Tipster, and racing blogger, Jack Keene shows novice punters how to pick a winner at The Press Family Raceday.

STUDYING the form of a racehorse may seem like a complicated, drawn out process. At first glance the jumble of numbers and letters on the race card can be quite off-putting to novice punters, but once you understand the meaning of it all, you’re chances of picking that elusive winner will increase greatly.

The quick and easy way to pick out a horse that will carry the hopes of your hard earned money is to look and see its current form. This is shown in the format of a string of numbers alongside the horse’s name.

The numbers will range from one to nine indicating a horse’s finishing position with a zero representing a finish outside of the top ten.

It goes without saying that a horse that boasts a series of first, second or third placed finishes is in good form with the opposite coming into effect with high numbers.

This is just the tip of the iceberg as far as form study goes, though, and intrepid punters can look further into the horse’s racing history.

What are the horse’s preferred ground conditions? If it has won on firm ground it is unlikely to appreciate racing on a rain- softened surface.

Sometimes if a horse has been running on ground it dislikes and conditions turn in its favour great reward can be gained from delving deep in past form and coming out with a large price.

Handicaps make up more than half of the races run in Britain each year and the races are designed to give each horse an equal chance of winning.

Theoretically the best horse in the race will carry the most weight and the least talented will carry the lowest weight.

Every horse is allotted a handicap mark and this mark determines how much weight a horse will carry in a race.

If a horse has been running well, a British Horseracing Authority handicapper will raise that horse up the handicap weights, forcing it to run in more difficult events.

It’s worth keeping an eye on, therefore, a horse that has dropped back down to a previous winning handicap mark, even if its recent runs don’t inspire much confidence.

Another useful tool is to see if a horse is wearing any head gear for the first time. For example, if a horse has been running well without winning, the trainer may opt to put on a pair of blinkers to help the horse concentrate.

This could be the piece of assistance the runner needs to get its head in front, and will be shown in your race card as ‘b1’ for blinkers first time. The letter will vary depending on what head gear is applied and a relevant key will be available in the card.

One way I think that punters can gain an edge is by viewing your potential selections in the parade ring before the race and on the track as the horse makes it way to the start.

There are key areas on a horse that you can observe to spot a fit and healthy animal. Muscle definition around the hind quarters and the rib cage are indicators of a horse fit and ready to go. A shiny coat shows a horse is healthy and well within themselves.

If you have doubts about the horse’s liking for ground conditions, you can watch how the horse canters to post on the course. A horse with a rounded, high knee action will appreciate softer ground, whereas one that has a low skimming action with a pointed toe wants quicker going.

If a horse is sweating heavily along the neck and between the back legs, this is a negative sign.

A horse who behaves badly in the preliminaries could be one to avoid in the betting ring too. Bucking, kicking and pulling hard on the reins are all signs of questionable temperament.

It doesn’t hurt to go with a trainer or jockey who you like or who may be in good form. Some trainers know how to train their animals in preparation for a certain racecourse, just as some jockeys ride particular or idiosyncratic tracks better than others. It is useful to look at the trainer and jockey record to see how they’ve fared down the years.

If all else fails, a gut feeling is one that is sometimes impossible to ignore. If there is just something about ‘that’ horse, you might just find yourself collecting your winnings off the back of a brilliant hunch.