Reading form to most punters is just looking over the last 2 or 3 races to see if a horse has won or been placed in its last few races, however, there is so much more to reading form than these basic principles. Simply just by knowing specific statistics, previous information on the horses last few runs, whether they won or not, and who the horse is running against in today’s race, can take you from average Joe punter, to a highly skilled betting analyst who makes serious profits from their betting.

Throughout the manual you will be shown many important facts, statistics, and information that is vital to you whenever betting on any horse, and, how reading form correctly, as well as knowing what you are looking for, will increase your profits dramatically.

There are many factors involved in understanding form but if you appreciate what they are then you will be at a huge advantage compared to the majority, who still think its just “luck” who wins the race. No one would seriously think it was “luck” who won say the London Marathon, especially when you have a handful of specialists who are so far ahead of the rest of the field, no one else has much of a chance.

Class Of Course

There are 58 Race Courses in the UK and they can be rated in difficulty from A to D. Places like Ascot, Newmarket and York are A’s whereas Southwell and Wolverhampton are D’s. In assessing form we have to take account of the Class of Course when looking at how a horse ran in the past. So a horse that came to a place previously at say a Class D course can’t be expected to reproduce that form at a Class B course – like for example at Doncaster. A simple rule of thumb therefore is to ask whether a horse has achieved place form, or was only beaten by a few lengths, at the class of course we are running at today.

Class Of Race

Races are divided into a variety of Classes. These range from A to G in the case of Flat Racing and A to H in the case of Jump Racing. In addition there is a higher class of racing still in Listed Races and Group Races. Over Jumps, Group Races are called Graded Races. The important thing to learn is that as you rise up the Class of Race, the opposition gets better, so you need stronger form to win. Equally if a horse has only been placed at a lower class of race to today’s event then it’s unlikely that its previous form will be reproduced

Lengths Beaten

The number of lengths by which a horse has been beaten gives us a more accurate guide to the form of a horse than merely the place it achieved. To take a simple example – suppose a horse comes sixth in its previous race – you might assume that since it could not even get a place in its last race, it’s unlikely to win in the future. However, on the flat where a big bunch of horses cross the finishing line together, a horse might come sixth but only be 3 or 4 lengths away from the winner. There are many races where a horse fails to “trouble the judge” but may only have been 2 lengths !! Consider this the other way round – suppose a horse comes 2nd in its last race but was 10 lengths.

Obviously it’s better to look at the lengths beaten than the mere place achieved. It should however be noted that jockeys have a habit of easing a horse down if they think their chance of winning has gone and the distance between them and the next horse back is too far for them not to get a place. This has the effect of exaggerating the lengths beaten!!

Distance

The Distance over which a race is being run is an important factor to consider in assessing the previous form of a horse. Horses are bred to be effective at certain distances and outside these distances, while they may not necessarily run badly, they won’t be running to their optimum performance – so don’t be surprised if they lose. Trainers also use this fact to fool the handicapper into giving a horse a lower weight than might otherwise be the case!!

Distances fall into 5 main categories:

• Sprints – 5F-7F
• Milers – 8F-9F
• Middle Distance 1M2F to 2M
• Stayers – 2M-3M
• Long Distance – 3M+

Course Specialists

Some horses run best at certain courses – hence the expression “Horses for courses!!” It’s a simple fact of life that some courses lend themselves to course specialists. Examples would include some but not all of the top courses e.g. Ascot and Cheltenham and also some quirky courses like Lingfield when running on turf etc. If a horse is a course specialist then given reasonable recent form there’s a good chance the horse will win when switched back to its favourite course.

Weight Carried

The weight a horse has to carry as assessed by the handicapper can be a significant factor in the likely performance of a horse. In general the lower weight a horse has to carry the greater advantage it will have especially in a non-handicap and especially over longer distances or soft going.

However weight is also a measure of the ability of a Horse and therefore Horses lower in the weights may not have the ability to win. Horses that are carrying 12st or more are exceptional animals, because these horses are really at the top of their form and the handicapper has ‘run out of extra weight’ to give them.

Equally horses at the bottom of the handicap who are actually out of the handicap altogether – known as the long handicap – rarely capitalize on their low weight.

Prize Money

The Prize Money of a previous race can give a reasonable clue as to the value of the form achieved in that race. The Prize Money varies with the class of race and also with the meeting – so different races of the same class may attract different amounts of prize money. The lower the prize money in a race the lower the predictability of the outcome. This is because it’s much easier to win a race at the £1,500 mark than the £10,000 mark.

Jockey and Trainers

The Trainer/Jockey combination can be an important factor in the outcome of a race. Trainers want to do well so that they can attract more horses and more owners to their stables. Trainers are top professionals at what they do and many of the best trainers seek out the best horses to buy/breed and maintain many horses – some into the hundreds!! When a trainer thinks a horse is ready for a win they will make sure they have a top jockey on board.

They will book a jockey sometimes months in advance and they will often switch jockeys when the horse is just going for a run rather than a win. Trainers will often plug for any good apprentice jockey because of the allowance it gives them. Apprentice jockeys are allowed anything from 3lb to 13lb off the weight a horse is set to carry. Basically the allowance drops as the apprentice rides winners. After they have won approximately 95 races they lose their allowance altogether.

Any apprentice who has an allowance of up to 5lb is worth looking at carefully especially if they have a reasonable strike rate. The Strike Rate of some of the smaller trainers is also worthy of note. If a trainer has a strike rate of 20% or more, even if they are not in the top 10 for a meeting, they should be watched!!

The Odds

The Odds given in the forecast can be a reasonable guide to the chance of a horse winning a race. Horses that are in the first five of the forecast usually win 90%+ of the time – i.e. the likely winner will be in the first five of the forecast. A horse which is assessed as being 2/1 or less should be regarded as a strong favourite. Its worth understanding what the odds mean!! The odds are essentially a ratio – 2/1 therefore means the horse is expected to win once in three runs: 7/2 means the horse will win twice in 9 runs: 4/1 means the horse is expected to win 11 times in 15 runs etc.

Handicaps V Non-Handicaps

Its important to understand the difference between a Handicap and a Non-Handicap – also called a conditions race. In a Handicap, the weights each horse is set to carry, are adjusted by the Official Handicapper, so as to give each horse an equal chance of winning the race.

This means that the weights will reflect the relative form of each horse. As a horse improves – so its weight allocation will increase. That’s the theory at least!! In practice any good trainer will try and hide the true form of a horse and therefore get the most advantageous weight.

In a Non-Handicap or Conditions Race, as they are also called, the weight is not adjusted for the form of a horse but rather ‘conditions’, in terms of weights, are set for the horses entered for the race. There are also other conditions e.g. a Maiden is for horses that have not yet won a race – in this case there is little difference in the weights.

The important thing in a conditions race is that because weight carried does not necessarily reflect form a good horse may have drifted down the weights and bad horse’s may have risen up the weights!!

Use The Form Figures To Win

Horses that have certain sets of “Form” figures consistently record far more wins than others. That is a Fact! And, the better these figures, even when they do not win, produce a very high percentage of horses that finish in a place position.

Three figure form is far more reliable than six figure form, meaning that only the last 3 races should be looked at with any serious conviction. The reason for this is quite simple. Up to date Form is by far the best guide of how a horse has performed over recent runs, and is the best indication of how it will run in its next race. Results achieved four, five, or even six races previously must be looked at more closely, however more about this later in the manual.

For several very good reasons “Form” figures can be taken as a very serious indicator of probable winners. Therefore they can be regarded as a considerable justification as a sound and quick summary of recent racing ability and a very good indication as to who will win the race.

Winners …And Why They’ll Win Again
Unveiling the Factors that Underline Future Hits

There are many ways of looking at a last start winner. The principal thought that goes through my mind when I see this “1” against a horse’s name is that it automatically qualifies for a second look. I know that another horse may have been beaten in a better race, and that some other horse again might have been unlucky, etc etc, but the fact is that a last start winner attracts your attention.

Or it ought to.

If the win came before a long spell out or from the previous season there is argument for disregarding it. This is particularly true of a stayer resuming. A sprinter might be a fair bet first-up, especially if its record says that it has done this before (i.e. won first-up).

Nowadays many good trainers can have their charges ready to fire after a lay-off. It used to be the province of a few top ones and one or two crafty old devils whom we all feared and admired. The “successful plunge” was often achieved on this kind of fresh horse, and especially on those which had “done it before”. Placement was everything. Now, it can happen and it does.

The course and distance winner is one to take into even more serious account, if it has a “1” against its name. I like course and distance winners at any time, and some of my best results have been with the consistent repeater. Don’t forget that “course and distance” means that the animal has “done it” on this track over this distance at this track. I want to put it as clearly as this, so nobody gets it wrong. At this distance, on this track.

OK? Some papers can be confusing here, so make sure you thoroughly check what a horse has done by looking for a “CD” in the official form guide.

The course and distance winner tells you that it has been able to “do it”, and added to a last start win you are at least on a form horse that has “done it” before.

Which brings me to the next possibility…

A course and distance winner that won its last start over today’s track, and even better over this identical track and distance (CD), is a big plus. We’re moving along, as you can see, from a “possible” contender to a “likely” contender here. Of course there will be several steps more before we end up with a select basket, but we have already progressed.

Think about where we have come to. Now we have found a last start winner and we have established that it can win on this track, and at this distance on this track. If we now are able to add that it did this at its last start, and that (probably best of all) the start was not before a spell out, we are starting to get near a real live chance.

The next step is to ask about statistics and see where that takes us. Statistically, last start winners are quoted as repeating the dose about once in five tries. To put this another way, for every five horses with “1” against their names, one will win. This is a general theory based on about 50,000 test cases run past one leading computer programme. I have seen other studies that put the figure somewhat lower, but rarely much higher.

In effect, this means an average price on 4/1 or £5 would be needed if you were to bet blindly on all last start winners, in order to cut even. This probably does not mean very much anyway as nobody is going to bet blind like that. But why not ask for the odds to be at least your way in this regard by setting your lower limit requirement at £5?

It seems a fair ask from where I’m looking at it. The state of the track today and also then (i.e. when the horse won) is a big factor. If there was rain around last time and the track was designated “slow” or “heavy”, you are going to need to check two factors, not one.

The first is the horse’s ability to handle a good or dead track, and then the second is the state of the track for today’s event. This is a reversal on normal proceedings. I am saying that if the track was off, you need to know (unless today’s is also off) that your possible bet is not just a “swimmer”.

Of course, if the horse won on a good or dead track, you need to be sure it isn’t facing an “off” surface this time around. If so, its ability to cope needs to be carefully assessed. The form pages will tell you if the horse has ever (note “ever” — not “consistently”) won under slow conditions, but rather ironically I have met very few punters who ever check their horse’s chances on a good track!!!

They take for granted that it will go okay, when in fact the slow surface might be the leveller the slower horse needs.

On a good surface it might not have a show of beating that class it competes against, but because of any number of factors (especially its breeding) the slower surface might not affect it as much as they affect the majority of animals. Weird but true, and hence we get our swimmers.

Don’t forget, though, what many punters never learn: a horse that won on a slow/heavy surface last start might be no good thing to repeat the win if the track is anything better than that.

Speaking of the track, don’t forget that the tracks differ enormously. A horse that can win over 1200 meters, might be lost at another track. You cannot know until you see for yourself. First time is a gamble.

Maybe some tracks will correlate, and their distances will more or less be compatible tests of ability. However, I much prefer a track specialist if I can find it.

Check the rider. Is he the same? Is he better (further up the Championship ladder, or a senior as against a claiming apprentice)

Is the rider a regularly successful rider of this horse? Is he the stable’s top rider? Have they changed riders? Why? Because the horse is carrying more weight this time and they want to get some weight relief? Or because the horse is carrying more weight this time and is within their best rider’s weight range now?

How about if the rider last time has selected another mount, quite of his own volition? Another worry. So, the rider has to be very carefully considered. If he is not sticking, or has been replaced, the big “why?” has to be posed, and, if you are thinking of having a bet, resolved to your satisfaction.

By the way, “resolved” does not necessarily mean hearing or reading an explanation. You have to weigh up for yourself the selection’s chances, and how you see them being affected by any rider switch. Ultimately it is still your money and you need to be able to make up your own mind whether any move seems to be positive… or not.

What distance was the last race? Was it roughly equivalent? But how typical overall is that last start win of the horse’s performance record? If it is moving in distance, is this normal and proven as successful? What do you regard as “successful”? Not one win in 20 tries, that’s for consistency to your satisfaction at the distance of today’s race.

Check the running styles of your horse and the rest of the runners if it’s a free going type, will it be able to lead, or are there two or three front runners that will make its life unpleasant?

If it runs on, is there pace? If that’s not the case, you see, the race will be (probably) run at a snail’s pace and the back-marker will not be able to make up the ground. That is a different topic, but take it from me, if there is little or no pace then the horses that drop out and fly home will be flying home all right, and they’ll finish twelfth or thirteenth!

Class? Well, we’ve been around it for this entire chapter, really. Relative you really are out on a limb these days. Maybe you delete anything above £26 and below £3.50 ante-post.

This gives you a show at both ends of being a few points out. Remember we said “about £5” for the lower end. Well, now we say “about £26 (25/1)” for the high end. A bit of flexibility there. We will miss a few, maybe, but long term we will probably save money at both ends. We shall speak more about Class later in the manual.

Finally, have we got any clues from previous campaigns? Does the horse win a couple early then taper off? Has it done this by now, this preparation, or was that last start win the first one this campaign (at, say, its second-up run)?

I tend to forget all two-year-old form in this regard. It is a rare few that set their records in place in those early days. The three and four-year-old campaigns are much more reliable, and by the time they are into their third or fourth preparations as “seniors” their patterns are more or less established.

Few horses change these patterns later than their four-year-old days. Some pro’s that I know tell me they have their very best results most years with consistent four and five-year-olds. These horses have set their patterns and can be relied on.

Furthermore, these serious bettors tend to prefer geldings and mares to entries. True, a mare can be “in season” but that has become quite rare as science has progressed and their condition is detected; but a randy, fully-equipped make can be a very bad bet.

So we have speed, course performance, distance performance, state of the track, the rider and the connections (trainer especially), the distance, the running styles of both your horse and the others in today’s event, relative class, overall consistency and reliability, and the market indicators (not very scientific, that last one, but a guide).

Finally, we can check what’s on board our other campaigns.

Take all these into account and you have gone a long way with last start winners. I’ll tell you this, though: if you get a positive feel, after putting a last start winner through this “racing wringer”, you can be pretty confident that you’ve done as much as any punter can, and that your horse is a real live chance.

Days Since Last Ran

Fitness is a very important part of any sporting activity, and horse racing is certainly no different. Horses are like athletes, if they are not at their peak fitness levels, then they will struggle to keep up with others that are, and so regular outings at a competitive level must be looked at as part of our selection process.

Below you’ll find the results of a survey carried out on the Flat, and for National Hunt racing, all taken during the middle of the season. It shows how many days had elapsed since the winner’s last outing.

Flat Races

Winners running within:
1-7 days 17.7%
8-14 days 26.3%
15-21 days 21.2%
22-28 days 21.3%
29+ days 13.3%

National Hunt Races

Winners running within:
1-7 days 18.8%
8-14 days 28.3%
15-21 days 26.3%
22-28 days 17.1%
29+ days 9.4%

As you can see above, over 85% of flat races were won by horses who had run within the last 28 days. This can therefore merit a high proportion of selections made must meet with this criteria. This however does not mean we cannot back horses who have run out-with this time scale, but it most certainly shows a significant amount of races will turn out winners who have run within the last 28 days.

Again, for National Hunt racing, this rule could also be applied, and as these races are run over a longer distance, and with jump obstacles to be tackled, fitness plays a huge part in which horses will actually last the distance and have a realistic chance of winning the race.

In fact, 73% of jumps winners conducted in our survey had all won within 21 days of their last outing.

Therefore, these valuable statistics must be taken into account when making our selections. By doing so we can reduce the amount of selections taken from the top 3 in the betting forecast who perhaps may not have the fitness levels to compete in the race with others who have. Thus, reducing our chances of making a losing selection. Again, we shall speak more about the fitness of a horse and how it effects the form readings later in the manual.

The Betting Forecast

The betting forecast is intended to give an indication of how a race is likely to be run and which horses will most likely finish in the top positions. The forecast given in the daily newspapers may differ considerably as the day goes on, this is due to an increase of money going on to the race and can alter the odds for an individual horse quite dramatically. It can also change the order in which runners are ranked and their available prices.

However, on most occasions, the betting forecasts provided by the daily newspapers are extremely accurate in predicting the final racecourse market of each race. Even more so, the Racing Post is extremely accurate, and so this is the daily newspaper publication that we use to make all our selections.

The betting forecast can be found at the bottom of each race card and shows the odds of each individual horse in that particular race. The odds given for each horse indicate which have the most realistic chance of winning. These are in order from the first shown with the lowest odds, (the favourite) through the 2nd favourite, 3rd favourite, etc, etc and so on, until all horses have been given odds on their chances of winning the race. As the betting forecast goes on, you will see the horses that are classed as outsiders, these have higher priced odds, and so are considered to have less chance of winning.

The Racing Posts betting forecast is a very reliable source of information for the main contenders of each race, and very rarely do they get it wrong!

The favourite is obviously thought to have the very best chance of winning, the 2nd favourite the next best chance, the 3rd the next best, and so on for every runner in the race. The odds of each horse indicates its chances of winning that particular race.

Using all the statistics available to us, it is clear that if you want to be successful in selecting consistent winners, then you must seriously look at selections from the first 3 in the betting forecast. However, we are going to look further into each horses form, regarding where they are in the forecast, as we can also find very good priced winners just waiting to win but will not be heavily backed. More on this later. But first, to get back to basics, we need to predominantly look at the first 3 in betting forecast for consistent winners.

This immediately pinpoints those horses that have a very serious, and realistic chance of winning the race. Sure, there are many horses that win races who are not in the top 3 of the betting forecast, but what we are looking for is a consistent and regular flow of winners, and believe us when we say, there is no other way to get these than by selecting those horses who are in the top 3 of the betting forecast.

One thing any punter simply must do to be successful in selecting winners, and who intends to make any real money from betting, must migrate away from selecting outside contenders, and steer towards high probability, good value situations and selections.

When you are betting on scenarios that frequently return winners, this will add to the interest and excitement of all of your betting, but more importantly, these consistent and regular winners will dramatically increase your profits.

There may be the odd occasion where there is a joint favourite, or joint 2nd or 3rd favourite, meaning that there are 4 selections in the top 3 (odds) of the betting forecast. When this happens, we simply use all 4 horses, but we should be extra cautious when making your final selection as this could indicate there may be some very stiff competition in the race.

If a horse is in the top 3 of the betting forecast in the Racing Post, it is because it has a very good chance of winning. Those who compile these positions/odds are experts in their field and do this for a living. So, if the horse is in the top 3 of the betting forecast in the Racing Post, this is because it deserves to be. Therefore we must use this information to the best of its ability.

Analysis

The conclusions drawn from the tests we have carried out that you are now about to see, prove conclusively that the first 3 horses in the betting forecast of each race given in the Racing Post, is an excellent indication as to which horses have the very best chance of winning the race. And we can even use statistical evidence to prove this.

You will see below a breakdown for Flat, National Hunt, and All-Weather Flat Racing. The statistics show how the betting forecasts faired over the entire British racing programme over a three year period using the Racing Post as our daily choice of information.

Flat Turf

Stakes and condition races (2 year olds)
Favourite 38.9 % won

2nd Favourite 23.7 %won
3rd Favourite 17.6 % won
Others 19.8 % won

Stakes and condition races (older horses)
Favourite 39.8 % won

2nd favourite 24.4% won
3rd favourite 16.4% won
Others 19.4% won

Handicaps (all ages)
Favourite 24.4% won
2nd favourite 18.6% won
3rd favourite 15.3% won
Others 41.7% won

Flat – All Weather

Stakes and conditions races (all races)
Favourite 38.5% won

2nd favourite 22.4% won
3rd favourite 20.8% won
Others 18.3% won

Handicap (all ages)
Favourite 26% won

2nd favourite 23.3% won
3rd favourite 17.6% won
Others 33.1% won

National Hunt

Non-handicap hurdles
Favourite 43.6% won

2nd favourite 26.6% won
3rd favourite 13.6% won
Others 17.2% won

Non-handicap chases
Favourite 42.5% won
2nd favourite 25.0% won
3rd favourite 13.7% won
Others 18.8% won

Handicap hurdles
Favourite 28.7% won

2nd favourite 22.6% won
3rd favourite 16.4% won
Others 32.3% won

Handicap chases

Favourite 37.5% won 
2nd favourite 22.8% won
3rd favourite 13.4% won
Others 26.3% won

Just take a closer look at the percentage of winning horses who were in the first 3 of the Racing Post betting forecast. Below you’ll see the collective results of all these races and the statistics showing the overall percentage from them.

Results Of First 3 In The Betting Forecast

FLAT – Turf
Stakes and conditions races (2 year olds) 80.2% Won

Stakes and conditions races (older horses) 80.6% Won
Handicaps (all ages) 58.1% Won

FLAT – All Weather
Stakes and conditions races (all ages) 81.7% Won
Handicaps (all ages) 66.9% Won

NATIONAL HUNT
Non-handicap hurdles 83.8% Won
Non handicap chases 81.2% Won
Handicap hurdles 67.7% Won
Handicap Chase 73.7% Won

The above tables show conclusively that all types of non-handicap races were dominated by the first 3 in the betting forecast. In-fact, over 80% of them!!

Taking into account all the above data, the impression left by these figures point to a single overwhelming fact, namely, that in most races, we usually don’t need to look to far beyond the first 3 in the betting forecast for the most probable winner.

Anyone who decides to go out-with the first 3 in the betting forecast should be aware that they are flying in the face of statistical evidence. And, by doing so, long term profits are obviously not going to be made as easily, however, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t bet on horses out-with the top 3 of the forecast, it just means we should be a lot more cautious when we are…

In terms of winning percentages alone, the significance of this factor in the search for consistent winners is obvious to even the most uneducated bettor.

However, we should also note that the majority of favourites lose, so by just blindly backing the favourite alone in every race to win is a complete waste of time. Nevertheless, by backing favourites, or horses that are in the top 3 of the betting forecast, is proven to be the very best possible way for selecting consistent and regular winners.

It should also be noted that the 2nd and 3rd favourites quoted in the betting forecast taken together often win more races than the first favourite in the forecast.

So for anyone who thinks backing only the favourite in every race will bring them large profits, then take another look at the statistics. Although undoubtedly the most consistent winner, profits long term will not be made relying solely on the favourite to win in every race. Poor odds also contribute greatly to this.

However, combining your selections of favourites along with both the 2nd and 3rd in the betting forecast only, will now give you a massive increase in your strike rate. With just a little bit of extra work we can quickly weed out any of the top 3 favourites in the betting forecast that do not show other signs of giving a good performance.

But we are not going to dismiss all other runners out with the top 3. Quite the opposite in fact, but we shall need to spend more time analysing the recent and long term form of the top 3 as well as all other runners in the same race, as we may just find that from a quick glance at the form guide a contender who has nothing much to offer, may in fact have something that we have missed once we delve a little deeper, and this is something which I am going to show you how to do as we go on.

Form Analysis Stepladder

I suppose the main thing I want to stress is this, ask questions, not only of the form lines, but of yourself.

Your thinking needs to be in sharp order if you’re to take advantage of the many nuances of the form that could point you to a winner. A mind dulled by tiredness, stress or just laziness will MISS vital clues, and lead to WRONG DECISIONS.

Get simple priorities in order. Which tracks offer stronger form than others? Which stables are safer to entrust your money to and the same applies to jockeys. Are you going to bet on certain tracks, and not at others?

Always keep some sort of record of your performance. In many ways a punter is very much like a racehorse. You will perform better at some tracks than at others, you will do better at races of a certain class, and at races of a certain distance.

I’ve found that at some tracks I don’t do as well. I avoid these as much as I can. You may find you do well at these tracks and badly at others.

You will only be able to discover what suits you best by keeping a record of everything you do, and that means where, class of race, distance, number of runners, track conditions, level of favouritism and so on. All these factors mean something in the totality of what you’re doing.

You may like backing favourites, but what you need to discover is how well or badly you do, financially, out of backing them? You may get the surprise of your life. Those winning favourites may not be helping your bank balance at all. It may be the 5/1 and 6/1 shots that give you a profit.

My stepladder consists of a series of questions which will help you determine exactly where you are going in your daily betting, and how to avoid the pitfalls. At least, that’s the aim, because for the approach to be successful you will need to answer all the issues with an honest response. No dodging or evasion.

TASK NO. 1
Decide on which race you will examine from the day’s card. If you know which types of races you do best on, then you can easily pick out the two or three on which you will concentrate your attention. I suggest you always ignore races with first-starters because these can prove “trap” events. If you know nothing about a horse, how can you properly assess its chances?

TASK NO.2
Check out your PRIORITY stables. I have a list of trainers who have consistently landed the money for me. These are what I call the PRIORITY stables. Tick off all their runners in the races on which you have chosen to bet (remember, you can’t bet on every race!). When you begin to assess the form lines of every runner in the race, these stables’ runners are your benchmark. Assess them first.

TASK NO. 3
Assuming you are doing the right thing in watching video replays of races, you will have a list of horses which you have compiled from these replays, consisting of horses who were unlucky, or who put in good runs. Check out these “video stars” after you have checked out the PRIORITY stable runners. Check out their form against the other runners and decide if the video replay run stands up to close assessment. It may be the horse looks a real chance, but it also may have been put into a race in which it outclasses (this often happens as trainers lose the plot).

TASK NO. 4
You begin to study the form of all the runners. And this is where you need to ask serious questions:

(a) Why can this horse win the race?
(b) Why can’t this horse win the race?

When we talk about studying form, these two questions sum up what it is all about. You are provided with the clues in the form guide, you know what the horse has done and now you must answer the most crucial question… Why can it, why can’t it?

The form will throw many curly posers for you. Do you forgive a horse a bad run? Can a horse “bounce” from a win and win again? Why will it go from a defeat to a win? How unlucky was it last start? Is it suited today? Is it fit? Can it run well fresh? How good or poor is the rider? Does the stable win many races?

You may narrow a race down to, say, three chances. To determine a final selection you may have to resort to your PRIORITY stables or the evidence from your video replay watching. In a close call between a horse trained by Paul Nicholls and another horse from a minor trainer, always go for the strength.

When you’re weighing up the form, don’t be put off too much by form lines that say 6th, 7th 8th and so on. They look bad but often they are not. This is where it’s essential to watch races.

Subscribe to the Racing Channel and you can look at the replay of any races. There is no excuse for not knowing EXACTLY how a horse ran in a race.

A horse who is unplaced may be just running into good form. This is what you need to determine from its latest run and from what it has done in the past. Always look for patterns in a horse’s form lines. What he’s done before is likely to replay itself.

Then there’s the bad luck factors or a bad ride, or not suited to the conditions and so on. I think you don’t need me to remind you too many times of all the avenues that needs to be explored.

TASK NO. 5 

How to bet your selections? This is a very personal thing. No two punters bet alike. So if I recommend an approach it may suit some and will be rejected by many others.

I will say this: FIND OUT FOR YOURSELF. You know what sort of punter you are, you know your strengths and weaknesses, you know (or you should know) what has worked best for you over the years, so from all this make a decision about HOW you will bet.

My own approach is a flexible one and I’m prone to a strategy of “maximum boldness” which many punters shirk. I like a horse more when everyone else ignores it! It’s when I know the crowd has picked the same horse as me that I get that sinking feeling.

I hope these elements of form analysis are of some use to you in your own endeavours. If nothing else, they may make you stop and think about what you do as a punter and what you may need to do to improve your selection strike rate and your overall financial situation.

The 12 Vital Form Factors

As everybody knows, I always get asked dozens of questions about all sorts of betting. Everything you can think of, and some things you never have, are asked to try and get information out of me to for their own advantage.

I cannot ever remember being asked to address the question of “doing the form” from precisely this angle before, and so I have included it in this manual to expand it into this full-blown examination of the situation. So here it is…..

“When doing the form, and considering the following factors, how would you rate them in order of importance?”

To start at the beginning, I am wondering what readers think about the issue of days since last start.

Simply put, this refers to the number of days since a horse last ran in an official race. The most common period to have elapsed is somewhere between one and four weeks, or seven days to 28 days inclusive. Occasionally shorter. Statistics will tell you that the vast majority of winners comes from this section of qualifiers, but of course these same statistics will also tell you that the vast majority of horses in the races will have run within that time span.

More systems have been devised around this concept than you have had breakfast or whatever else you can think of. It seems that, for most of my racing life, I have heard punters make reference to “Well, it’s the old last start winner within seven again…” meaning that a horse has won after having done so within the past week.

If only it were that simple. But whenever it happens, there is a little part of you that asks yourself why you didn’t notice it (unless of course you did, in which case you are still congratulating yourself on your superb insight).

Supporting such animals blindly would lead to ruin, but it really is a very significant guide, if it is combined with other leading factors, especially the question of comparative class. Sometimes the connections get quite ambitious and go after something where their horse is now on the limit weight, they tell the world that it has been flying since the previous win, and they sneak away with their tails between their legs when it runs an inglorious 17′. This is one of the traps for young players.

However, every now and again, for whatever reason, a last start winner within seven days finds itself in a very similar field to the one it defeated, and treated on virtually equivalent terms to the previous run. This horse starts to get the smell of a real bet about it. Even if it goes up very slightly in weight, its current form and the level of opposition may be quite enough to see it home again.

Something you have to be particularly careful of there is when a horse like this receives a penalty, and to compensate for it they replace a fully-fledged jockey with a claiming apprentice. One of the things I like in a horse which is trying to repeat is for everything to be as near that first win as it can be. Needless to say there are some very fine apprentice jockeys, but they are apprentices because they are learners and you have to at least cast a cautious eye over such a change.

Depending on which set of statistics you borrow, you will find minor variations in this next comment, but generally speaking a period of 14 to 21 days is about your normal expectation for your average runner between its races. Backing up too soon (unless they are already proven to be able to do this) is assuming that they have totally recovered from their previous race. Waiting too long cannot assume that whatever form they showed has been retained.

So, I do believe that common sense dictates that two to three weeks is probably a pretty fair thing. Again, the horse’s history is likely to give you some leading clues. This history is readily available these days. You can source it on several free Internet sites, and your genuine specialist racing papers will provide you with enough detailed information to answer your questions here.

As you can see, I have to some extent linked “days since last start” with “days since last win”. These can be quite different. Looking for a moment at the latter, horses are creatures of habit. Many of them tend to need a run or two to get to their best, regardless of how much work has been pumped into them. Many of them, once at their best, will hold it for the next three or four runs (get your old form guides out, or go on the net and check consistency patterns).

Other horses do not seem able to hold their winning form for more than one race, and regardless of the way they won, you can often see that everything in their history says they won’t do it again. This can sometimes steer you off a false favourite and onto a far better conveyance, so never underestimate this kind of information which is so easily available to you.

So far as runs since a spell out are concerned, again your best guide is the form guide. It will tell you how this horse returns to the racetrack. If the horse has never won first-up, expect it to go right on failing. Pessimistic?

Not at all, plain common sense. Also, watch out for the horse that had two campaigns as a two-year-old, won both its first-up starts, and then as a more mature animal has had (say) four more campaigns without winning first-up. This horse will show as having good first-up form, and you will find commentary saying “goes well first-up”.

The truth is that it went well first-up…but as an older horse there is nothing in its form to suggest that it has remembered how to do this. It is taking longer and in fact it might not be winning at all. You will still see these commentaries advising you that the horse “comes to hand quickly”, when the truth may be that it doesn’t come to hand at all!

So, as to these first two criteria, I will leave them in your mind for a moment. We won’t attempt to rank the overall criteria until we’ve had a look at the whole lot. This will also give you the opportunity of thinking things through for yourself, and possibly applying numerical figures to each of the 12 possibilities.

If you were to give them numbers between, say, 0 and 10, the spread might be a bit great. But if you went between 0 and 5, you would end up with a maximum of 60 (and of course a minimum of zero). I have found that assessing between nothing and 5 is far more realistic than allowing a spread of 10, although I’m the first to admit that in my own ratings I’m prepared to go all the way to 100.

On the other hand, you will very rarely find me dipping below about 50 these days, so I am virtually working on those five levels of 10 to 100. I have to get excited about something to go much above 75, which in the language of 0 to 5 is about 2.5; only half way up my allotted scale.

Sometimes this is the result of past analysis, sometimes it is based on a reasonable requirement put on a horse, and sometimes it is a combination of both these factors. Some systems allow a certain flexibility on this ruling and others are totally unbending.

If you want a straightforward, easy system, you might as well decide on the minimum level you will accept and draw a line in the sand. This gets a little bit more difficult, the higher you place the bar. For example, if you demand of your horse that it has won one race in every three it has contested, you are likely to restrict yourself to either (a) a young horse, or (b) a very good horse.

This is not set in concrete, but if you want to see what I’m getting at here, raise the requirement to 50 per cent win strike rate. Often, you will find that runners in the top two-year-old races don’t have any difficulty with that qualification. Try it again by the time they take their place in the Derby. Then it will be a different story. Yet another issue is raised here, and that is whether or not the actual number of lifetime starts should play a role in determining the importance of the win strike rate. I believe it is absolutely critical.

The number of lifetime starts usually only becomes a really significant guide to overall consistency after it has climbed at least to double figures. A horse which has had five or six lifetime starts and has a high win strike rate may indeed go on winning, but the likelihood is that the price will be cramped anyway.

You will find a lot of top punters who, amongst their most important rules, put their pens straight through all two-year-olds, and any three-year-olds which have not had a least 10 lifetime starts.

These same punters are quite often loath to back any three-year-old and they focus most of their attention (and their money) on horses aged 4, 5 and 6. Old geldings sometimes will hold their attention. That win sobered me up quite a bit and, while we all know that one swallow doesn’t make a spring, it made me do a lot of hard thinking about some of the things I had held sacred. One other point: a far better figure for you to calculate is the win strike rate at today’s distance.

If you want an arbitrary lower WSR, I would suggest that you consider 20 per cent. It means that your horse has won one race in every five attempts. This is not exactly scintillating stuff, but it is pretty good, especially if the horse is a 1600 meter + type. You can draw a long bow from this, and speculate that this horse will probably have 7, 8 or maybe 10 starts in a full preparation, and that it will win two of them.

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I know that’s generalising, but it’s a start. It’s a start at the lower end. Raise the bar if you want, but I’m looking at the lower end. OK, where are those two wins likely to be? If I am right in my fundamental belief that horses are creatures of habit, you may be able to spot a trend by looking at the way horses’ previous campaigns have panned out.

It becomes apparent after not a lot of work whether a horse needs a few runs and then strikes form for three or four runs, whether it comes to hand pretty quickly then tapers off, or whether it’s the kind of horse that doesn’t win out of turn but racks up several places, and once or twice every preparation gets lucky. These latter horses are your each way bread and butter!

We’re nearly halfway in our consideration of this set of criteria. I’m going to leave this with you to consider for yourself until another day, keeping in mind that while it may seem that we’re only up to number 5, we’ve been dabbling amongst some of the others as well.

Take Note Of The Alarm Bells

Of all the racetrack factors none is as important as the fitness of the racehorse you have under scrutiny for a possible wager.

The mighty horses of the past have all been beaten by horses several lengths inferior in ability, simply because the inferior horses were fitter. So, how does the punter determine the level of fitness in their choices assuming they cannot be at the racetrack and do not have the chance to view their selections in the parade ring?

Punters really only have current form and the spell dates out of each runner to peruse, which are freely available in the daily newspapers or information published in certain specialist form newspapers such as The Racing Post. In writing this section I am going to concentrate on the tools the average punter has available as per the daily newspaper they would normally buy for the news of the day and I will assume the punter will keep the form guides for future reference.

There are six areas relevant to “spell dates”; that is, the days since they last raced, which I believe can help the punter glean enough information to make a relatively informed decision whether to back a selection or to determine that alarm bells are ringing to suggest caution might be the better option than betting.

The areas are:

a) Seven days or less
b) 8-14 days
c) 15-20 days
d) 21 days exactly
e) 22-28 days
f) 29 days and longer

AREA 1: BACKING UP WITHIN SEVEN DAYS OR LESS

Firstly, it must be remembered that for a trainer to accept with a horse after a break of only seven days or less, it should be considered as a deliberate action because there are tight deadlines the trainer has to meet between the acceptance stage. He must also determine if the horse has recovered from its last race.

This tight deadline is particularly evident if the horse is backing up after five days or less. It is one thing for the trainer to seemingly signal he thinks the horse is fit and ready to front up again but two factors have to be considered before we madly rush in and start betting.

Some trainers are extremely proficient at the short back up methodology while others just send them around without really considering the second part of the equation, which is the horse.

Quite simply, some horses have an ability to front up seemingly week after week, and perform creditably while others do not have such a constitution and require at least two weeks away from competitive racing.

It is not unusual for a trainer to report after a horse has backed up quickly and has run poorly that “perhaps the quick back up did not suit the horse”, which is no help to the punter but at least it’s an acknowledgement or excuse for a defeat worth recording.

In order to hazard a sensible guess about a horse’s ability to back up quickly, we need to consult its past performance. If it has shown in the past it can front up twice in one week or less in the appropriate class relevant to today’s race, we can back this horse with confidence.

If it has no positive quick back up form lines or has never attempted this feat, we should look at the last run in some detail and attempt to determine if the run ranged from an easy win to a hard, whip slogging finish.

If a horse attempting a quick back-up has had a seemingly hard run without any prior quick back-up runs, then this would seem to be a negative factor worth really worrying about.

The area of the quick back up has been the subject of many a system but the system falls down if the above considerations are not factored in as well as the ability of the trainer. For the patient punter who looks for the trainer AND horse combination in this area profits await and at times at quite excellent prices.

I remember having a nice collect in Newbury off a horse at 25/1 some time ago when it was coming off what looked like an ordinary run six days earlier. In a previous campaign it has won at good odds after a five day spell when again it had what looked like an ordinary run. It was a case of the same horse, same trainer and same circumstances and same result.

AREA 2: BACKING UP WITHIN 8-14 DAYS

It is, of course, pedantic to say there is a difference between seven days and eight days but we have to draw the line in the sand somewhere. Common sense decrees the closer the spell date is to 14 days the less we punters generally need to worry, as 14 days would be an average rest time for most horses. You can rarely make a case against a horse having a 14 day break.

AREA 3: BACKING UP WITHIN 15-20 DAYS

Once again, pedantics is an issue at the 15 day end but the closer we get to 20 days the spell date becomes more important as an inkling of fitness concerns start to emerge. It’s possible the spell date of 20 days may have occurred because no other races were available; however, if this horse has had a history of performing best on a quick backup or at 14 days, I would start to worry just a fraction. On the positive side, the horse might be the type that requires more days away from competition than a traditional 14 days. Past form lines can help determine this best.

AREA 4: 21 DAYS EXACTLY

Of all spell dates I believe this is the one that requires the most scrutiny, as this horse is racing from Saturday three weeks ago to Saturday today or Wednesday to Wednesday, thus approximately the same class, usually. Has the horse been kept away from racing because it has not recovered from its previous run or has there been a minor injury or is it not unusual for this horse to race well after a three weeks break?

The answer to the first two questions are not calculable on their own but in conjunction with a horse’s history, we can make an informed guess which might just make us wary enough to not back it. On many occasions you will see a horse fronting up at 21 days yet all of its wins have been around the 14 day mark and I often penalise this type of horse.

I must be honest and admit I have been wrong many times but there have been many times when I have been very happy about playing it safe, either selecting another runner or dropping my bet size.

AREA 5: BACKING UP WITHIN 22-28 DAYS

At 22 days plus we are beginning to move into uncharted territory. I start to worry if a horse I fancy has not had a race start for 28 days exactly. Some horses, however, do quite okay at exactly 28 days especially if dropped in distance.

The 28 days’ spell could be for any number of reasons not detrimental to the horse if its form history shows it performs well off such breaks or even spells (I consider a spell 60 days or longer). On the negative side, if I see a horse resuming at 28 days or longer and I note its best performances at this level or close to it hovers around spell dates of 14 days then I put a line straight through it.

AREA 6: BACKING UP AT 29 DAYS OR LONGER

The closer we get to a spell the more careful we have to be. If a horse is listed as being first-up, whether your paper has first-up as 60 or 90 days, the more questions we ask the better off we will be.

Your form guide might show a horse has won two from four first-up attempts and because it is first-up today you might well decide on that information that being first-up is not a problem. This is a foolish approach. What if the two first-up wins had been at a horse’s first two campaigns in restricted company or against its own age group as a 2yo and 3yo and today it is racing against older, more seasoned runners and obviously up in class?

Do NOT take those figures in your form guide at face value. Where did this horse finish at its last two first-up and even second-up preparations? Were those runs at this class level or close? I liken first-up and even second-up performances early in a horse’s career similar to football players…Some juniors really go well as juniors but when stretched to the next level cannot handle the added pressure.

It is no different with racehorses: some young horses will go through the grades in tradesman like fashion but other will always stall at a particular level. You MUST determine that level for first uppers or you might as well throw your money into the air and let it float away. It’s simple as that.

In summary, may I suggest you start to watch the unusual spell dates trainers adopt, as some are quite adept at having their horses win after a quick back up or at the other end, first-up. The top trainers set spell dates for their horses that maximise their chances and the sooner you find out which trainers have that capability the more returns you will receive.

May I also suggest you become a serious student of a horse’s ability at today’s level or close to it in regards to spell dates, as there will be occasions where the trainer is forces to run a horse against previously failed spell dates in order to get that horse fit for a more important run in the future.

I would tend to take the horse’s past form as my lead but if it is a trainer, I respect I will trust the trainer. I know this can be a fine line at times but as you study spell dates you begin to get a confidence level with some trainers that is irresistible.

In this article I have made several arguable points and I use the word “arguable” because none are set in concrete. However, if, after reading this article, you at least have a second think about rushing into one of those so called “first-up specialists” or have a deeper think about a quick back up runner, then I feel you will be all the better for the read.

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Probe The Distance Win Factor

One of the many reasons the average punter loses money at the racetrack is an inability to rigorously assess the distance ability of the horses they are going to back.

Knowing that Red Rum could run 3200m after two previous successes in the Grand National will not win you the Mr Rocket Scientist Of The Year award but knowing that a particular horse has failed several times at a distance when seemingly having had every chance, is vital knowledge that can save the punter one betting unit.

The saving of one betting unit is like backing an even-money winner and in the final analysis, at the end of your punting year, those savings will mount up. This will be so because, theoretically, you should no longer be backing a dud at the distance but another horse, either proven, close to proven or even an unknown at the distance if the other contenders are formless and worth taking on.

It always amazes me when I hear some punters saying, “This horse can handle the distance because he has won twice over the distance”, the claim being based on the raw figures published in the form guide which details wins compared to total runs.

There have been times when I have asked where the horse won these races as I couldn’t remember them winning at this distance and I received the answer, “I don’t know but it has won at the distance…isn’t that good enough?”

Well, the simple answer is “NO”. Let me explain why and I think some of you will say to yourself, “Hey, I hadn’t thought of it that way” and I suspect if you do think this way in the future, your bets on losers that are distance doubts will decrease. It does not mean you will win overall, as many other form factors obviously come into play, but it will sure help.

When looking at a horse’s distance ability the first thing I ask myself is this: “WHERE did this horse win its races over this distance?” You’d be amazed the number of times that answering such a simple question immediately has you on the alert and ready to probe just a fraction more into what originally seemed a no brainer.

Depending on where you bet you need to extend that first question by adding another question: “In what CLASS were those wins achieved COMPARED to today’s class?”

And I have to ask another question, which is this: “WHICH horses did this horse beat when it won at today’s distance?” On first thoughts you might say, well isn’t this covered by class in the earlier question? But any form student should know an Open company race (Class) at one course over the same distance as today’s is not the same if the horses our initial selection has beaten cannot themselves win or at least race well at the same track.

All this leads to a multiple question: “where did this horse win, in what class, and which horses did it beat?”

As a punter, if you can answer these queries you are well on the way to mastering an aspect of the punt that is often bypassed far too quickly.

Distance ability is often masked by the way a race has been run and even though a horse may have won races in this class, beating good horses, a keen form student will dive into the form and ask himself: “what were the circumstances of the win?”

If the horse was able to lead uncontested, you might ask whether it counts as a win at the distance? Mathematically speaking the answer is yes it is, but form wise it should be treated with extreme caution.

What if the horse won after two or more runners contested a fierce early struggle for the lead and went like last week’s pay, capitulated like a pricked balloon and then all it needed was for some backmarker to run over the top of the early leaders? Again, a mathematically correct distance win in this class but also again a win worthy of some doubt.

So far I have discussed the negatives of the distance equation but what about the one hidden factor that is not always obvious unless some delving into the form is taken? One such factor is where the form guide shows a horse has had X runs at a distance with zero wins but the runs were in a class above today’s contest.

For instance, how would you assess the distance ability of a horse whose form guide figures read zero wins zero placings from four runs at 1600m, yet delving into the form shows this horse was beaten three times by three lengths or less in Group races and today’s race is an open class race.

Now it will obviously be argued this is more a form factor. However, once again mathematically, a case is being presented regarding distance which common sense decrees is unfair against the horse.

At times another issue pops up which defies mathematical acceptance and that is the case where a horse may have had three wins at, say, 1200m, zero wins at 1400m and three wins at 1600m and you guessed it today’s distance is 1400m!

Mathematically speaking again, we have an anomaly. Naturally it can handle the distance IF the wins have been in this class as we have already discussed.

It’s All About Field Size, Going And Distance

When we sit down to analyse a horse race, one of the first things we will do is to try to assess the kind of race that is on offer. We will look at the class of the race, and we will note the distance and going, and we’ll then begin to assess each horse’s individual form with a hope to divining the most likely winner.

When it comes to a race’s stamina conditions, a lot of punters feel that the distance of a race is the single most important factor. In fact, as far as the stamina elements of a race are concerned, most people in racing are hypnotised by distance and distance alone.

Horses are defined by their achievements at a certain distance, e.g. “he’s a miler”, “she needs 2400m to be sent at her best”, etc, etc. Yet, in reality, a horse’s favoured racing conditions can be defined with much more precision than this. What this chapter is going to ask you to do is to slightly redefine your ideas about the factors that contribute to the elements of a stamina contest.

This chapter is going to endeavour to change how you perceive a race’s whole make-up and, once you have understood what the race’s structure is all about, you will be able to match a horse’s best winning conditions to the race it is about to run in. The journey that this chapter will take you on will reveal that some races (and some horses) are not always what they seem.

However, the conclusions drawn will allow you to make a far clearer assessment of the stamina contest that a race presents and, therefore, a more precise assessment of any horse you’re about to study. That’s the good news. The bad news is that there are many more kinds of horse races out there than you had perhaps realised.

Let me say that this section should only apply to seasoned horses (ideally late-season three year olds and older) that have already won. The wins that a horse has made in its career should define with some precision just what kind of horse he or she is.

So, what exactly are the vital factors that contribute to the stamina conditions for a horse race? They are distance, going and field size, and there’s two very important things to realise about these three elements.

DISTANCE

“All horses stay — it’s just a question of how far”. Paul Nichols, Derby-winning racehorse trainer.

It will come as no surprise to any reader that if a horse is sent over a further distance than any it had previously raced over then it could be said that horse’s stamina will have greater emphasis placed on it. Many is the time we have all heard a trainer state that he or she intends to “step a horse up in distance” if they felt that the horse needed a more searching test of stamina.

It must be remembered that distance is the only aspect of the three stamina “forces” (distance, going, field size) that trainers have total control over. They have no control over the way the going will be and they have no control over how many contestants will appear in any given race.

Trainers at least know that if they send their horses over a longer distance that a horse will receive a greater test of its stamina — or so it would seem. Even in spite of the distance rise it gets, a horse might still not receive the stamina test it requires or, conversely, a horse may be sent over a stamina precipice because of the other two forces acting upon it (going and field size).

Because of the “pull” exerted by the other two “forces”, I have come to realise that it is perhaps a little unwise to categorise horses by distance alone. However, I think it’s fair to say that we all see horses fall roughly into the following groups;

  1. Sprinters: 1000m — 1400m.
  2. Milers and Sprinter — Milers: 1400m — 1900m.
  3. Middle Distance horses: 2000m — 2800m.
  4. Stayers: 2800m — 3200m.

I think most people would concur with these general categories for distance. Many horses can stay over longer distances than may be at first apparent and many other horses don’t stay long distances quite as well as they seem. Hopefully, this chapter might just clarify why that might be.

GOING

“Soft ground will make the race longer”. Andre Fabre, Champion Trainer of France.

In the lead-up to the 2006 Irish Champion Stakes (held at Leopardstown), France’s champion trainer Andre Fabre made an utterance that sheds some light on the way that he views a race. This statement comes from a man who is universally acknowledged to be a God-given genius with horses (who rarely speaks to the press) so it was nice to hear him speak so succinctly on the subject of “the going”.

Fabre was being faced with the decision as to whether he should race his fabulous “Arc” winner Hurricane Run.

Fabre said, “It all depends on the weather conditions. There seems to be some rain about and some good weather — I’d like some rain to give us soft ground. If not, we’ll go to Longchamp. He (Hurricane Run) won on good ground at Ascot, but soft ground will make the race longer”.

I like this statement very much as it reveals the clever elasticity of Fabre’s perspective when assessing a race. It would be very fair to say that only a fractional change in the going can amount to a considerable change in the stamina contest presented to a horse.

As Phil Bull, founder of Timeform, used to say, “possibly the single greatest contributor to any outcome for a race is the state of the ground”.

The going is vital for your assessment of a race. I will, for the sake of all readers, stick to the simple fast, good, dead, slow and heavy arrangement.

After a considerable period of time studying results I think it’s fair to say that there is about a furlong’s (200m-300m) worth of difference between each track condition from heavy up to fast. So, like Fabre says, the softer the ground gets then the longer a race becomes.

FIELD SIZE

“A herd of horse’s means for survival is to stay close together so that every horse can be warned of the slightest impending danger”. Monty Robers.

When horses race you are watching a partly-controlled but quite natural phenomenon —horses in flight. A horse race is a movement of horses acting and even thinking as one —much like a shoal of fish or a flight of birds. One of the reasons trainers often speak about trying to train horses to “relax” is because horses are trying to be taught not to panic while they are taking flight in a race. It is a difficult task as horses in the wild are herd animals who are very responsive to each other and particularly so when they are all running together as a pack.

Nevertheless, when a race field expands, horses are likely to move with greater speed and momentum (in spite of their training) as the collective instinct takes hold. The more horses there are running together in a race then the greater the collective instinct will be for them to move faster with the result that the tempo of a race will be more consistently high and level throughout the race.

The side effect of an increase in field size will be to increase the stamina requirement of the race and, not surprisingly, a decrease in field size will reduce the stamina conditions of a race. Studies have shown that an increase in field size of roughly 25 per cent can have the same impact as sending a horse over another 200m (400m at distance over 2400m).

Of all the three “forces” that make up a race’s stamina content, field size is the one that most people in racing overlook — yet its impact is considerable and, therefore, it is vital to note exactly how many runners are taking part in a race.

THE EFFECT OF THE COMBINATION OF ALL OF DISTANCE, GOING AND FIELD SIZE

Let’s take a look now at the inter-relationship between all “forces” and see how they combine together. Let us suppose that we have interrogated a horse’s total career form and have ascertained its best winning conditions. In so doing we will have discovered it’s most effective stamina condition too.

These conditions should be measured from the highest class of race in which a horse has won. Naturally enough a horse will have needed to accrue a considerable amount of form before we can assess it which is why I insisted on examining late season three year olds and older horses.

Once a horse has begun to start winning we can begin to see the shape of its form emerging. If we note down the distance, going and field size of its best win we can utilise the information to ascertain other scenarios where it might also be effective.

We could express its best win in a kind of pseudo-equation, like this: Distance + field size + going = best winning conditions for a horse.

OK, let’s suggest, for example, the scenario below as a horse’s best win.

Distance Field Size Going

2000m 12 runners Good

Let’s start to adjust these conditions to fit other likely scenarios that it might win in the same class of race.

I think I’ll adjust the distance but keep the “going” constant at “good”. Let’s see what happens when I increase the distance from 2000m to 2400m. If the going is kept stable at “good” and the distance is lengthened from 2000m to 2400m this means that I will have to adjust the field size downwards by 25 per cent (three runners in this case) to keep the stamina conditions of the race at the same level.

2200m 9 runners Good

In fact, I think I’ll increase the distance again, keeping the going constant at “good”, and see what happens. It’s also worth noting that 25 per cent of some numbers will not give a whole number so the resulting reduction can produce a slightly fuzzy answer (such as six — seven runners) but that’s OK. Total accuracy is not vital but we will need to keep the figure reasonably accurate. The important thing to notice is that as the distance rises the field size shrinks.

2200m 9 runners Good

2400m 6-7 runners Good

I think I’ll muck around in a different way this time. If I decrease the distance back from 2400m, past the 2000m mark we’d started with, down to 1600m.

2400m 6-7 runners Good

2200m 9 runners Good

2000m 12 runners Good

1800m 15 runners Good

1600m 18-19 runners Good

The suggestion here is that a horse that was capable of winning at 200m on good ground in a field size of 12 runners could potentially be just as effective at other distances on “good” ground but only if the field size is increased or decreased accordingly.

Let’s reproduce my starting point again where a horse’s best winning distance is assumed to be 2000m on good ground in a field size of 12 runners. This time I will adjust the going to “dead” but keep the distance constant. If I do this then I will have to adjust the field size to keep the stamina conditions of the race at the same level.

When track conditions change like this it has the same effect as increasing the distance by 200m, i.e. the field size will have to be adjusted downwards by 25 per cent to compensate for the increased stamina condition of the wetter track.

2000m 12 runners Good

2000m 9 runners Dead

Therefore, a horse who had won at 2000m on good ground in a field size of 12 runners has the potential to win a race of the same class on dead ground but only if the field size contracts as well.

Remember also that the principles contained in this chapter apply to horses in races of every distance from 1000m — 3200m. What you should begin to realise from this exercise is that the number of combinations of distance, going, and field size can be many and varied indeed — this is the bad news I was talking about at the start of this chapter. However, the good news is that we can now begin to accurately gauge a horse’s optimum racing condition.

Next we shall look at “The Elements of Stamina” in a race.

Combing Through the Elements

I have now spoke about the three elements that define the stamina content of any given horse race, namely: distance, going and field size. The chapter maintained that two very important outcomes could be formed from close analysis of these three elements:

  1. The elements of distance, going and field size combine together to set the stamina condition of a race.

  1. Each element’s contribution is equal and none of them takes precedence over the other.

The inter-relationship between all the three elements creates a single environment. If a horse wins a race then it begins to define the stamina contest that it enjoys most with some precision. This means, in effect, that labelling an animal by distance alone (as most people in racing are apt to do) is a little too one-dimensional.

This is because the “pull” exerted by the other two elements gives a horse’s win a three-dimensional quality to it. This win can be used to uncover, relatively easily, other conditions where the horse can also win. It is important to note that a horse’s form is best interrogated once it has begun to clock up a number of wins.

Once a history of form has clocked up then you can start to define a horse’s best winning conditions with greater accuracy. As a consequence I prefer to analyse horses that are three-year-olds and older, as two and three-year-old horses need to be treated slightly differently.

The argument I put forward in the previous chapter is that, once you have the details of an actual win, you can take this piece of form and begin to mess around with it in a hypothetical way. Just like picking up a piece of plasticine and reshaping it into something else.

While you can shape plasticine in different ways its mass will always remain constant. The analogy here is that, if you have the conditions of a real win to use, then you can reshape this win, in hypothetical ways, into seemingly different conditions. However, the stamina factors of the win will always remain constant.

To hypothetically manipulate a horse’s win you will need to follow some basic rules, so the following rules apply when manipulating form:

  1. Adjustments of distance are made in increments (or decrements) of 200m (400m for long races).
  2. Adjustments of going are made by adjusting the track rating once along the scale of Fast, Good, Dead, Slow and Heavy — Example: 1 adjustment = Changing the rating from Good to Dead. Another example: 2 adjustments = Changing the rating from Good to Dead then from Dead to Slow.
  3. Adjustments of filed size are made by increments (or decrements) of 25 per cent.

1 Adjustment = A 25 per cent increment (to increase the stamina factor) or 1 adjustment A 25 per cent decrease in field size (to decrease the stamina factor).

This means:

(a) Increasing or decreasing distance should be made in increments (or decrements) of 200m in races of 2400m or less.

(b) Increasing or decreasing distance should be made in increments (or decrements) of 400m in races above 2400m.

A change in track condition (by 1 rating) is equal to an increment )or decrement) of 200m in races of 2400m or less {or 400m in races of 2400m or more).

INCREASING THE STAMINA FACTOR

An increase in field size of 25 per cent is equal to either:

  1. Softening of track condition by 1 rating: OR
  2. An increase of distance by an increment of 200m in races of 2400m or less (or 400m in races of 2400m or more).

DECREASING THE STAMINA FACTOR

A decreasing field size of 25 per cent is equal to either:

  1. 1 increment towards a drier track condition; OR

  1. A decrease of distance by a decrement of 200m in races of 2400m or less (or 400m in races of 2400m or more).

I admit that these rules make awkward reading but they will make sense to you once we try to put them into practice. In other words, it’s easier to understand if you check out the next example.

HYPOTHETICAL PRACTICE

“A hypothesis is a statement whose truth is temporarily assumed but whose meaning is beyond all doubt”. Albert Einstein

OK, in the last chapter I started out by plucking an imaginary win from out of the air and messing around with it using the rules stated above. To run through it again let’s assume, as an example, that the following conditions were the best winning conditions of an imaginary horse (in order of distance, field size and going).

2000m 12 runners Good (won by less than 0.2 lengths).

If I take this data and, hypothetically, increase its distance by 200m (while keeping the track rating constant), then, to maintain the stamina conditions of the horse’s best winning conditions, this would happen:

2000m 12 runners Good

2200m 9 runners Good

2400m 6-7 runners Good

You can see that I’ve reduced the field size by 25 per cent while the distance is increased through each movement.

But, if I go back to my starting point of [2000m, 12 runners, Good] and decrease the distance then, if the win is to maintain the same stamina conditions, this would happen:

2000m 12 runners Good

1800m 15 runners Good

1600m 18-19 runners Good

This time I’ve had to increase the field size by 25 per cent while the distance is decreased through each movement.

If I go back to my starting point of [2000m, 12 runners, Good] and soften the track condition by 1 rating (while keeping the distance at 2000m), then to maintain the stamina conditions of the horse’s best winning conditions, this would happen:

2000m 12 runners Good

4=2000m 9 runners Dead

As I’ve had to decrease the track rating from Good to Dead I’ve also had to decrease the field size by 25 per cent in order to maintain the horse’s best winning conditions.

Incidentally, a legendary punter, who I won’t mention, used to say that “any advantage or disadvantage could be expressed in terms of weight”. You’ll have noticed that next to my starting point of [2000m, 12 runners, Good] there was the proviso “won by less than 0.2 Lengths” in brackets after it, which implies that the winning conditions were quite exact.

This means that if a horse wins by a number of lengths then each length can be equivalent to an increment of either Distance, Going or Field Size. This means a horse wins by a wide margin then the greater flexibility a horse will have to win in alternative scenarios.

As a general rule-of-thumb, distance, going and field size adjustments can also be expressed in the following way:-

  1. Adjusting Distance by 200m = 1.5kg (or 1 length)

  1. Adjusting Going by 1 track rating = 1.5kg (or 1 length)

  1. Adjusting Field Size by 25 per cent = 1.5kg (or 1 length)

2yos and 3yos – Solving the Riddle

Earlier, the foundations were laid over two chapters devoted to the combined elements of distance, going and field size within a race that contribute to the stamina contest of the race.

Concentration was focused solely on three-year-old horses or older largely because their form has begun to show exactly where they stand in terms of the races they are likely to win.

This final chapter examines two-year-olds and three-year-olds separately because the second and third year of a horse’s life are about growth and learning. Observing the rolled-up effect of distance, going and field size for two and three-year-olds is still essentially valid but, as these young horses are working their way to their eventual niche, there form can often appear to be inconsistent when form comparisons are made between early two-year-old form, late two-year-old form, early three-year-old form and late three-year-old form.

As an example, a late-season two-year-old could be quite capable of winning at 1400m, however, (and somewhat confusingly), in the long run this could mean either he or she is a talented sprinter or an emerging stayer.

Still, using form assessment via the distance, going and field size concept you will get to see the relationship between two-year-old form and three-year-old form and perhaps the rest of its career, too. Two-year-old and three-year-old form is sometimes quite difficult to compare as, quite often, and especially with emerging stayers, they don’t seem to relate to each other all that well.

TWO-YEAR-OLDS

In the year that a young racehorse first emerges you’ll find that distance, going and field size can be as relevant as any other method of form assessment, however, I have mentioned earlier that it is better to use this method of form analysis on older horses than younger ones as the form of older horses will have “settled down” to a level where the required stamina contest can be much more easily measured.

To muddy the waters further, two-year-olds are also climbing the handicap as they race and are, therefore, still racing towards their eventual class level. Distance, going and field size may seem to suggest that a young horse needs certain conditions to win but, as they are still learning, growing and improving with every start, the relevance of the first few runs in a two-year-olds life can start to seem irrelevant even by the end of its first racing year.

Nevertheless, there are some instances where distance, going and field size combined together can be used effectively.

However, while I am interested in the distance, going and field size of a two-year-olds cumulative form, I will be just as interested in the race times that a young horse will clock. Particular use of the stopwatch when assessing two-year-olds is probably the primary method for assessing two-year-old form. Young horses are so filled with verve and consistency that race-times and their sectionals are just as important as tools with which to assess form.

THREE-YEAR-OLDS

Strangely enough, I feel that much of what has been said on the subject of two-year-olds can be applied to a lot of three-year-olds as well. This is because quite a number of horses don’t hit the racetrack until they turn three.

As a consequence they will be just starting out in their racing careers, too, and will therefore only offer a limited amount of form that can be scrutinised using distance, going and field size. Still, if a horse has raced significantly as a two-year-old then their juvenile form could be used to help make sense of three-year-old form.

However, the main thing to remember about three-year-olds is that they, like two-year-olds, are developing horses. However, achievements made within the two-year-old season ought to be comparable with the three-year-old season depending on what was achieved at two and, importantly, when it was achieved.

If a two-year-old is winning high-class (i.e. Group 1 or Group 2) sprint races, in fields of any size, before January then it is very likely that the horse’s three-year-old season will see it remain as a sprinter. If a two-year-old wins high class sprint races in small fields (under 10 runners) in Autumn then it may have a three-year-old career as a sprinter or sprinter-miler as a three-year-old (and older).

However, if a two-year-old wins high class race sprint races in large fields (under 10 runners) in the autumn months then it may have the potential in its three-year-old career as a sprinter, sprinter-miler or miler as a spring three-year-old. Reading the past form of achievements of a three-year-old horse as a two-year-old is a thorny process!

Form becomes even harder to interpret if track conditions become rain-affected as well. It is because of these problems that form assessed using the combined force of distance, going and field size works a little more easily when horses have reached the winter of their three-year-old-career or the spring of their four-year-old career.

The Relationship Between Two-Year-Old Form And Three-Year-Old Form

The sprinters madly dash over the short courses like bullets from a gun while the middle-distance horses, especially in spring, dawdle round the sharp curves of the average UK racecourse and then sprint for home at the 600m mark.

Basically, the two-year-old season is dominated by horses that are bred to go fast. Often, the supposed staying tests for two-year-olds, the 1400m and 1600m races that arrive in the autumn, are mopped up by those animals blessed with large amounts of brilliance and that brilliance and speed can carry over the winter and into spring of its three-year-old season, too.

Having a knowledge of the galvanised effect of distance, going and field size can help to view some two-year-old form with a certain amount of caution.

Conclusion

We’ve walked around the issue of stamina using distance, going and filed size in combination as a basic method of analysis. I hope that it serves as some kind of insight for translating a horse’s form.


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