The Impact of Weather On Horse Racing (The “Going”)

Extreme weather heavily impacts the going and potentially complicates or ruins racedays for everyone involved. In less extreme cases the weather may prove a useful variable that you’ll find advantageous for your betting criteria.


Turf & Dirt Racecourses

Turf racing takes place on grass, whereas dirt racing is ran on a tougher surface typically made up of dirt and sand over the top of clay and gravel. In Europe turf racing is considered the norm and it’s certainly affected by weather conditions.

Rainfall is of course the main factor for the UK racecourses. Rain can be good — if there’s been too little rain then the turf can become hard, meaning there’s less ‘give’ under the horse’s foot than it normally would have. As a horse runs through these conditions, every step is increasingly harder underfoot. In such circumstances the hardened turf replicates the conditions of a dirt course, and the horses accustomed to regular turf often struggle as a consequence.

If the rain has been falling consistently then the turf course is usually soft or yielding, meaning that the horses will sink deeper into the track than they normally would. Therefore the horse requires much more energy to run fast, and therefore endurance becomes a bigger factor than the regular speed of the horse. Essentially it’s hard for “explosive” speed horses to fully meet their full potential.

Dirt remains the same in dry spells, but is impacted by wet weather. When dirt gets wet it becomes very sloppy and horses regularly have mud kicked back into their faces from the horses ahead, creating unexpected race results. The grip on the track is also much more slippery; often the sloppy dirt track creates similar conditions to a turf track. For some horses this is a favourable change — but generally speaking the horses won’t be accustomed to it.

Given the difference the rainfall makes to the course, the weather conditions are worth your consideration as a bettor. Viewing a breakdown of how horses have performed on different conditions will highlight strengths and weakness that may shape your outlook on the race and consequently alter your opinion on what horse you deem as “value”.


Cancelled Races

If a turf track is too wet, or otherwise deemed “unraceable”, then race is cancelled – to protect the horses and preserve the race surface. Sometimes the race is moved to a dirt track.

Fog and snow render any course unraceable, no matter what surface. There is little than can be done about this; even if the track is clear enough then there are still logistical problems in getting horses, staff and even race goers to the course to begin with.

Cancelled meetings really are bad news for horse racing. Firstly, bookmakers can’t take bets and this not only impacts their taking, but also the levy — the funding for racing. Jockeys normally don’t get paid on cancelled races. And courses still have to pay their staff, unless they have made arrangements for special circumstances.

The cancellations have a huge impact on trainers, too. Take snow and frost as an example:

  • Water supply: difficult to supply fresh water for the horses when it’s icy or frozen over
  • Cold conditions: extra work and effort is required to feed the horses
  • Fixtures: the schedules are in disarray and trainers will be trying to get several runners in the same race, making it more competitive than usual.
  • Fitness levels decrease too:
    • Less workouts: trainers cannot provide horses with a full workout due to the impractical icy conditions
    • Horse walkers overcrowded: horse walkers are overworked, so less time and focus is put on individual horses.


Using “The Going” In Betting

The going is graded based on the weather, and you may decide to use it to check how a horse previously performed under certain conditions e.g. very wet, muddy going. For any selection you make you can try to match the current going with the horse’s past performance; if it performed well in the past then it’s likely to keep doing so. And if you’re uncertain then I would recommend betting on the driest track possible, as this normally yields the most consist results.

It’s worth remembering that track conditions aren’t always consistent throughout a raceday. This is true of the UK & Ireland where the weather can suddenly turn. So the bets you place early on won’t necessarily hold the same value at the time of the race. With that in mind, I forewarn you that sometimes your bets can lose value if weather drastically changes. Imagine if you’ve bet on all dry track horses and it suddenly pours down…

Even if you carefully account for the going and the potential changes in the weather, there are still knock-on effects from rainfall that contribute to the unpredictability of a race, such as:

  • The track getting chewed up throughout the day. Although the weather might have settled down hours prior to the race, your selected horse may run slower than you anticipated due to the conditions resulting from previous races. This is particularly true for late evening races, where several races preceded it.
  • Mud splattering in the faces of horses. Many horses are averse to having mud splattered in their faces, so smart jockeys can use this to advantage by encouraging a horse to the front of the field. Equally it can discourage horses from running to their full potential, falling back to avoid distress. There’s no real way of quantifying how your horse will react to the mud on the race day.

Like every item of your betting criteria, patterns you find in the going may already be factored into the odds. Take my analogy of buying a property:

You may identify a house that has exceptionally good transport links, a larger-than-average garden and ultra-modern decor compared to similar homes in the local area. But these attributes are factored into a sale price. The property is worth more as a result of these features. In buying this house you’re not getting value for money; you’re spending more and getting more, effectively.

In racing you might notice that some horses perform better under certain conditions. Naturally some have an advantage over their competitors for today’s going. But to put this to good use you must focus on identifying odds which do not reflect this advantage/disadvantage.

Perhaps, you could utilise other sources of data — such as accurate weather forecasts to preempt movements in the odds. Better yet, to support your bets, use as many different items of criteria as possible.

Looking for horse racing tips? Check out my review of the best sports betting tipsters.


Further Reading:

The Accuracy & Significance Of SP Odds

What Causes Pre-race Market Movements?

Horse Pedigree — Breeding Winners Scientifically

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