Lose Less by John Cutts – Part IX

We return this month with a further instalment of Lose Less kindly provided by the author, John Cutts.

Reviews for the book have been very positive with an overall 4 star rating.

CHAPTER 12 – The Going’s Good (Or is it?)

Along with the ability to get the trip, and, related to it, is the importance of a horse liking the going.

A horse whose optimum distance seems to be two and a half miles hurdling will often win a two-mile hurdle run in desperate ground.

Usually, the jockey will put the pace on to expose any stamina flaws in his two-mile specialist rivals.

The reverse is possible. When the going is fast there is more chance of a two miler getting the longer trip in a slowly run race  with a sprint finish – with this difference: while the jockey on the horse dropping back in trip can ensure a good pace, the one stepping up in distance cannot ensure a slow pace and it is often forgotten that (though the Cheltenham Festival illustrates it every year) you need to “stay”, to last home, even over 2 miles on Good to Firm.

It is not unusual for horses considered stayers to win at shorter trips, especially in the handicaps if the pace is on – and the pace is always on at the Cheltenham Festival!

In short, it is easier for a “stayer” to drop back in trip if the going is Soft or worse and run at a fast pace, than it is for a “classy” speed horse to step up in trip in those same conditions. In the latter case the horse would be greatly assisted by both fast ground and a slower pace in which it could show its speed.

Just a couple of examples from memory:

One Man won the 3 miles King George Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day and, after failing to get home up the hill over the 3m 2.5 furlongs of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, dropped back in trip to win the then Queen Mother Chase over 2 miles at the Cheltenham Festival.

The great Istabraq was beaten by Martin Pipe’s awkward squad stayer, Pridwell, when he tried to step up to two and a half miles in the big Grade 1 hurdle at Aintree in a real bog.

The following season this 3 times Champion Hurdle winner won the same race on better ground. By the end of his career, he had notched up four Grade 1 hurdles over 2m 4f plus.

So, he got the trip ok. It was just the going at the distance, a fast pace on the ground and a master ride from AP McCoy that day on the famously awkward, but classy on his day, Pridwell, that beat him (by just a head) showing the above observations apply even to the all-time greats!

The course is another matter and one that whole books have been written on. It is the third consideration for me when looking at form. Although, the type of course is related to the ability to stay and some courses are ‘easier’ than others.

I never forget John Francome correcting one of the Channel 4 team when they said such and such a horse would find it easier to last home over the King George trip of 3 miles than at Cheltenham.

Francome explained that, even though Kempton is a flat sharp track, or perhaps just because of this, they are able to go at breakneck speed which makes stamina come to the fore in the closing few furlongs as they have gone off so fast.

No wonder someone once described Horse Racing as “the glorious uncertainty!”

So, you can see why we punters need accurate information to make an informed decision. The distance is a constant. Same too the courses. Barring the odd cock up, moved rail, or fences removed because of low Sun, of course!

If a horse is proven at the distance at or on a similar course, then there is only one other factor to consider barring horse, trainer, and jockey form and records at the course, etc, etc.

One factor that is constantly changing and that is the going. It is this factor to which this chapter is devoted. It is the least constant, most inconsistent factor in the big four big form considerations of class/distance/going/course – and it is the hardest to assess as official goings are often wrong, as proven by the race times.

All the above assumes the horse is running in its class – the most important factor of all. This can only be taken as read if your possible selection has won or gone close in the same class.

Who decides what the going is and how?

The Clerk of the Course decides having walked the course, probably for days ahead and more than once that morning early on. He must report the going to the Racecourse Association who then pass on the news to the press.

Since March 31st, 2007, something called the going stick (penetrometer) is used to give a number between 1 and 15. The nearer to 1 the softer, the nearer to 15 the firmer. It is mandatory for all UK race courses to carry out these tests and for the British Horse Racing Authority (BHA) to put the number next to the going description.

Frankly, I don’t trust these going reports. A man weighing perhaps a couple of hundred weight is no comparison to a horse weighing over half a ton, or 10 plus hundred weights (500kg+), walking around.

Also, I would have thought the old stick test would depend on the weight, strength and effort put into it.

To be fair it is very difficult to have any objective, accurate idea of the going without knowing the race times and I am afraid that, for all my criticism of this old-fashioned method, I don’t have a better idea.

The whole thing with going can be tricky as you can have softish ground under a good covering of grass which can sometimes ride fastish and record fastish times.

For me, what is important is, not the tag we give the going, but whether the going suits plodding stayers or those with gears and a turn of foot.

One trainer put it well when asked if his horse would mind the soft ground and he replied that it would help his horse in that it would slow the others down!

So, logically, we know the distance and we know the type of course but, until at least one race, (usually a few), has been run, we don’t know if the ground suits the speed horses or the plodders.

Would you bet without knowing the race distance? Nor me, yet we bet with nothing much more than educated and sometimes self-interested guesswork informing us of the underfoot conditions.

It is necessary to understand that course representatives are loathe to put extremes of going into their descriptions.

When did you last read it was Hard at Brighton, which it was often described as in the past? How often is the fastish ground we are seeing at Cheltenham, and which is sending course records tumbling each year described as Good to Soft?

Also, Soft (Heavy in places) is becoming more common.

This is understandable. All sports are businesses nowadays and they want to attract as many runners as possible. So nice, in between, descriptions of the going stop early defectors and, once the connections are there, they will generally reason that they may as well give the horse a run anyway.

How to calculate the going for yourself

We calculate the going according to the race times in comparison to the Racing Post Standard.

The basic formula is to divide the number of furlongs of the race into the number of seconds slower than Racing Post standard time. This is the figure in brackets by the number of furlongs. This is shown in brackets after the race time, at the bottom of the result for that race on the results page.

There are two ways to do this, one of which is much quicker but not quite as precise as the other, which I will go into later, but first it is important to understand how the figures are arrived at.

The fundamentals

For the fastest method and most accurate record of race times, you need to click on “Racing Post (RP) Members Club” and select a package, if you haven’t already got one.

The minimum “Essential Membership” will do for our purposes. However, as long as you understand the fundamentals, I will show you a way later to calculate the going for free, just your own effort for less than a few minutes with a calculator. Maybe not quite as precise as the RP figures but very close to them.

First, I will explain and illustrate the fundamentals. The example meeting will also show how inaccurate the official going can be.

The meeting and the race I examine are from a few years ago but the arguments are as valid now as they were then.

Once on the Racing Post’s Horse Racing home page click on the “Results” tab, scroll down until you reach the meeting you are interested in, click on it and scroll down until you see “ANALYSIS OF WINNING TIMES” where a page like this should be displayed (on the left of the page halfway down).

Analysis of winning times screen at Racing Post

Figure 6 – Racing Post Analysis of Winning Times

The Racing Post has a standard time for each race distance at each track in the UK and Ireland and some of the big races away from the British Isles.

The figure in the fifth column, the one after the DISTANCE, headed TIME/PER FURLONG, shows the time for each race run and then that time broken down into seconds per furlong.

Once the first race has been run, it is possible to view the COMPARISON/PER FURLONG (the figures in the next, the sixth, column).

So, if we look at the first race at Haydock on the above card, it tells us the race had been run in a time 15.3 secs per furlongs slower than standard time for a race of that distance (the figure next to the race time on the right).

Next to that on the right is the time per furlong above standard. It is the result of dividing the total number of seconds above Racing Post standard time (plus 22.5 secs in this case) by the number of furlongs (15.5).

This gives us a time of slow by 1.44 seconds.  It was run on the hurdles track and was the slowest time of the day.

This is the best guide to the going. How many seconds per furlong above Racing Post standard time the race/s were run at on that track on the day.

When you gain confidence in this, you can just use the time per furlong.  In this case, 1.44 seconds per furlong  below the standard Racing Post time.

That, fundamentally, is all you need to know.

1) The number of seconds above standard for the race. 22.5 in our example

2) Divide this by the number of furlongs, in our example 15.5 furlongs, and you get the seconds above standard per furlong.

So,22.5 divided by 15.5 = 1.45

This is the rating, 1.44 seconds (you will never get a perfect match but 0.01 secs is nothing) per furlong in the example race above,

If you take away the decimal point, this looks pretty similar to a scale that an outfit called Superform used to use.

Superform were a sort of poor man’s Timeform, although, having tried them both, I always preferred – and used – Superform.

Unfortunately, the digital age proved a step too far for them and they are not around anymore. But their time-based going figures live on!

They assessed the going by adding the time per furlong figures from the first 6 races, (I use the 6 fastest to allow for the odd small field dawdle).

So, using my method, (the fastest 6 races), the going at Haydock on Betfair Chase day was, using the 6 fastest (excludes race one which was the slowest run on the day):


NB, this is for the fastest 6 times and therefore doesn't include the first race, which we analysed above.Add the 6 together and it comes to 4.49 secs. Now divide the total seconds per furlong above standard by the number of races to get the average of slower than standard by 0.75 seconds per furlong.

So, what does this tell us about the going?

Superform worked out a scale on a very similar basis. I am working from memory here I am afraid because I long since lost my old Superform annuals in 2006 when we moved to France first time. But it went like this.

Exactly standard time, which would be written as 00.00 in brackets under the race times, or less = HARD

+01 – +0.20, (which they expressed as 20 – using only the figure to the right of the decimal point) = FIRM

+0.21 – +0.4 (21-40) = GOOD TO FIRM

+0.41 – +0.8 (41-80) = GOOD

+0.81 – +1.2 (81-120) = GOOD TO SOFT

+ 1.21 – +1.5 (121-150) = SOFT

+1.5 upwards (151+) = HEAVY

So, we can see that by these criteria, the going at Haydock on Betfair Chase day was on the slow side of GOOD (75) – nowhere near the official going of Soft (Heavy in places).

The At a Glance method

Ok, having looked at fundamentals…

There is some debate about what produces fast times. Obviously the faster the pace the more reliable time is as a guide. Also, it is possible that a good grass covering on top of firm-ish ground could produce a springy surface. Apparently, on the U.S. dirt tracks, there are often fast times clocked after it has rained heavily!

However, fundamentally, we are looking for whether the ground suits stamina laden horses that just stay on, or speed laden ones that quicken. The labels we put on such conditions are only useful if they offer guidance on that score.

Ok, having looked at the basics, let’s now study the times using an at-a-glance approach by having a practice on the Betfair Chase which was run at Haydock The official going was Soft. If we were planning a bet on the day at this track, it would make sense to keep an eye on the time for this first race. Now we can go straight to the, (let’s call it Goingform), figure, the one on the right under the heading COMPARISON/PER FURLONG

You can see that Vasco Du Ronceray wins the first race in a time of 1.44 secs per furlong slower (144 or Soft) than the standard Racing Post time. This would seem to confirm the official going.

But the second race was won in a time just 0.75 secs slower than Racing Post standard times, which would suggest Good going!

Sometimes too, the hurdles course can be on the slow side and the chase course on the slow, and vice versa.

The first race was a hurdle and produced the slowest time per furlong of the day at Haydock. The second was a chase.

In fact, the chases produced 3 of the 4 fastest times of the day.

As I said earlier, pace can have a big effect and maybe the first race was run at a snail’s pace and the second was truly run.

If you have been looking for mudlarks all the previous evening and that morning, you have been wasting your time and the alarm bells should be ringing! This bit of knowledge alone could save you a fortune in bets not placed.

We already know the average ‘Goingform’ rating for the meeting was 75 for the six fastest times but, now we know the reasoning, there is no need to go through the whole procedure.

We can simply look at the Goingform figure’s to either get an idea of the going as the racing proceeds, note any seemingly fast times, or add the figures together in our heads or with a calculator. If you knock the decimal point off it is much easier.

Talking of looking at individual race times and ratings, note the time of SILVIANACO CONTI’s race, slower than standard by 0.15 secs per furlong or 15. This would mean either the going was Firm, which is highly improbable, or the first two home are very smart King George contenders.

The fast time also tells me any issues MENORAH had with a stamina test were down to his breathing problem which has been corrected by a wind operation. This is the sort of analysis you can make when you know the actual going rather than the official going.

Wouldn’t it be good if we could know this in advance? We can and did. We told readers of our blog that the going was nowhere near Soft and tipped up MENORAH, a none too certain stayer on the alleged bog, which finished second having been backed from 16/1 into 10/1.

How did we know? Because there was racing at Haydock the day before which enabled us to evaluate the race times and make our own judgement about the going.

This is the ideal scenario. Day two or more of a meeting is best because you can monitor the going as the races progress so that you won’t be picking mudlarks running on Good going or speed horses running on Heavy. You can then spend the evening and some of the morning looking at those which will relish the going giving you time to get the early BOG prices.

This is ideal for the big festivals like Cheltenham and Royal Ascot etc.

But, if you have the patience to sit out the first 3 or 4 races, it will give you a real edge in the later races where, often, everyone is labouring under the illusion of the official going

Rack of the eye method

Once you get used to this you can do what we do which is use the rack of your eye, do the maths in your head, or with a calculator. If the official going is Soft and the first race is run over 2 miles (16 furlongs) in a time 8 seconds slower than standard, it is not hard to work out that 8 seconds divided by 16 furlongs equals a race run 0.5 seconds per furlong slower than Racing Post standard. Slow by a Goingform rating of 50, which, if you check on your scale above, is Good.

The beauty of this is it doesn’t cost you anything. If you sit there with a calculator or pen and paper, you can work all this out without spending any money on a Racing Post package by simply remembering that the key figure for each race is determined by the number of seconds it was run above standard divided by the number of furlongs. Then remove the decimal point to get what I have christened the Goingform figure and check it against the scale above.


You will never have the excuse again of blaming the newspaper for giving you the wrong going! I don’t say this method is anywhere near perfect – not least because of the weather changes – but it does indicate, better than any other I have seen, the approximate likely going.

Unlike the official going, which is regularly miles out, you should be thereabouts using this method – though beware of small fields and/or slowly run races which are not unusual nowadays.