Course & Distance Winners: Nothing Succeeds Like Success

If you look at the racecards in the Racing Post, or in any daily newspaper worth its salt, you’ll notice that horses’ names are often followed by the letter “C” (for “Course”) or “D” (for “Distance”) or the letters CD (for “Course & Distance”). In this article, we take a look at whether there’s actually any value in following previous course and distance winners and, if so, under what circumstances.


First of all, let’s consider the course and distance aspects separately. At the time of writing, there are 57 racecourses in mainland Britain, some of which cater for Flat racing, on turf or a synthetic, all-weather surface, some of which cater for National Hunt racing, on turf only, and some of which cater for racing under both codes. Almost every racecourse in today’s horse racing is different from the next in its characteristics, but some courses have particular idiosyncrasies that place previous course winners at greater advantage than might otherwise be the case.


Typically, courses with vary degrees of uphill finish, such as Ascot, Newcastle and Pontefract, very sharp courses, such as Catterick, Chester and Goodwood, and courses with pronounced undulations, such as Brighton, Epsom and Lingfield, all produce course specialists. These are horses that reserve their best form for courses of a certain type, or maybe even a certain course, regardless of their form elsewhere. The fact that they’re likely to raise their level of performance when returning to their favourite course(s) may, or may not, be acknowledged by the bookmakers, such that they may be underestimated by the market.


Even if a horse doesn’t fall into the course specialist category, a previous course win at least allows you, as a punter, to determine that it’s capable of coping with the rigors of the course on which it’s competing.


The distance of a race is important, not in itself, but to individual horses, which are predisposed by their breeding to be suited by certain distances. Of course, any horse can run any distance, if you give it enough time, but different genes are required to make a horse competitive over shorter and longer distances. Racehorse trainers are normally aware of their charges’ distance requirements and implement training regimes to enhance their natural predispositions.


Horse racing is full of imponderables and the secret of profitable betting is to reduce the number of imponderables to an absolute minimum. By backing a previous distance winner, particularly a course and distance winner, you are immediately eliminating two factors that may be difficult, or impossible, to assess for other runners in the field. By delving a little further into the form, you should be able to determine, fairly quickly, if a course and distance winner has other factors in its favour and, if so, it may be a value bet.


In summary, the fact that you can see, at a glance, which horses are course and distance winners is useful for narrowing a field down to a viable number of possible selections, but you’re unlikely to make a profit by blindly backing course and distance winners, regardless of any other factors.


In our experience, if you want to use course and distance winners as the basis for a profitable betting system, you may want to concentrate on middle-distance and longer races and horses that have run within the last six weeks. The rationale behind this is (i) that finding winners is difficult enough without introducing the vagaries of draw bias, luck in running, etc and (ii) that unfit, or half-fit, horses rarely win, regardless of their innate ability.