Reading Horse Charts

The charts used to track a horse’s past performances can look downright scary. Don’t worry; this class will break down all of the components of the charts used in the major horse racing publications. For starters, take a look at the chart below:
Racing Form Chart

As you can see, there is a lot of data condensed into a tiny space. The Date / Track / Surface / etc. line can consist of many different races, especially if the horse is older and has run many races. The vast majority of people consider these charts to hold the secrets of handicapping. Let’s break this down piece by piece so we can fully understand what these charts are telling us.

The top box of the past performance chart

    * “PP” stands for post position, or in other words, what position the horse is breaking from in relation to the other horses. This can make or break a race, obviously the further inside the horse is, the less distance he or she has to run. But this can also hurt a horse. If an inside horse is pinched off and forced to slow down, the horse might never regain its stride. This will be the number that you give to the pari-mutuel window teller when placing your bet.
    * The “Horse’s Name” is self explanatory. Oftentimes these will be clever or witty, based upon the owner’s sense of humor. Other times, the name will be a derivative of its sire or dam’s name.
    * The “Owner” is another self explanatory item. This is where the owner of the horse is listed. This might be an individual, or it can be a team name or stable.
    * “Colors” refers to the clothing that the jockey wears. Usually owners and stables have specific colors and shapes that they require jockeys to wear. The purpose of this is to identify who the horse belongs to.
    * The “Morning Line” is a suggestion at which betting begins. These numbers are determined by track officials a few days prior to the race. Once betting gets underway, the pari-mutuel system takes over.
    * The “Jockey” is the individual riding the horse. Once the race begins, the outcome is sometimes based upon a jockey’s quick thinking and action. Jockeying is a skill; some are better at it than others. You should be able to identify the successful jockeys at your track. The jockey’s win-place-show record will also be listed here.
    * The horse’s description and age will usually be abbreviated. For instance, this line might read “Br g (5).” This signifies that the horse is brown, a gelding (or, a castrated male), and five years old. Typically, a three year old will be immature when compared to a four or five year old horse, although there are always exceptions to this rule.
    * The “Sire” and the “Dam” refer to the horse’s parents. The sire is the father and the dam is the mother. Oftentimes charts will list how much each parent made during their racing careers. Sometimes, racing talent will be passed down from generation to generation.
    * The “Breeder” is the person who birthed the horse. These can be businesses or an individual. Breeders have a difficult task due to the fact that they try to establish the best possible bloodlines for their horses. Picking a successful sire and dam sounds easy, but this is sometimes a crapshoot since it is impossible to tell whether or not that talent will be handed down to their offspring.
    * The “Trainer” is one of the most important players in the horse racing industry. As previously explained, the trainer acts as coach for the horse, designing the workout and racing schedule for the horse. It is imperative that you know who the most successful trainers are.
    * The top right corner of the past performance chart contains the horses win-place-show record, plus the total amount of races run by the horse. It will also contain how much money the horse has won. These are broken up by year right below the lifetime figures.
    * In big letters you will see the horses allowance here, or in other words, the amount of weight the horse will be carrying. There may also be a big “L,” which means that the drug Lasix has been given to the horse.

The bottom of the past performance chart

    * The boxed part of the chart is where the most pertinent information lies. Here you will find the dates of all races run by the horse, the tracks it run at, and the distance of the race. Next will be four numbers. For 6 furlongs, this will be broken down by ¼ mile, ½ mile 5/8 mile, and total race time. A theoretical race split might look like this:

    The superscript letters stand for 1/5ths of a second, so the superscript “4” in the first column would signify 22 and 4/5ths of a second, and so on. You can detect early and late speed by looking at these numbers. For instance, if a horse runs 22 for its first two furlongs only to slow down considerably at the end of a race, the trainer and jockey might look at this and decide that they need to go out slower their next race.

    * Race type points to the quality of the competitors in the horse’s previous races. These will usually be accompanied by a dollar amount. Be careful to look for significant changes in the type of race and the dollar amount associated with it. This topic is complicated and will be covered in greater detail in the 4th grade lesson.
    * Next, is the speed figure. This number is an attempt at quantifying a horse’s race in comparison to other races. Because different races on different surfaces are hard to compare with just time alone, the introduction of speed figures allows handicappers to quickly compare horses that have run in different races. If a horse has a speed figure of 100, that horse has equaled the track record as far as time goes. Over the course of time, it has come to be accepted that one horse length is equal to 1/5th of a second. Each length is equal to one speed figure point. So a horse that finishes five lengths behind the record-equaling horse will earn a speed figure of 95. Consequently, as you may have guessed, this horse would be one second behind the winner. This is not an exact science, but it is a decent way of approximating different horses efforts over different courses and in different company. Speed figures are another complicated topic. They will be covered in our 5th grade lesson.
    * The “Race Report” is perhaps the most important aspect of the past performance chart. Sometimes called the running line, this is where you can visualize the race more clearly. Again, this is broken into four sections that will look something like this:

    The Race Report

    The large number refers to the horse’s position over the given distance. The smaller, second number lets handicappers know how far behind the leader the horse was at the given marker. If a horse is in first, the number let’s readers know how far ahead of second place he or she was. In the case of the above example, the horse won by a neck. Nose is abbreviated as “no” while a head is shortened to “h.”

    * The jockey that rode the horse for each name will be mentioned next. Jockey changes may trigger a different type of race for the horse, as each jockey will have different tactics and abilities.
    * Next, the odds that the horse went out with will be listed. This is usually listed as a decimal, or in other words, the amount that the horse would have won with a $1 wager had they been the winner.
    * The top three finishers in the selected race are then mentioned. If the horse has run against another horse that is participating in the current race, that horse will be highlighted in the past results. This is a quick way to see whether or not the horse has been beaten in the past by any of the horses he faces in today’s race.
    * The “Comments” section is usually very brief. If the horse broke to the inside and then tired in the last stretch to be beaten, the comments section will read something like this “rail, weakened.” As space is limited, these words may be in shorthand.
    * Below the boxed section you will find past workouts that the horse has completed. Some tracks require that workouts be posted before they are allowed to race in certain classes.

As you can tell, the past performance charts of a horse can be very confusing for those trying to decipher it for the first time. Now that we have dissected and analyzed what information is found in them, we can use that information to our advantage. The next two sections focus on concepts that you can use to handicap races yourself just by using elements of the past performance charts.

elementary school
Pre-KHorse Racing Basics
KindergartenPari-Mutuel System Betting
1st GradeHorse Racing 101
2nd GradeWhy Pick One Horse Over Another
3rd GradeReading Horse Charts
4th GradeWhy Class Matters
5th GradeSpeed Figures
middle school
6th GradeIntro to Exotic Betting
7th GradeExotics Part II Multi Race Bets
8th GradeSelecting the Right Races
high school
9th GradeThe Morning Line
10th GradeMoney Management
11th GradeBetting Tactics to Avoid
12th GradePerfecting the Craft