By form figures, we mean the series of numbers and letters that appear to the left of the name of each horse on a racecard. Whether the racecard is printed in a small booklet or programme, as it is on the racecourse, or in a daily newspaper or displayed online, the form figures provide an at-a-glance snapshot of how a horse has performed in its recent races.
Form figures should be read from left to right or, in other words, the most recent finishing position, if any, is on the right; form from two seasons or longer ago, or from last season, is separated from the remaining figures by a slash (/) or a dash (–), respectively. Numbers in the form figures represent the finishing position of the horse in the race in question, with the number zero (0) – not to be confused with a capital letter ‘O’, which means something entirely different – representing a finishing position of tenth or worse.
Letters, on the other hand, typically signify that a horse failed to finish, for whatever reason. The letters that appear most commonly in form figures, particularly in National Hunt races, are ‘F’, ‘U’ and ‘P’, which stand for ‘Fell’, ‘Unseated rider’ and ‘Pulled up’, respectively; the first two are fairly self-explanatory, but a horse is said to have been ‘pulled up’ if its jockey decides, usually because of suspected injury or simply because the horse is out of contention, that it should take no further part in a race.
Other letters that signify a horse failed to complete the course include ‘B’, ‘S’ and ‘O’, which stand for ‘Brought down’, ‘Slipped up’ and ‘Ran out’, respectively; if a horse runs out, it fails, through its own volition or because it has been hampered by a rival, to stay on the designated course or misses out an obstacle. A letter ‘R’ can stand for ‘Refused to race’ or, in a steeplechase, simply ‘Refused’, a letter ‘D’ stands for ‘Disqualified’ and a letter ‘V’ stands for ‘Void’, indicating that the race in question was declared void under the Rules of Racing.