underfoot conditions at a track.  Horses are suited to different types of going and past records on similar track conditions are important when reading a horse racing program.  The weather and amount of rain determine the track conditions. Knowing how each horse has performed on the prevailing going is a key element of race analysis. The objective is to identify the horses with the best conditions and the going is important in this context. 

Here is a complete guide to course conditions and the relevant 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 

There are symbols for the following types of course: main turf, inner turf, inner dirt, downhill turf, steeplechase,  hurdle, training track, all weather track and off turf. Both types of information provide a comprehensive guide to the nature of a track. 

course symbols

Race Restrictions

Horses aged two can only race in restricted races for their age group. From the age of three, a horse is eligible for different types of race. At that point the following abbreviations become relevant: 

  • R: Restricted
  • F: Filly
  • S: State bred
  • 3 up: for horse aged 3 and older

The restrictions are related to  the quality and type of race.

Medication And Equipment

Here are the main abbreviations in this area:  

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

Race-day medication and equipment are not major past form element s when comparing horses. However, it is useful to compare form on and not on medication and with and without equipment. A horse could have shown improvement on medication and with equipment applied. 

Horse Racing Program Conclusion    

A good horse racing program will help in the battle to beat the bookmakers with horse betting. There are many variables and factors when examining a race.  Overall records, past form, track conditions and medication and equipment are part of the puzzle. A horse racing program brings together each element and provides a guide to the best horse in each race. Online and offline versions perform the same function but in different formats.  How to read a horse racing program includes the same elements across each type of media.