Horse Racing Betting Systems, 

Strategies and Tips for 

National Hunt Jumps Racing 

and Exchange Betting.


Historically, horse racing betting used to be focused almost entirely on the flat.

Up until about 1960 winter horse racing over the jumps, known as National Hunt racing was considered a very inferior cousin to the high quality horse racing on the flat.

Fields were small and uncompetitive, prize money was poor and so profitable horse race betting was nigh on impossible or at least getting a worthwhile starting price was nigh on impossible.

Prize Money

During the 1960’s the cameras moved in and the excitement of jumps racing was brought to the masses via TV, not surprisingly it wasn’t long before the prize money followed.

Today there isn’t much difference in prize money between flat and jumps horse racing.

Where the prize money goes, the owners are sure to follow and so it was the case. The horses improved, the quality and class improved and the races tightened up.

However, although jumps horse racing and betting is more competitive today, the racing stats show that in certain types of horse races the favourites are extremely consistent compared to the flat.

1st let’s explain some of the terminology around the National Hunt season.

The season proper takes over as the flat season ends, to provide more horse racing and betting in the winter months and so keep poor trainers, owners and bookmakers in a job.

The jumps season proper is between mid October and the end of April.

There are 2 main categories of jumps race.

Steeplechases (novice and handicap chases).

Usually just referred to as “chases”.  These are between 2 miles and 4 and a half miles and the fences are fixed rigid fences set at a minimum of 4 and a half feet. These races are dangerous and exciting.

Hurdles (novice and handicap hurdles).

Hurdles races are run between 2 miles and 3 and a half miles and the hurdles are more forgiving and less rigid at only 3 and half feet and give way if they are hit. 

The Grand National has taken its place as the greatest steeplechase on earth, with prize money to reflect its glory and status.

No-one can doubt the excitement generated by this event in what was once considered a lesser cousin of flat racing.

Let’s examine the jumps racing stats from 2004 onwards:

Bets Win
Handicap Hurdle 8298  30%
Novice Hurdle 10238 45%
Novice Handicap Hurdle 2358 27%
Selling Hurdle 2572 31%
Other Hurdle 3471 41%
Handicap Chase 9337 31%
Novice Chase 6455 48%
Novice Handicap Chase 2031 29%
Hunter Chase 2083 44%
Other Chase 1468 38%
NH Flat 2720 34%

1st of all we can say that unequivocally, exactly as on the flat, handicaps are a major problem compared with non handicaps.

But overall we can see 3 race types where the win ratio results for favourites at starting price are extremely impressive.

Novice Hurdle 45%
Novice Chase 48%
Hunter Chase 44%

To start our analysis we must assert that in jumps races there are a totally different set of circumstances which you must address when including or discluding horses from your field selection as compared with the flat.

Jumps racing form is largely a mix of weight carried, jumping ability, stamina and speed.

The 1st point to note is that the distance for these races tends to be between 2 miles and up to 4 miles, much longer than the flat races.

Horses for Courses

A notable similarity with the flat racing is that the layout of certain jumps race courses appears to affect the results and certain courses appear to be particularly attractive to National Hunt race favourites.

This is very relevant when deciding on your field.

The best 10 jumps courses in terms of % win ratio as of 2009 are:

  1. Ayr
  2. Fakenham
  3. Folkestone
  4. Haydock
  5. Kelso
  6. Lingfield
  7. Newcastle
  8. Newton Abbot
  9. Warwick
  10. Wetherby

It just so happens that the layout of these jumps race courses appears to favour the favourites more so than the other courses.

However it must be made clear to horse racing betting punters that:-

“Blindly backing a high % of winning favourites definitely does not always lead to a clear profit.”

Horse race betting simply does not work like that.

What I want to establish is “value” and the high % of winning favourites in long distance jumps racing lead me to further analyse the data to find simple profit making horse race betting system strategies that can be applied to jumps betting.

Weight in National Hunt.

Exactly the same as with flat racing, weight is a crucial factor in determining winners in jumps racing.

In handicap jumps racing weight is crucial in tightening up the races and drawing horses together at the finish and this is supported by the historical race data.

Jumping ability is of course also crucial and is every bit as important in hurdling as in chasing even though it can be seen that the hurdles are definitely easier obstacles compared with fences.

The 2 other main components of form in National Hunt racing are speed and stamina and there is of course the run in to the finishing line which requires acceleration at the end of what are often long races usually over 2 miles.

National Hunt handicaps

Horse racing over jumps is subject to the same “grading” concepts as are applied to flat racing.

There are 10 classes varying from Class A to Class G with 3 separate grades at Class A and also an additional Class H referring to hunter chases.

The main difference between the flat and jumps racing is that in National Hunt, high class horses can compete in handicaps as high as Class A – Grade 2.

Handicap Chases

Handicap Chases are dominated by the 5 handicap positions at the top of the weights, with 3 out of 4 races being won by horses in these positions.

It is obvious therefore that these are the positions where you should primarily concentrate your search for winners.

The next criterion to examine in making a final selection is your old favourite - starting price.

It can be seen from historical results that compared with flat racing betting the odds about winners are generally shorter in jumps racing betting than on the flat often because the fields themselves are so much smaller.

Examining the UK databases of horse racing results we can state that statistically 56% of winners are in the starting price area between 2-1 and 7-1.

So in terms of betting field reduction we are looking for horses in the top 5 weights with starting prices ranging between 2-1 and 7-1.

Obviously this is not sufficient criteria on its own, but it provides a valid starting point for reducing a handicap chase field quickly towards reaching a final selection.

Making a selection – Exchange Betting Forecast, Betting Shop or Racecourse Starting Price.

With the advent of exchange betting there is not that much difference between using racecourse prices, betting shop prices or betting exchange prices.

With the internet and wireless technology and all the magical gadgetry now surrounding horse race betting these days the reality is that all these starting prices feed off each other in a complex interactive web and the prices tend to draw together relatively quickly.

By the time of the off there is not much difference between the different starting prices on the different horse race betting mediums.

Other jumps racing factors – jumping ability.

The other factor universally accepted as important in picking a National Hunt winner is jumping ability.

The betting professionals attending race meets are obviously at a big advantage when it comes to assessing jumping ability. They follow a different race meet most days and know all the contenders inside out.

But where can novice punters without this degree of time and commitment expect to get the information they require?

As ever the outstanding horse racing betting resource that is the Racing Post carries a post race commentary on all individual race horses previous performances.

If you go through the RP betting site and click on your chosen jumps race and then the race horse of interest, you will see all the race horses previous recorded races via a link with Raceform Interactive.

From there you are able to click through to view the comments made on not only the race horse selected but all the other runners performances in this particular race.

In terms of assessing a race horses jumping ability, comments will be made as to whether the horse “jumped badly”. A comment might refer to how many fences were hit or mistakes made at fences etc. Any reference to the way the horse jumped during the race makes it a suspect jumper.

Similarly when a comment simply states “jumped well” then this is particularly noteworthy. An absence of comments which refer to hitting fences is also a good sign.

You may also find reference to the nature of the racecourse of use in determining jumping ability.

Where the fences are declared as stiff, severe or testing, then if the horse has put in a decent run it is much more worthy of note than a horse that puts in a decent run at an easy track.

Probably the most important indicator of jumping ability is the reference to the form line that appears on all racecards after the race horses name and also the pop up box that will appear if you hover over the horses name on Racing Post betting site. 

From this you will be able to glean whether a horse has unseated its rider ( UR ), fallen (F) or pulled up (PU) at one of the fences.

If this has occurred at 2 or more of the last 6 outings it does infer that the horse has a serious problem with jumping at this particular moment and is a poor selection unless significantly dropped in class.

Handicap Hurdles

Handicap hurdles are recognized as particularly poor horse race betting vehicles to attempt to find a final winning selection.

When analyzing the UK horse racing database records it seems that the winners in these races are simply spread across all weights and all starting prices.

Why is this?

The obstacles in handicap hurdles are at least a foot lower, significantly easier and more forgiving than in chases.

In chases it is generally accepted that a horse has to have some degree of natural jumping ability, speed and stamina, whereas in hurdles it can be seen that very average horses can quite regularly be trained to a high enough level to be able to just about keep up with the pace and put in a reasonable show.

If we add handicapping weights into the mix, then it just seems to result in pretty even races with almost any race horse in the field being capable of passing the winning line 1st.

In most race course guides, handicap hurdles are referred to as the worst races for favourites, more so than any other form of jumps race.

Non Handicaps

National Hunt favourites in non handicaps have an even better win ratio than on the flat. This is a statistical fact.

Lets examine more closely the main types of non handicap jumps races.

Novice Hurdles.

These are races that are open to horses that have not won a hurdle race before the  start of the current season.

Hurdling technique is quite different to steeplechasing technique, hurdles are lower, flatter and faster. Hurdling is something that can be taught to an extent.

Race horses generally require a whole season as novices before they can master the hurdles, horses that take this long to mature will never be great hurdlers.

Horses coming to the hurdles from the flat for the 1st time should generally be avoided. It is almost unheard of for them to win 1st time out for the same reason as above.

It is also usually necessary to a certain degree for a horse to have some training on the racecourse over a full 2 or 3 miles. If he does well then look for improvement next time out.

The introduction of penalties for winning horses in novice hurdles racing certainly seems to affect novice hurdlers more than in handicap hurdles where horses seem able to defy weight increases.

Penalty weights are distinct from handicapping weights in that they are only applied to winners of these novice races. For example if a horse wins its novice race in a given season then it will still be allowed to enter further novice races in the current season, but will have to move up to handicap jumps races in the next season.

To make the races more competitive in the current season weight penalties are applied to the winner of a novice race.

4lb for winning one race.
7lb for winning 2 races.

For this reason a win last time out by no means makes a novice hurdler a certainty in its next outing and so a profitable betting strategy is to concentrate your efforts on improvers who were 2nd or 3rd last time out.

Betting in Novice Hurdles

With previous form and jumping ability being so limited or non existent betting in novice hurdles is something of a lottery but can be lucrative through selective betting on favourites at starting price.

Analysis of the racing statistics indicates that favourites at starting price in novice hurdles come in as winners in over 42% of cases. With favourites that won their last outing going up to 48% win ratio.

As already mentioned outstanding figures can also be achieved from favourites that were 2nd or 3rd on their last outing, recording around 45% win ratio and the better odds you would expect as a potential improver as oppose to a previous winner.

For the form student looking for field reduction techniques the stats indicate a huge course bias for favourites in novice hurdles with the best above 44% as at 2009 being:-

  1. Ayr
  2. Chepstow
  3. Haydock
  4. Hexham
  5. Huntingdon
  6. Kelso
  7. Lingfield
  8. Musselburgh
  9. Newton Abbott
  10. Perth
  11. Plumpton
  12. Southwell
  13. Taunton

Ayr records an astonishing 48% favourite win rate for novice hurdles!!

Obviously the problem with a race type that has such a high favourite win ratio is that the betting starting prices quickly reflect the high likelihood of success.

But, if you are able to spot the favourites in advance of the crowds then some lucrative and profitable racing bets can be struck.

The favourite win ratios for Novice Chases are again particularly good at around 48%.

Needless to the say the starting prices for these favourites can be quite poor again selectivity in advance of the crowds and pundits is the key to profit.

Betting in Novice Chases

As you may be aware my work aims toward the development of semi automated systems but I have spent many years in the search for a fully automated horse racing system that could be viable using Bet Angel or Market Feeders excel automation in conjunction with  exchange betting.

In 2007 in discussion with my colleague at Hereford we calculated that in 21 non handicap chases at Hereford since 2002, 12 clear favourites had gone on to win the race when the race was over 3 miles and that solid profits would result from automatic backing of horses at starting price in these races.

I broadened the search based on every race course in the UK for non handicap chases over 3 miles since 2004 using system betting software to generate the Betting Exchange odds for the favourites when they were at the post and again the profit results were outstanding.

Novice Chases are more about jumping ability as oppose to novice hurdles which are more about speed.

Despite the high winning % of favourites, a good degree of selectivity is required to avoid what are often very dodgy jumpers in their 1st year.

What to look for in a novice chase

1/ Good novice chasing prospects are usually spotted by breeding, physical prowess and a good lively demeanour.

Chasers may often have started training with hurdles at around 5,6 or 7 year olds, they may then have a few runs in low quality company before being pushed up a good few notches in class.

Obviously its not that easy for the average punter to spot these types well enough in advance to get a good price but if you are able to develop your racing connections then these type of horses can be a great find.

Just as with any type of horse race betting, after a few wins starting prices can start to slide dramatically.

2/ Good hurdlers as they grow older start to lose some of their speed before they start to lose their jumping ability. For the owners and trainers this can be a lucrative time to put these horses to the higher chasing fences.

If you can spot these horses well in advance and get them on their debut you can often get some lucrative prices, again after an initial victory starting prices can start to slide rapidly.

3/ Sometimes failed hurdlers are put to the chase fences as a last ditch attempt to find their niche. This very rarely works. If horses struggle with hurdles they never run much better over fences. Avoid.

Novice Chasers - Moving up

Novice chasers in lower grades that have been doing well are often then moved up to handicap chasing. They often do quite well especially as lower grade handicap chasers can often become rather jaded.

In contrast, Novice chasers moving up too soon to higher grade handicap chases can struggle badly. At this level jumping ability required for chasing success is born from great experience.

Distance, Going, Fitness and Breeding

Jumps racing trainers and owners are not generally as concerned about placing horses in a race. Obviously there are exceptions particularly in the higher grade racing and the bigger yards.

Possibly there is a sense that these are somewhat older tougher animals with greater stamina, capable of withstanding greater diversion from their ideal race conditions as oppose to their highly sensitive flat racing pedigrees.

However there is no doubt for the form student that attention to the race conditions can pay healthy dividends in terms of selectivity.

Just as with flat racing the race horses generally tend to fare best on good ground but most can handle soft as well.

Some winter horses are reserved especially for the heavy going and simply thrive on it, they are often referred to as “mudlarks”.

Ability on mud is related to the way a horse drives its hooves into the ground.

Light-footed horses which skim along on the surface of good or hard ground struggle to accelerate on heavy ground whereas heavy footed horses that drive their hooves into the turf able to gain more traction in the mud.

You might expect that jumpers travelling longer distance on more difficult winter ground would require more recovery time than their flat counterparts, but again these are tougher more mature animals with more stamina and the stats show that most jumps horses fare best when racing again within a relatively short timeframe, and definitely within 14 days.

Breeding and Ground conditions.

Breeding affects National Hunt race horses in terms of class and ability exactly the same as with flat racing, however to a somewhat lesser degree.

What stallions do appear to pass onto their progeny is a liking for a particular type of going. I.e stallions that fare well on heavy ground specifically impart this same ability to their offspring and this can be useful data to form students.  


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