How to Read a Horse Racing Program

A horse racing program is often composed of a tightly packed information which can be overwhelming and confusing. Don’t panic, here is the ultimate guide on how to read a horse racing program.

What do you do when you are handed a booklet which is filled to the brim with statistics in size 8 font?

Where do you focus your gaze? What are the key details to unpick? How do you make sense of the program at the track?

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The team is here to help you comb through the typical horse racing program to find all the essential information needed to engage in horse racing betting confidently.

What does a horse racing program look like?

How to read a horse racing program when you’ve never seen one? This information may seem a little daunting but once all the components are broken down into sections, they can provide a very reliable picture of the horses who are running on the track.

how to read a horse racing program infographic
Detailed infographic created by Keeneland Racetrack

Online horse racing programs

Although it is still hugely popular to go to the tracks and bet on horses, the majority of preparation begins online nowadays. You can see online horse racing programs with betting apps and get lines and other race-related updates in real-time. Going the online or mobile route can be a great way to streamline your horse racing experience.

It’s helpful to get horse racing picks and predictions when betting online as well. Use expert opinions when finding out the dark horses and sure-wins.

Name, Jockey, and Owner

Let’s start at the very beginning.

The only thing in a legible font on the program will be the horse’s name.

This will usually be accompanied by information about its owner and rider.

Additionally, the all-important silks will be pictured in the margin.

This little picture is probably the most important piece of information in this section as it will enable you to recognize your chosen horse when it is running around the track.

Racing silks of Cheveley Park Stud

If no picture is featured, then the silks will simply be described as shown in the example above.

Identifying silks is an easy way of verifying if a particular owner has any other horses running that day as typically every owner will have their signature patterns and colors.

Without getting bogged down in the details you can determine a lot from these simple snippets of information by doing the following things:

  • Checking the horse’s name against the odds on the big screens
  • Scanning through the rest of the program to see if the owner has raced any other horses and how they performed
  • Spotting the jockey’s silk so that you can watch the horse’s behavior in the paddock before the race which can be an important indicator of performance

Once you have sufficiently analyzed this section, you will be ready to move on to the small print.

The Records

If you have established the basics you can dive into the horse’s previous records. These will not feature a breakdown of previous races, instead, these tend to be overall records per category.

They serve as a broad overview of a horse’s performance before delving into specifics.

When looking through the records of a horse you will often find a list of dates that make very little sense.

Here is what you have to remember:

  1. The first date will probably be the date of the current year and the numbers along from it will present the horse’s yearly record
  2. The horses’ previous yearly records will be exposed, in this case, 2013
  3. The life records will be shown
  4. You may get details on their performance on difference tracks such as Turf and All Weather
  5. You may also get details of the horse’s value in dollars and the amount that they won per race
  6. For each category there will be  4 numbers, the second one is the number of wins which is the one to focus on

Although the specifics of this category may differ according to the program, in general, this section is sufficient to give you a good idea of the horses’ performance as a whole.

Past Performances

If you are satisfied with a horse’s “life records” then it is worth moving on to read their records in past races.

In general, you will be provided with the following details from left to right

  • Date
  • Race track abbreviation and race number
  • Course Conditions
  • Course Type
  • Fractional time of race
  • Final Time of race
  • Race restrictions, ie handicap, age restrictions, etc.
  • Type of Race, ie stakes
  • Post Position
  • Order of calls- distance behind lead horse at various points during the race
  • Finish Position
  • Jockey’s Name
  • Weight carried including equipment
  • Medical equipment
  • Odds
  • Weight carried by top 3 horses in the race
  • Comments
  • Number of horses in the race

Extra details may include

  • Results of Morning work out
  • Wind Direction

To make things a little bit easier we have put the unmissable information in green. Although there will be a series of numbers detailing the order of calls, singling out the final number which will designate the horse’s position at the finish line should be enough to make a judgement call.

The other important facts are race restrictions, course type, and type of race. These are all variables which must match up with the race you are betting on to make your predictions as accurate as possible. The past performance results must be taken with a pinch of salt. Although they will give punters concrete facts to make their prediction often they can be misleading if you skim over the details.

See also TVG review article.

If the horse is a champion at stakes hurdles, then it is impossible to predict their performance within a flat race with this particular set of facts.

Symbols and Abbreviations

Since the program makers must compress a lot of information into a small amount of space, they usually rely on prior knowledge of the shorthand symbols used.

This can be problematic if you are new to the track.

Race Type Code

There are many different types are race codes, here are the three most common ones for top races:

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

For a full glossary of these horse terms, check out our basic track dictionary. 

Find out about what a horse race handicap is.

Course Conditions and Course Symbols

Course Symbols

Beyond the horse and the jockey its important to consider what the terrain is like when you are analyzing a horse racing program.

The course symbols are easy to overlook because they are designated by a series of very obscure abbreviations which can easily wash over a racegoer’s head

If a horse won on a course which does not resemble the one they are racing on at a later date, then all bets will be off.

After you have checked whether the horse’s prowess is on Turf or Hurdle, it is important to verify the condition of the track.

It may have been sloppy, muddy, hard or good, depending on the day.

All of these minute details add up to create a complete picture of a successful horse.

The track condition symbols are the following:

  • ft: fast
  • wf: wet fast
  • sy: sloppy
  • my: muddy
  • yl: yielding
  • hd: hard
  • gd: good
  • hy: heavy
  • sl: slow
  • fz: frozen
  • fm: firm
  • sf: soft

Race Restrictions

Fortunately, this section is a breeze.

This is only really important if a horse has just turned 3 and therefore has just begun to qualify for more challenging races.

The four symbols you need to remember are:

  • R for restricted
  • F for Filly
  • S for State Bred
  • 3 up, for 3-year-old horses and up

Medication and equipment symbols

Last but not least, medical symbols.

In practice, this information is not required to secure a win. It is just useful to identify these symbols so that you are not thrown when you see these abbreviations on the program.

If you are more advanced you may want to see whether a horse has improved automatically when they were put on Lasix or Bute.

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