Get to Know the Daily Racing Form

The Breeders’ Cup, horse racing’s multimillion-dollar weekend and the culmination of the racing year, is right around the corner—November 6 and 7 from Keeneland Race Course in Lexington.

So this is as good a time as any to take a quick look at the bible of handicapping, the Daily Racing Form (DRF). There’s no Breeders’ Cup edition available yet, but the format is standard in every edition.

Let’s break down how to read the DRF for fun (and hopefully, profit).

  1. First, look to the top of the page. Reading from left to right, you’ll see the name of each horse and a block of copy regarding his/her age and performances, both this year and over the course of the horse’s career.
  2. In the middle of the page, there’s another block of copy with two important notes: a horse’s breeding (sire, dam and bloodlines), along with the win record of the trainer.
  3. On the right side, you’ll see the record of a horse’s performance overall and at the track he/she is running on that day. Keep in mind, different horses excel on different tracks and at different distances. Some run better on turf, some love to run in the mud, some do best on a synthetic surface. Along the same lines, one horse might run well at a mile, but not have enough speed for a six-furlong sprint.

How are you doing so far? Let’s keep dissecting the details.

  1. Going down the page, look to the the left side of the DRF for the date, track and distance of the horse’s last few races. Owners run horses at the level they think they can win, so the class of the race is very important. How do you evaluate the level of the race? From bottom to top, with abbreviations, start with Maiden (Md), horses who have never won. A higher level is Maiden Special Weights (Md Sp Wt), which is akin to Private First Class in the army. You’re at the top of the bottom. If an owner runs the horse at Maiden Special Weights and the horse does poorly, the horse may then run in a regular maiden race. This is called “dropping in company,” and that horse will probably be bet because the opposition is less.
  2. The same principal applies in the next category up. This is Claiming (you might see it listed as CLM). The claiming level is self-explanatory, listed from as low as $5,000 to a level of maybe $50,000. An owner’s horse might run badly at $50,000, then get placed in a $25,000 race, where prospects improve in a weaker field. You may see a designation like this after a horse: CLMn2l. Is this the nuclear code? No, it means the horse ran against a field in which none of the contestants had two career wins. The “n” stands for non-winners and the “l” denotes lifetime. A horse that wins in a field of “non-winners of 2” is considered to be moving up if he then faces a field of “non-winners of 3” the next time out. Simple, right?

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  1. The next step up is allowance (ALW). Follow the purse figures—the higher the purse, the better the field, presumably. Stakes races, the championship level, are Grade III (G-3), Grade II (G-2) and Grade 1 (G-1). The last listing includes the Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup races.
  2. The Beyer Speed Figures, named after track specialist Andrew Beyer, compare how the horse ran on a certain day relative to track conditions. These numbers are in bold black. Contenders will have the highest numbers. The “s numbers” can then be used to compare a given horse’s “speed” against its competition in an upcoming race, despite the fact that the horses have all run in different races, at different tracks and are different calibers. If one horse has a Beyer’s edge of 10 points, it’s considered a huge edge.
  3. The DRF will tell you where a horse was at every stage of the race. If you see a string of numbers like 1 or 2 across the page, this horse has his best stride early and can be considered a “speed” horse. If you see a string of 1’s, followed by higher numbers and a bad finish, it means the horse got caught up in a “speed duel.” In other words, another horse ran hard with him early and compromised him.
  4. The stalker. You see a horse running fourth, then third, then second, then first. This horse likes to wait just off the pace and try to overcome the leaders in the homestretch. If there’s only one horse in a race that you consider “speed,” he could win going wire-to-wire. If there are two or three horses that like to run that way, the race “sets up” for a “stalker” or “closer” to run past the pack in the final eighth of a mile.

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Horse racing is complicated, and at first glance, the DRF may seem complicated. But get acquainted with this matchless tool. Make it your friend. You’ll be that much closer to picking a winner.

The Breeders’ Cup Players’ Show will deliver full coverage of the 2020 Breeders’ Cup World Championships on Friday and Saturday, November 6 and 7. TVG will host the show with in-depth analysis of the 14-race, two-day card. Coverage begins on Friday, November 6 at 11 a.m. ET.

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