Racehorse Trainers: The Tricks of the Trade


There are around 600 licensed trainers in Britain, some have just flat horses, some just jump horses and some are what is called dual purpose and have both.

The BHA (British Horseracing Authority) has a map and contact details for them all.

If we focus on the 391 flat trainers they can vary massively in their size, geographic location, facilities etc. From Richard Price a dual licenced trainer with 6 horses in training who has won a grand total of £565.20 in prize money so far this year to Andrew Balding with 281 horses in training is like chalk and cheese. So how do all these trainers survive? Through the tricks of the trade.

Know your trends and uncover who is doing what and what works.


Like footballers coming back from injury, most horses need a run after a long lay off to get back to race fitness, to sharpen them up or to blow away the cobwebs. However there are a few trainers who are quite adept at getting one “ready” and have a good record of getting winners from horses who have been off a long time.

Among the best are Luca Cumani (19.5% SR), Hughie Morrison and Emma Levelle while Tony Carrol (2.26% SR), Milton Bradley and Tim Easterby are among the worst.


Horse’s who win a race will be reassessed by the handicapper. This is done on a strict weekly timetable so sometimes a horse goes unreassessed for 12 days and if they run in that time they can run under a penalty – 4lbs, 5lbs or 6lbs – dependent on the horse’s age. There are reasons to run under a penalty. The most obvious one is that the handicapper is going to raise your horse more than the penalty so you are racing “well in” as they call it. So if the handicapper is going to raise the horse’s rating by 8lbs and he/she can run under a 5lb penalty then they are referred to as 3lbs well in. Now you’d think that running under a penalty would be good news as the hose has just won and must be in form; but this is not always the case. Some trainers have a great record and some a really bad one.

Take Stuart Williams he has an astonishing 43% SR when turning his horses out under a 6lb penalty within 7 days of winning WHEREAS Richard Guest only achieves 2%.

Why the discrepancy?

Well some trainers have a strategy of getting their horse’s mark down by racing them in unsuitable races – ground, distance, class, course etc then set them on a schedule, often including an apprentice race (where there is no penalty for winning), where they stay just ahead of the handicapper by running the horse under penalties. So you see some trainers able to run up hat tricks and four timers; while others pick up the wins as and when the horse is competitive and then a rise either via a penalty or via the handicapper makes them uncompetitive again.


An interesting angle is to look at the trainers that are not obliged to run their horses quickly as they did not win last time out. Again there is a wide spread in terms of performance. It pays to follow Tracy Waggott, Keith Dalgleish and Domonic Ffrench-Davies as they return excellent profits to a £1 stake under these circumstances.


On the flat in Britain, horses are generally required to have 3 runs or a win before they are allotted a handicap mark and can compete in races against opposition of a similar standard. Two year olds enter ‘nurseries’ which are handicaps for the juveniles, whilst three year olds enter handicaps.

Some wily and astute trainers will run their horses half fit, over the wrong trip or on the wrong ground to get a favourable rating on which they can start their handicapping life.

Sir Mark Prescott is the expert at this and openly uses the system – see video here on him.

Younger trainers such as George Boughey, Chris Wall and Charlie Fellowes have also cottoned on to this game. While some trainers very rarely get a handicap debutante to win eg Tom Dascombe and Brian Smart.


Typically some trainers target races for their various horses. The races often match the training conditions that they have at home or are particularly suited to the type of horse they like to train.

The trainer will run his horse in various prelim races to get him/her fit and then produce it ready to win the targeted race. Often in the commentary on a race it will say – “won twice in the last 4 years by this yard” or “the stable does well here” which is code for the horse is likely to run better than his form now that he’s in the race he’s been prepared for.

All of the above is accompanied by the horse being a “steamer” which means it’s odds tumble as the connections pile in!


The expression horses for courses is not just a saying it is true. Horses like to run from the front, be covered up in the middle or like to wait out the back and finish well. Different run styles suite different courses so they suite different horses.

But equally if as a horse you have been training on gallops with a stiff uphill finish, then when you encounter that at the races you are more than likely to run well.

Trainers will also like different tracks because they remind their horses of home. So R Michael Smith rarely has a winner away from Ayr and Malcolm Saunders from Bath.


There are lots of trainers, big and small, out there. They all have their idiosyncrasies but they have one thing in common; staying in business. So whether they win lots of races, or adopt one or more of the tricks of the trade they will. As creatures of habit you can spot which ones by analysing them as I have done with Sir Mark P.

So when looking at a race do more than just look at the form.

When looking at a race it is essential to assess:

  • How a trainer does in that month/time of year?
  • How do they do at a certain course?
  • How do they do under those race conditions – i.e. maidens/handicaps?
  • How do their runners perform after certain layoffs?
  • Which jockeys are they most successful with?

Every trainer is different and you can profit by knowing what those differences are.

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