Kevin Blake’s Top Five Beginner Tips for Picking a Horse

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Ireland’s leading horse racing journalist Kevin Blake gives us his top five beginner tips for picking a horse.

A horse’s previous form is the key to discovering winners

Generally, when one is looking at a horse race, we have an amount of evidence in front of us, and that is what the horse has previously done. That is the art of working out what’s going to win a horse race, we look at what’s happened previously. You’re examining what circumstances have shown each horse to the best effect. In its simplest form, you might try to find horses that have done very well in the set of circumstances that look to be presenting themselves again on the day.

Solid recent form is probably the best indicator of them running well again on the day you’re looking at. Horses, like humans, can go through runs of form. Whether it’s a physical condition, mental condition, it tends to mean they’re in a good place physically and mentally and they will continue to remain there for a while.

Try to identify winning jockeys when they’re still claimers

The greatest jockey in the world won’t make a slow horse fast. If one wanted to weigh it up in terms of percentage, I would dare say the horse is 97 to 98% of the equation. The jockey and the decisions he makes certainly has the potential to ruin a horse’s chance.

Jockeys will probably lose races that they should have won more so than win races they should have lost.

When you’re looking at a race card, if you see a little number in brackets after the rider’s name, that’s their claim. It’ll be three, five or seven in a bracket and you’ll know your horse is carrying that much less [weight] to compensate for your jockey.

If you can identify a jockey who is particularly good while they’re a claimer, before the world cops on to them, that can be a very advantageous betting strategy to just simply follow that jockey. 

Keep an eye out for your horse’s date of birth compared to the opposition

Every horse technically has their birthday on January 1st. It was basically for convenience in terms of not having horses change their ages in the middle of the season.

From a breeding point of view, one wants to produce their horse as soon after January 1st as they can, because the closer you’re born to January 1st, the more of an advantage you have. If you horse is born on January 1st and the horse you’re running against is born on May 15th, you’re five and a half months older and you’re racing in the same age group.

When two-year-old racing begins, it’s something that a lot of punters will pay attention to. They will look at the birth date of the horses because it goes without saying if you’re five months ahead of your opposition, that’s a fair bit of an advantage when you’re dealing with horses that are only two-years of age.

The foals that are born in January don’t actually thrive as quickly as a foal that’s born in mid-March or April when the weather’s warmer; there’s more green, protein-filled grass out in the paddocks. Foals that are born in the middle of the breeding season, will start to thrive a bit faster.

Learn about the handicap system to gain an advantage

The handicap system underpins all of horse racing. It’s an excellent comparison in golf; the purpose of the handicap system in golf is to try and equalise the chance of all the golfers and the performance of the golfers, just like it is with horses where the performance of the horses is judged by the handicapper and he will give a numerical assessment of that horse’s ability. That is their handicap mark. The job the handicapper is trying to do is handicap every single horse so that they can be put into various different bands to try and get horses of similar ability all together in the same races.

The horses with the slightly higher marks will carry more weight, proportionate to the difference in the handicap marks. In theory, if the handicapper has done an excellent job in assessing those horses’ abilities, they all finish in a straight line.

[The horses] get to a point where they’re too good to run handicaps. It’s clear they’re ready to run in what we call ‘stakes races’. If we want to build a scale, the lowest class of stakes race is called a listed race, a group three, a group two and a group one, which is the absolute pinnacle of the sport, that is what the very, very best horses run in.

Listen to the punditry, it’s a goldmine of useful tips

In racing, the margins are so small that if there’s a slight difference in the speed of the track over there and ten yards this way, that can very much impact on the result. The analysis of the draw, the significance of the draw, is a whole other sector that gets an awful lot of attention and people will really delve into it to get an advantage.

If the commentator switches onto your horse and says ‘sweating’, ‘fractious’, or needing two handlers to try and keep the horse under wraps in the parade ring, that instinctively seems negative, but if the pundit on TV says ‘well, I saw this horse run last time when he won by ten lengths and he did the exact same thing beforehand’. He’s probably not helping himself, but he’s been able to overcome that in the past – that’s very relevant information if you can get it.

Thanks to Betfair for this exclusive interview.

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