North American vs. UK Racing (By


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Dec 2, 2008
North American vs. UK Racing – It’s a Different Game

There is nothing like the experience of betting horse racing at Betfair. Not only are odds much higher on the horses you back but you can lay horses you feel are over valued and of course you can bet while the race is being run. There is no greater feeling than seeing a horse you like whose odds drifted to ridiculous amounts come back and wire the field. It happened not that long ago at Wolverhampton when a horse I bet with a dividend of 1.9 before the race drifted out to odds of 20.0 as he dropped back a bit but came on again entering the stretch and charged home to nail the field paying 19/1 on odds where the tote was offering 4/5.

Betfair doesn’t currently offer in race betting on North American racing although they have in the past. With the purchase of TVG it’s likely they will reintroduce it in the future. Regardless a lot of Europeans won’t bet on North American racing because they don’t understand how to handicap it and the reverse is true with North Americans betting on European racing. The reason is clear. The Daily Racing Form which is the bible to horse race bettors in America looks nothing like the Racing Post in the UK which is the closest publication offered in Britain. As a Canadian who took the time to talk with experts and learn the intricacies of UK racing and how to read the Racing Post I can clearly say that North American and UK racing are vastly different not just in how the races are run, but how they need to be handicapped. Hopefully in this article I can explain the main differences and give tips on reading the Post vs. the Daily Racing Form and provide tips for both Canadians and Europeans when betting on races overseas.

The biggest difference between racing in the 2 continents is that in North American horses are bred for speed whereas most European horses are bred for stamina. While a race over 1 1/2 miles is very rare in North America it is actually more common than a sprint in Europe. Of course that also necessitates different tactics when handicapping a race. In North American racing the handicapper will look at 4 main factors when evaluating a race – speed, pace, distance and class. Speed represents the time it takes to run a race. However, many variants can affect a horse’s time including weather, footing, wind etc. A time of 1:10 for 6 furlongs for a February race at Aqueduct is usually pretty good for a high class claiming horse. The same time for a high class claiming horse at Santa Anita in February would be awful especially since California tracks laid down polytrack (equitrack). To help bettors rule out the variants the Daily Racing Form purchased the rights to famed handicapper Andrew Beyer’s speed figures which he explained in his book Picking Winners. The Beyer figure takes at all the races run during a day and calculates a variant (track bias) based on how the time of the race matches against an average race for the rest of the year. So if a Grade 2 7 furlong stakes race usually would have a time of around 1:22 at the track and during that day it was run in 1:24 Beyer calculates a negative bias of 2 seconds. Beyer takes into account race distance and some other factors as well so that a larger spread is allowed in longer races (3 seconds slower in a mile race for example is about the same as 2 seconds slower in a 6f race). Variants for all races are added together and divided by the number of races to get the variant for the day. The variant is added to the time or subtracted if the track was faster than usual to come up with a Beyer Speed figure for a horse in a given race. So a horse who ran 1:09 for 5 furlongs, for example, on a track with a -4 variant would equate to a true time of 1:08 1/5. It’s hard to miss the Beyer figure as it’s the big bold number in the middle of each horse’s racing line. So if a horse is constantly running Beyer speed figures of say 108 and the next best horse has a Beyer figure of 96 it’s likely the horse of 108 is vastly superior. Some handicappers actually rely solely on that number and it helps handicappers compare say a February race at Aqueduct vs. one at Santa Anita. The problem of course is that a horse race isn’t won by speed alone.

Pace represents how slow or fast a horse runs at each point of call (2 furlong marker 6 furlong marker, 1 mile marker etc.). It helps the handicapper determine how a horse will likely run in a race and determine whether he has the ability to hang on if it’s a speed horse or come from behind if it’s a closer. Like any human runner if a horse can’t pace himself properly he’ll run out of steam before the finish line or will lag so far back he can’t catch up. Obviously the more speed there is in a race the better it is for the closer. Of course tied into pace and speed is the distance a horse runs. Does the horse have enough speed to win a 6 furlong race? Does it have enough stamina to hang on in a mile and a quarter race etc.? It’s up to the handicapper to decide those things but the Daily Racing form offers all the tools necessary to make that judgement and in the end the winning handicapper will be the one who can juggle all the variables in the Daily Racing Form properly.

The last factor considered in North American racing as far as the horse goes (obviously jockey and trainer are important to) is class. By definition a horse moving up in class should struggle more than he did against the “cheaper” horses he just ran against while one moving down in class should perform better. At the same time, it’s important to know why a horse is dropping down. Is the trainer looking for a spot to win a race or is the horse injured so the owner just wants to get rid of him cheap – particularly in lower priced claiming races. Again a lot of the decision for the why a horse is dropping is subjective and often what separates the winning handicappers from the losers.

Now I’ll look at the other side of the pond. When I first examined the Racing Post I noticed something, there were a lot less numbers. The Post lists the horses, how they finished, their odds and a brief description of whether they closed or ran near the front. There are no points of call, no real definition of class and the distances are usually irrelevant. A horse will run a mile one day, a mile and a half a week later, 7 furlongs 3 weeks later and so forth and often he’ll run about the same. As well, while North American horses tend to run at the same track, in Europe horses race everywhere and they run often. It is not unusual for a horse in Europe to run 4 times in 2 weeks at 3 different tracks. As someone brought up on North American racing this was confounding but I was determined to beat UK racing. For Canadians this is what is important to know. The track and footing are everything. A horse may do very well at Ascot but can’t handle Cheltenham. He may love the flat Kempton track but struggle on the hills at Huntington even at the same distance. As well if a track is listed as good there could be several variants of it. A slower track with water in it may still be shown as good footing just as a blazing fast turf with no water may be listed as good. The problem for the handicapper is that some horses just don’t do well on blazing fast turf courses so it’s important to look at the video of the track to determine just how “good” the track is. British horses also tend to race everywhere and it’s imperative to learn the differences between the race courses and identify what types of tracks a horse can handle and those he can’t. Pace means relatively nothing in UK racing as most horses can run up front or come from behind but identifying how a horse will handle the track is imperative. Ironically even issues like whether the horse will be whipped by the right or left hand based on post position could be important since some horses have trouble racing on a different hand.

As well tracks are so different in Europe that more often than not times can’t be compared straight up. As in the North American example between Aqueduct and Santa Anita the same holds true in Britain. A time of 59 seconds flat for 5 furlongs at Ascot is average and may equate to a time of about 1:15 for the 5 furlongs at Thirsk over the same “good” surface. Thirsk is much deeper and much tougher on the horses so times will necessarily be slower. Learning about each course will help identify what are reasonable times for each course.

The key, however, to learning about all the intricacies of each course and some handicapping tips are to talk with others in the industry and use the forums, including the ones at Betfair. Handicappers are only too happy to share their knowledge since in the end it won’t affect their profitability. Besides that it’s all public information.

Brian Gold for Betfair Canada Blog

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