Gain A Betting Edge Part 1: Horses for Races

Gain A Betting Edge Part 1: Horses for Races


To help gain a betting edge, it is important to understand the 'lifestage' of a racehorse and the different types of race they will be competitive in over time. This article explores the strike rates of racehorses at different points in their careers by the different types of races they will compete in.

Categorising Racehorses

As in any sport, individuals improve with physical development and experience, peak and then decline over time. The same is true with racehorses. 

Understanding the current developmental profile (lifestage) of a racehorse is a complicated process involving lots of variables. To help, I have simplified horse 'lifestages' into the following categories:

  • Debutant - Never raced before and outside of the trainer's yard is an unknown quantity.  
  • Unexposed - Raced more than once, but overall is lightly raced (typically less than 15 runs) and can improve with further physical development and experience.
  • In Form - Ran well in previous race, typically running consistently well in races and may be open to further improvement.
  • Exposed - Reached their physical peak, is more likely to decline than improve and has typically raced more than 15 times.
  • Sleeper - Has had their troubles, such as a long lay off, poor run of form, but may still have some ability remaining given the right circumstances, such as a change in tactics, training regime, recovery from injury, etc. 

Categorising Races

There are many different types of races in the UK and Ireland on the flat and jumps. These are aimed at helping with the development of inexperienced animals, showcasing the kings and queens of the sport and offering bread and butter opportunities to the also rans. To list out the various variations of race types is beyond this article. To simplify things I have used the following groupings:

  • Graded - The best quality of races where the champions of the turf and all weather compete. Also known as Group races.
  • Listed - Often a stepping stone for horses with Graded aspirations or top handicappers.
  • Handicap - Handicaps allow a range of horses with different abilities to compete on a level playing field, where weight differences are used to help and hinder horses.
  • Maiden - Races for inexperienced horses to help them learn their trade. Also called Beginner or Bumper races in National Hunt.
  • Claimers - Races for poorer animals or where owners want to sell animals that have reached their peak. Horses can be claimed (sold) in these races.
  • Sellers - Races often contested by the poorest quality horses where the winner is put up for sale.
  • Other - Covers all the other types of races, such as conditions and novelty races not covered by the above categories.

Looking simply at the number of winners by horse type measured against race type provides the following graph:

Looking at this graph, you can see, for example, that unexposed horses win 77.78% of maiden races and 60.25% of graded races. This gives the impression that unexposed horses have a significant advantage over other types of horses in most categories. However, this has to be taken in the context of how many runners of each type raced in each race. Therefore, win strike rates per horse type is a much better measure.

Measuring Success Rates

Now that we have defined the categories of horses and races, we can measure how each type of horse does in each category of race by measuring their win strike rates (number of winners/number of runners as a percentage) as a group. 

As can be seen from the graph above there are a number of key learning points we can take. For example, did you know?

  1. In form horses (likely to have finished in the placings) have a higher strike rate than debutants and unexposed horses in maiden races.
  2. For Claiming races, in form horses have a considerable advantage over other horse types. Avoiding sleepers and unexposed horses in these races may also be advisable.
  3. Sleepers may be worth a second look in most race types, as they are often available at decent prices due to the unknowns involved.
  4. In form and unexposed horses win the bulk of handicap races. However, from previous analysis they are often overbet (shorter price than expected). Therefore it may be worth focusing efforts on the sleepers and exposed horses to gain more value, especially as the strike rates are only marginally different.
  5. In the top class races, unexposed and in form horses have a significant edge. Once again though, Sleepers win their fair share and often at decent prices.

Where Is This Information Available?

Whilst the type of race can be gleaned from the race title, categorising horses into their different types would be highly time consuming and error prone. Luckily there is a solution to help.

A web and mobile application I have developed ( contains information regarding the type of each horse in a race (see below for example). By using the graph above and the information contained in the BetTurtle racecards (click the 'Stats' button and select the 'Ratings' tab), you can quickly see the types of horses that have the best chance of winning a particular race.

Using the example below (a race that hasn't yet run as I write), the race title clearly shows this is a handicap race and from the graph above we know in form and unexposed horses have the best strike rates. However, there are 3 Sleepers in there priced at 20/1 or more to make things interesting.

What you would choose is up to you, but I would look at the stats from the earlier graph and adopt the following thought process:

1) I would favour in form, exposed and sleepers in this race over the exposed horses. This rules out numbers 3, 6, 13 and 16.

2) In form and unexposed horses are often over bet (odds shorter than expected). So I would rule out those in this category that are underbet (odds appear too long), as I suspect today won't be the day for them if the market is not in their favour.This rules out 4, 5 - who is a non runner, 9, 10, and 11.

3) With regard to the sleepers, I would rule out number 12 as she is a girl against the boys and is 10 years old, so probably open to little improvement.

4) This then leaves a shortlist of 1, 2, 7, 8, 14 and 15. Number 8 is unexposed and is today's hot favourite, but at prohibitive odds. Numbers 1 and 2 are in form, but at 5 and 7 years old are unlikely to be improving. Therefore, I would probably put on 3 each way bets on number 7, who at 4 years old may improve more and is a decent double figure price and both the sleepers (14 and 15) who are both young enough to improve at very big prices.


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