HEADMAN (pink cap) ridden by Jason Watson beating Sinjaari in The Al Zubarah London Gold Cup Handicap Stakes at Newbury 18/5/19 Photo Ian Headington / Racingfotos.com

Complete Guide to Betting in 3yo Handicaps

The Complete Guide to 3yo Handicaps and ‘Hot Form’
(and the Effect Coronavirus Could Have On This Flat Season)

The Hot Form report on geegeez.co.uk is my favourite report on the site and pretty much my favourite function of geegeez alongside the pace and draw data available for each race, writes Sam Darby.

The principle behind ‘hot form’ is rock solid: if other horses have come out of certain races and won or run very well (especially in a similar or better grade) then it stands to reason that is a ‘hot race’.

Runners which finished in close proximity to those who have come out and won or run well are likely to be in a similar position to do so as well on their next start; some more so than others, but we’ll get into that a little a later on.

Three Is The Magic Number

One of the most profitable areas of the sport that hot form can be applied to is 3yo handicaps.

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Every flat season begins with hundreds of well handicapped, lightly raced 3yos raring to go. Inevitably, many of these horses are going to end up in the same races as other very well handicapped, lightly raced 3yos in the early part of the turf season. There are only so many races in each class at each distance, after all.

Some of the well handicapped runners in these races will only be able to finish 5th or even 6th but will go on to win on their next start in races that aren’t quite so hot.

There are some classy 3yo only handicaps that tend to work out well each season. These include the 7f handicap run at Newbury the day before the Greenham Stakes, the 7f handicap that takes place on the Wednesday of York’s Dante meeting and also the 10f London Gold Gup run on Lockinge Day at Newbury.

The last-named race was won by Melbourne Cup winner Green Moon in 2010 (Dubai World Cup winner Monterosso was 2nd) and treble Group 1 winner Al Kazeem picked up the 2011 London Gold Cup before going on to much bigger things. More recently, in 2015, Time Test won this before landing a brace of Group 2s amongst other honours.

A sure sign of a strong 3yo handicap is several top trainers entering handicap debutants or previous handicap winners. Unsurprisingly this tends to happen in the 3yo handicap races with the best prize money on offer.

It’s not just the obvious big handicaps that provide us with horses to look out for in the Hot Form report. An average looking 5f Thirsk handicap, 7.5f Beverley handicap or 10f Redcar handicap can be just as likely to produce multiple future winners, albeit in lower grades. And these future winners are likely to be more under the radar as far as bookmakers and their markets are concerned.

When Hot Form Becomes Scorching Hot

One of my favourite examples of hot form, and the race that highlighted to me just how profitable this angle could be, was a previous incarnation of the 7f handicap run at Newbury the day before the Greenham Stakes mentioned earlier run on 16th April 2004. At this time it was run over an extra furlong, so a mile, and it was the race that got me started down this very profitable path.

The results and subsequent form can be seen below:

1. African Dream

Won this off a mark of 94 and then won his next 2 starts comfortably, both in Group 3 company. He was eventually rated 19lbs higher than his rating in this race.

2. Red Lancer

Ran well here off a mark of just 80. He was beaten a short head in handicap company next time out but won the Chester Vase comfortably after that run. He was eventually rated 30lbs higher than his rating in this race.

3. Gatwick

He was rated 83 when running in this race and won his next 2 starts in big field handicaps before winning again later in the season. He was eventually rated 25lbs higher than his rating in this race.

4. Zonus

Zonus was rated 83 in this race. He was unlucky not to win on both of his next 2 starts but eventually won by 5 lengths at 8/1 a few runs later and proved 17lbs ahead of the handicapper in this race.

5. Red Spell

Competing off 79, he was the lowest rated runner in this race and came out and won his next start at 10/1 and followed that up with a 2nd at 7/1. He was eventually rated 35lbs higher than his rating in this race.

6. Frank Sonata

Rated 90 here, Frank Sonata won next time out at the Dante meeting at 33/1. He would win 2 of his next 3 starts too before running in the St Leger. He was eventually rated 21lbs higher than his rating in this race.

7. Freak Occurrence

He followed up this effort off a mark of 85 with a place at 20/1 but eventually he lost his form and didn’t win for another 6 months. One of the few unprofitable horses to follow from this race.

8. Border Music

Border Music was beaten almost 13 lengths in this race off a mark of 80 but the form of the race was so strong that he produced form figures of 32234 in similar class handicaps on his next 5 starts which included a 16/1 place in the race immediately after this. He was eventually rated 23lbs higher than his rating in this race.

9. Jedburgh

After finishing 9th in this race, beaten 13.5 lengths off a mark of 93, Jedburgh was placed at a price of 25/1 next time out from the same mark. He wouldn’t win that season but was still eventually rated 13lbs higher than his rating in this race.

There was a 5+ length gap between 9th and 10th so the remaining 6 runners in the race can be considered to have just been making up the numbers.

The form figures of the first 9 runners home on their next two starts combined were:


If you had placed £20 each way on every single runner in the race on their next 2 starts you would have won £2,422!

What makes it even more amazing is that those figures are at SP. Many of those winners were available at much bigger prices early on.

How To Find Hot Races

The least labour intensive method of finding these races is to use the Hot Form report on a daily basis. Whenever this report highlights a horse running either today or tomorrow that has come from a hot race you can check the races in question and add any other runners of interest, that don’t have entries in the next 48 hours, to your trackers/alerts/notes.

If you want to get really ahead of the curve you can consistently look back at the results of every 3yo handicap to see which races those horses that are winning or running well have come from. You’ll soon spot the races that are beginning to work out well.

Two or three weeks after most races have been run you should see at least one or two horses will have run since to give an idea of the strength of the form. Races that are beginning to work out well (perhaps the 6th came out and finished 2nd next time or the 3rd has won since) can be bookmarked and checked regularly.

Why 3yo Races In Particular?

The classic generation tend to be much more lightly raced than their older counterparts. This gives us several advantages.

The first is that, however well handicapped we think a horse may be based on a run in a hot race, it’s likely they are going to improve again from the experience of the previous race and prove even better handicapped than we thought.

Even more improvement can be unlocked as 3yos change trips, usually going up in distance. For example, a stayer is probably only going to find opportunities at a mile and a quarter, maybe a mile and a half in April. It can be obvious that some horses are going to find 14f+ their ideal trip in time, and if they run particularly well in a race run over shorter they can be massively marked up, proving a strong bet when racing over further. Stepping up in trip several times will often offset any weight rises the handicapper has dictated.

Arguably the most profitable time to be backing 3yo handicappers is when they begin competing against their elders regularly in mid-summer. In 3yo only handicaps many races will contain several “could be anything” types in competition with each other. This puts a slight doubt over our bets even if we are confident we have a very well handicapped horse on our hands. Against older, more exposed runners such doubts are less prevalent. Then of course there is a weight for age allowance which tends to favour the younger generation over longer trips.

What To Make Of Subsequent Form

The more wins or strong runs from the subsequent form of a race, the more confident you can be that those who ran well in the race but are yet to run will replicate the subsequent runs of the other horses. This is simply because you have more evidence that the form was hot.

In determining how many runners to track from a hot race consider each runner’s proximity to those who have franked the form since. If the 5th and 6th in a race come out and win or run well and the 7th was only a neck behind those then chances are the 7th is similarly well handicapped as the 5th and 6th. If the 8th was three lengths further back, then that runner – and any behind him – may be of less interest. Of course, in this example the 1st to 4th are going to be most interesting going forwards in all likelihood.

It’s also important to mark some of the runners from each race up or down depending on how favoured they were by conditions. There is a ton of data on geegeez.co.uk about course pace bias and this, alongside draw data and also analysis of the pace of the race, can help to show the best runners to follow.

For example, in a ten-runner race at Chester that has worked out well, the 4th is probably going to be of more interest going forward than the runner up if the runner up was well placed from a low draw off a slow gallop and the 4th was held up from stall nine, even if two lengths separated the pair. Likewise, horses that ran well in spite of ground conditions can be marked up.

Another angle that shouldn’t be underestimated is that of class droppers. Upon finding a hot race make an extra note of any runners that might be capable of dropping in class. If they’ve run well in a strong race in a higher grade they could find a very easy opportunity further down the handicapping ladder. Any runners that appear in both the Hot Form report and also the Class Move report (for dropping in class) should be seriously considered.

Beware False Positives

Some 3yo handicaps will seemingly start working out very early on only to fail to throw up any further winners. The first runner to come out of a particular race, having finished 3rd for example, could win next time out giving the impression the race in which it took bronze was hot form.

If you’ve spotted this race early you’ll probably end up backing the next couple of runners from the race. It’s not uncommon for those two to run poorly and the race not to be hot form at all.

In these circumstances it’s likely that the 3rd home that won next time out was simply below par when 3rd and/or has improved significantly since. That or the race it went on to win was very weak.

In the same way that a horse that finishes 2nd or 3rd in a strong race will often have run better than a horse that wins a poor race, it’s important to consider the relative strength of subsequent form, not just the finishing positions achieved. It’s worth noting that’s not always possible if nothing has since come out of the race and that can just be the price of doing business in this kind of race.

Which Other Races Can Have ‘Hot Form’?

Any kind of race, in any code, can be strong for the grade and produce future winners. Three-mile chases full of seemingly exposed horses can still end up as hot form.

The reason I choose to concentrate on 3yo handicaps, other than the advantages that are set out previously in this article, is two or three months of going through handicap results at the beginning of the season can give you a year or so worth of runners to back. Many runners will take breaks after running in a hot race and not be seen for many months so they can be backed when reappearing later in the year.

The frustrating thing is lots of horses that have run in hot races are simply never seen again or sold to race abroad with better prize money on offer.

Another reason why 3yo hot form can be better to follow than older horses is because these horses have had fewer opportunities to become badly handicapped. If a 3yo handicap debutant ran well in a hot race it’s easy to make a case for it being well handicapped.

If a race full of exposed, older horses is working out well there is always a question mark over some of the remaining runners who ran well in the race: if they are well handicapped, why did they fail to win their previous three or four races off the same sort of mark? Sometimes there are valid excuses, sometimes there aren’t. That’s not to say those runners don’t go on to win also, it just creates more doubts ahead of backing them compared to the 3yos.

How Does The Coronavirus And Lack Of Early Flat Season Racing Affect This?

It’s impossible to be 100% sure and it probably depends if racing does indeed return in May as hoped.

There is reason to believe this could be the best season in a long time when it comes to finding hot races.

With fewer opportunities to run these well handicapped 3yos ahead of the big meetings such as Royal Ascot, it could result in much bigger fields than usual and force more well handicapped runners to compete against each other.

Instead of finding hot races where a couple of the seven or eight runners are of interest going forward, we may be now tracking six or seven runners from a 16-runner race. Bookies and punters tend to favour horses that have 1s, 2s and 3s in their form figures so we could see some seriously underestimated, well handicapped runners with form figures that are more often than not 5s and 6s rather than 1s and 2s.

With trainers likely to be keen to get a few runs into horses before those big targets they could be turned out slightly more quickly than normal which will also mean we can form a view about which races are becoming ‘hot’ quicker than usual.

Things could of course go the other way, though. Many of these ‘group horses in handicaps’ might end up skipping handicaps and going straight for bigger targets to make up for lost time. That’s part of the great uncertainty that makes betting on horses, and especially in 3yo handicaps, such fun!

- SD

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2 replies
  1. Steve
    Steve says:

    Agree with backing 3yr olds not just from a said race “.as you’ve explained those LSP came from just the one single race. High turnover – been backing unexposed 3yr olds for the last 5yrs maybe longer. although I’ve never kept a record of the bets struck I’m sure it pays its way over time. Sir mark Prescott the king of exposing 3yr old HC races when stepping up from say 5f / 6f / 7f races 10f + 3yr old HC races / form also reliable when the 3yr olds receive the weight for age allowance,.again HC races throughout the summer months. Seen the same thing with unexposed 4yr olds over hurdles recently taking advantage of the weight for age angle.

  2. David Dickinson
    David Dickinson says:

    Great first article. Handicaps by definition are tricky enough to fathom but with this insight into what constitutes Hot Form we should get a handle as to which races we should be getting involved with which could reduce the number of bets which end up on reflection as Speculative. Hopefully a 3 y. o. I have an involvement in will be running in a hot form handicap this season. Something to anticipate as will be your next article.

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