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Determining if a Horse is In Form

If you are learning how to handicap horse races, one of the most important factors you will learn to look at is Form.  Form refers to the physical condition of a horse.  If a horse is in good condition, that horse is said to be “In Form.”  A horse that is in poor condition is “Off Form,” and not a strong contender.  Horses may also round in and out of Form, transitioning up or down (this also tends to result in a transition in Class).


Trying to figure out if a particular horse is In Form or Off Form?  Look at the following two indicators to find out:

  • Performance in recent races
  • Workouts (consistency and quality)


In particular, focus on performance and workouts over the past 45 days.  A horse that has raced in the past 45 days is called a “non-layoff horse.”  A horse which has not raced in the past 45 days is called a “layoff horse.”


Betting on Layoff Horses

Horses which are on layoffs haven’t been racing, so that only gives you one indicator to look at to judge their condition, and that is workouts.

Generally speaking, horses that are In Form will work out every 7-10 days or so.  So if you see a substantially bigger gap—or a number of them—that may be an indication that a horse is Off Form.  Note that the rule used to be that a horse should work out every 5-7 days, but that is something which has changed over the years. 

If a horse has been working out irregularly, but you see increasing frequency and regularity with workouts, it could be an indication that horse was Off Form and is now rounding into Form.  The converse is true as well.  If a horse on a regular workout schedule suddenly starts working out less, that horse could be rounding Off Form.



Betting on Non-Layoff Horses

When a horse is not on a layoff, you have a lot more to look at to determine whether the horse is In Form or not.  You can look at the workout schedule just as you can with layoff horses, but you also have the opportunity to examine performance in recent races.


The question is whether a horse has been running well and at the right Class.  The type of race, distance, and racing surface all need to be taken into account as well.


What does it mean to “run well?”  That is where things get complicated.  Your mileage may vary.  Different handicappers define “running well” in different ways.  Plus, the horse’s racing style also needs to be considered.  And remember, to get a valid idea as to a horse’s Form, you need to be looking at a race which took place over the right surface and distance.  Ideally, this will be the most recent race, but if it isn’t, you will have to look back at previous races (which is usually a good idea anyway for further context).


Look at the workouts in conjunction with the races, not independently of context.  Following a recent race, how did a horse work out?  Consistently and well?  Or poorly and inconsistently?  A horse which starts working out poorly or sporadically following a recent race may be rounding out of Form. 


Note however that there is an exception which can be made for claiming horses.  They do not always work out on a regular basis.  In the case of a claiming horse, you can ignore workouts and simply look at recent races. 


Now you have an idea what you need to do in order to determine whether or not a horse is In Form.  If you haven’t already, read up on the different stages of the Form Cycle.  Also be sure to check out my next article, What Are Form Reversals?.


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