How To Pick a Winning Horse

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How To Pick a Winning Horse
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Learning how to pick a winning horse is a skill honed over a lifetime by the most dedicated racing punters. They'll tell you there's a lot more to it than luck and gut feeling. 

While learning how to pick a horse to bet on requires intensive research, patience, and a sharp eye for detail, there are lots of strategies you can learn quickly to improve your chances of picking a winning horse at the best UK betting sites. Read on to find them...

Horse Racing Selection Methods

When it comes to figuring out how to pick a winning horse at Cheltenham, the Aintree Grand National, or any other race meeting, every bettor takes a different approach. There's certainly no one method of picking a winning horse at the best horse racing betting sites. There are, in fact, lots of popular strategies. Some are more effective than others.

When grappling with a racecard, some newcomers might simply go with their gut instinct when trying to figure out how to pick a horse to bet on. Perhaps they might like the name of the horse or the colours of the jockey’s silks, but there are better ways of narrowing down the field and coming up with a sporting chance of winning.

Below you'll find 10 of the best horse racing selection methods. You can combine some or all of these to the best effect depending on the type of race, the number of runners, the type of bet you’re looking to place, and the amounts that you are willing to stake.

Don't forget to compare the latest horse racing odds across our recommended betting sites before making your selections.


Pro Tip: Get the very best Cheltenham Betting Odds for the 2024 Festival


Study the Form

This is always a useful starting point when it comes to picking a winning horse in any race. Naturally, you will want to bet on a horse that has been performing well in the current and previous seasons. Ideally, you would see plenty of '1s' as part of the form to indicate that they have been in the winner's enclosure on several occasions.

It might be that there are lots of horses in the race with strong form, but you might want to check when they last raced. You can also drill down and find out the grade of the race in which they ran. It might be that a particular horse finishing fifth was more impressive depending on the pedigree of his or her opponents. If you want more details on how to read form, follow our guide at Gambling.com to increase your chances of backing the winning horse. 2024

Have Any Horses Raced Each Other?

Ultimately, when figuring out how to pick a winning race horse, every race should be considered a jigsaw that you need to solve. Sometimes the missing pieces come when we consider how the leading contenders have previously performed against each other. It might be that the favourite has previously beaten other horses in the race, although you should pay attention to the winning distance on this front.

Sometimes, it’s particularly hard to marry the form of UK runners and Irish runners for Cheltenham Festival races, although you should at least be able to judge relative performance. When you're reading through Gold Cup tips, or coming up with a strategy for any of the other big Cheltenham races, keep in mind that sometimes a horse’s third-placed finish behind a superstar is actually an impressive performance.

Course and Distance

While we're on the subject of form we always recommend considering course and distance when figuring out how to pick a winning horse at new betting sites. If you see the letters “CD” next to a horse’s name on the racecourse, it means that the runner has previously won at that exact course and over the same distance. It’s a telling factor when considering whether or not a horse is likely to perform well at a given course.

You’ve probably heard the phrase “horses for courses” and that certainly applies when it comes to many big meetings. There is a world of difference between a track like Cheltenham with its undulations and the likes of Haydock and Kempton Park. Therefore, it’s always good to see a horse having course and distance.


Read More: Compare Gold Cup Odds for the 2024 Cheltenham Festival


Who is the Trainer?

When betting on horse racing, you should be keenly aware of the leading trainers, and you might notice that one of the top trainers has a number of horses entered in a race. It’s often the case at big meetings that you see the likes of Willie Mullins, Nicky Henderson or Gordon Elliott training multiple winners.

On the flip side, sometimes a Mullins horse might be artificially short in the betting, especially when there’s little form to go on. We don’t recommend blindly backing runners associated with a leading trainer as it can sometimes be difficult to pick the right one and make a profit. 

Another popular strategy employed by successsful punters is combining research on trainers with promotions for big race meetings. You can, for example grab some great Grand National free bets ahead of the race. 

Who is the Jockey?

It naturally follows that the best jockeys get to ride the best horses. The top trainers generally have a primary rider and they often get to choose from the various horses entered in a race. It can be quite telling when a leading jockey selects a particular horse for a race as they ultimately regard it as having a better chance than its stablemates. 

It doesn’t always mean the best jockeys win every race. Every rider in the field is a professional jockey who will look to deploy the tactics to suit the horse but it’s always worth making a note of who is riding what animal if you want to successfully pick a winning horse. 


Pro Tip: Make the most of Grand National free bets at top betting sites


Look at Weights for Handicap Races

There are many races known as handicaps and this means that the horses in the field are carrying different weights according to their official rating. Therefore, the best horse on previous performance will be known as top weight and conversely, the worst horse will be bottom weight.

However, handicapping horses is clearly not an exact science and it can often pay to select a runner who is carrying less weight around, especially over long distances. Sometimes a horse is regarded as being favourably handicapped and is often among the favourites at betting sites as a result.

Which Horses Will Be Suited to the Going? 

Horse Racing Ground Staff at Ascot

When it comes to a race meeting, there are lots of different types of 'going', (or ground conditions). Lots of rainfall will inevitably lead to soft and even heavy going while sunshine will offer up good to firm going. When the going is good to soft certain horses will relish the chance to travel at faster speeds while 'mudlarks' prefer the heavier stuff.

Therefore, when figuring out how to pick a winning horse at a particular meeting, it’s worth researching what the ground conditions are likely to be as well as the preferred going of each horse running on the day.


Pro Tip: Get the latest Cheltenham betting offers for the 2024 Festival


Will Age Be a Factor?

Experience is an important factor to consider when attempting to pick a winning horse. A younger horse might be a more progressive sort and still on an upward trajectory. Many National Hunt races feature horses of differing ages and it’s a question of working out whether this is a factor or not.

There are certain high-profile races at the Cheltenham Festival where there are age trends. For example, five-year-olds have traditionally not fared well in the Champion Hurdle, so tipsters and punters will take that into account when deciding on their Champion Hurdle tips


Read More: Compare Grand National Odds for the 2024 Aintree showpiece


Where is the Smart Money Going?

Experienced punters will offer up many betting tips that can help you figure out how to pick a winning horse. One of the most important skills to pick up is how to watch the betting market leading up to the race. It might be that there’s a major gamble on one of the runners which suggests that the horse is rumored to stand a better chance than the odds imply.

This sort of thing happens in the hours leading up to a horse race and it’s worth keeping tabs on the horses who are shortening and drifting on the market. It doesn’t always follow that a heavily-backed horse will end up winning, although there’s a gamble for a reason.


Pro Tip: Best odds guaranteed offers can keep your price competitive


What Are the Each-Way Terms?

When it comes to betting on Cheltenham Festival races, many customers like to take the each-way betting option as it’s a sensible strategy for horse races where there are big fields. Betting each way means that you can enjoy a profitable return if your selection(s) finish second, third, fourth or even fifth in their respective race.

All of the best betting apps and sites will have each-way terms on display for each race. Sometimes, the each-way number of places can be different and it’s worth shopping around to make sure you stand the best possible chance of picking a winning horse. Look out for enhanced each-way races on a daily basis.

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How to Pick a Winning Horse | Example: Flooring Porter in the Cheltenham Stayers' Hurdle

Flooring Porter wins the Stayers' Hurdle

Flooring Porter was the winner of the 2021 Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival at a Starting Price of 12/1. The horse was a popular Stayers' Hurdle tip on the day of the race and shrewd punters noticed bookies shortening their prices on the Gavin Cromwell-trained runner throughout the morning.

Cromwell isn’t exactly a household name in horse racing circles which worked in favour of punters who were able to get a bigger price on Flooring Porter. The six-year-old was also one of the youngest horses in the race, which meant he was nice and fresh for the gruelling three-mile slog. Flooring Porter had already enjoyed strong form that season. There was an 11/1 victory in the Leopardstown Christmas Hurdle which had been over the same distance of three miles and on soft ground. The horse had also beaten Sire Du Berlais in that race, yet the latter was 5/1 for the Stayers’ Hurdle before finishing second.

The other big positive was that Paisley Park was the uncertain betting favourite to win the 2021 Stayers’ Hurdle. The 2019 winner of this race had only finished in seventh in 2020, although the bookies still weren’t taking any chances with a horse that had won the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot. On this occasion, however, the English form didn’t stand up to the Irish form.

How to Pick a Winning Horse – Top Three Strategy Tips

Here are three of our favourite methods when it comes to choosing which horse racing betting strategy.

  • Previous Form: This has to be the starting point when considering any horse race. How has each runner performed in its career so far, particularly during the current season? Have there been long absences from the track due to injury? Is each horse enjoying an upward trajectory or are his best days behind him?
  • Course and Distance: We love when horses have run at a particular racecourse before. Even better if they have travelled over precisely the same distance. Look out for a “CD” next to a horse’s name and figure out what their previous victory at this track looked like.
  • The Betting Market: It’s important to have your own views when it comes to picking a winning horse, although it could be that a selection is friendless in the market. While it doesn’t mean the horse definitely won’t win, it’s always better to have some market confidence. There is also always the option to place a pool bet if you don’t want to put your eggs in one basket. This could give you the chance to win huge payouts from small stakes. The most popular pool bet is arguably theTote Placepot, where punters select horses to place in each of the first six races of a meeting.

Key Takeaway

It should be noted that there are pros and cons when it comes to each of the various betting methods that are outlined. Sometimes a horse race would yield different winners if it was run a certain number of times, so you often need some fortune in order to land a profit on a race.

Be sure to enjoy your horse racing betting at one of our recommended sites. Always remember to gamble responsibly and we advise having some kind of staking plan so that you can structure your betting on a race-by-race basis.

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