Many and diverse are the reasons why horses win races. Some of the reasons hardly ring true. We call these 'form reversals' and usually they are accompanied by some half-baked explanation from connections.

To understand why winners win the average punter must be prepared to put his or her mind down to some serious thinking. Because finding out 'why' is what form study is all about.

When you sit down with your form guide what are you doing but asking yourself 'why can this horse win this race?' or 'why can't this horse win this race?' Whichever way you look at it you are searching for a reason why a horse can do better than all the others.

Let's go through a recent metropolitan card to see if there are some angles in the formlines that might help us in the future. It's the Rosehill meeting of December 4.

Race 1:
CARLMARC (66/1). You would be hard-pressed, indeed, to come up with one valid reason why this 3YO should have won this race. But he did have a couple of factors working for him - he's in the care of master trainer Jack Denham, he had only 51 kgs (the bottom weight) to carry and he was drawn in barrier 5 after scratchings. His form, though, looked uninspiring - a last start 8th of 8 at the same track two weeks earlier when resuming after a spell of four months.

His two runs at the end of his last campaign were 10th of 16 at Rosehill and 12th of 14 at Randwick. So why would you select him? Maybe you gave 'weight' to the Denham influence, and to the fact that after six starts he was mature enough to start winning? Perhaps the real clue was his debut run on a racetrack back in June when he ran 3rd to Phocion at Rosehill over 1300m, beaten only a length? Ah, yes this was THE clue!

LESSON: Always go right back in a horse's form to find his TRUE POTENTIAL. Don't always rely too much on recent form, because latest outings may just have been 'getting ready' races.

Race 2:
SIGN LANGUAGE (8/13): Here we had a classic last-start winner who could repeat without too much worry. The 2YO filly had won her debut outing two weeks before by 8 lengths and she's in the powerful John Hawkes stables.

On weights, she's okay despite a 3 kilos lift from her winning last run. Why could she win this race? She obviously is a brilliant type, she's fit, she's in a top stable and 2YOs often put two or three together at this time of the season.

LESSON: Not much to be learned here - winning form can be strong form where 2YOs are concerned, especially when they're in a good stable.

Race 3:
FOREVER INGENUE (5/1): A real 'form' selection, this one. The mare was beaten only 1.25 lengths at her last start, three weeks earlier, and she now faced a lower grade field over the same trip. There was, too, a significant jockey change with Jim Cassidy taking over from Matt Privato. Add to this the John Hawkes touch and your 'why' was easily answered.

LESSON: The combination of fit, form horse with top trainer and top jockey is always to be heeded.

Race 4:
CRATHIE (13/4): Yet another case for the last-start winner followers. In this instance, Crathie had won at Canterbury 10 days earlier over 1250m, only 50m short of today's 1300m trip. At his previous run the 6YO had scored at the same track on November 10 over 1250km again. We can deduce from this that he is fit and sound.

He's from the Hawkes stable (!) and the trainer has elected to go with the in-form apprentice Corey Brown, taking a nice claim off the 55 kgs handicapped weight. Although up in class, Crathie was not penalised weight wise from his last start and he was nicely drawn in barrier 5. If you asked yourself 'why' he could win then all the answers were there.

LESSON: Take full stock of solid last start form, especially winning form, when the trainer is in the big league and he decides to keep on using the apprentice's claim.

Race 5:
IDENTIKIT (6/4): Another 2YO race and one with a lot of newcomers, but Identikit had strong claims. To your question of 'why' can he win, you could point to his two sound 2nds from his only two runs so far, the fact that he came from the Hawkes stable(!) and that he was fit and in form.

He was also meeting on 1 kg better terms the horse that beat him by half a length last start, Moneybags. Yes, he had a very good chance, an undeniable chance - and he proved it.

LESSON: Once more, we can see that strong 2YO form is consistent form. As well, we see again the importance of top trainer!

Race 6:
WELSH MINER (4/1, won on protest): Both the horses that went across the line in this race, Welsh Miner and Belays Knap, had reasonable formlines, though Belas Knap's probably made more appeal. Looking for a reason for Welsh Miner to prevail, we could point to his proven first-up record (he was resuming after a 5.5 months spell) and the fact he was a course and distance winner. Add to that the significant jockey switch from S. Collings to Gavin Eades, and the input of top country trainer K.J. Callaughan from Yass, and you can make out a serious case for Welsh Miner to be in the finish of this 1300m dash.

LESSON: When you have a horse resuming from a spell, you MUST go back through its formlines to see if it has first-up winning form. In Welsh Miner's case, it had won first-up at its previous campaign, so the signal was loud and clear.

Race 7:
TAKESHI (8/1): Those who fervently believe in winning form, and top jockeys, and good trainers, would have been falling over themselves to back Takeshi in this 1500m race. The 4YO Entire had won his last two starts over 2000m and had Jim Cassidy aboard for the Paul Perry stable.

But there were negatives - a drop back in distance to 1500m, a big weight of 58 kgs (though on a 53 kgs Limit) and no record of wins over the trip. On the other hand, the horse was obviously fit, had been given two weeks off to 'refresh' and, if the pace was right, he could zoom home late. Which is what he did.

LESSON: Any winning form has to bet treated with respect, and careful evaluation must be made of distance switches, whether up or down. In this case, Takeshi had shown a good run over 1500m back in March, when beaten only 2 lengths at Rosehill, so the conclusion could be drawn that the distance wasn't all that much of a negative. This is an instance where you must ask yourself 'why' the connections are switching him back? You have to conclude that a trainer like Perry knows what he is doing and would have carefully trained Takeshi for the
change. So, he was a very bettable conveyance, all things considered.

Race 8:
JOVIAL PRINCE (12/1): Here was a horse with good recent formlines and from the Clarrie Conners' stable. Looking at the 5YO's recent form you could easily answer 'why' he could win: For a start, he'd finished only 2.6 lengths from the winner when 7th of 15 over 2000m at Randwick on November 27, and before that had run 2nd of 9 at Canterbury over 1900m.

Today's journey was 2000m and although up in class, the Prince was dropping 3.5 kgs in weight and had Larry Cassidy aboard. Given that this was not a strong field, and that Jovial Prince had already won over the distance of the race, he laid claims to being the winner.

LESSON: Horses that are unplaced last start but finish within a few lengths of the winner have to be taken seriously, especially when they drop in weight, come from a good stable and are fit and have shown winning form over the trip.

This, then, is one meeting at which we have evaluated some of the reasons why these winners were able to get home ahead of the rest in their races. Naturally, it's not as easy as it might sound to sort out these horses because there is another highly important variable - the credentials of other runners in a race!

You might have three or four horses pressing for selection with formlines that are more or less the same. How do you separate them? Sometimes you don't have to, because the prices available about them may enable you to back them all.

This won't always happen, but it will happen enough times to probably make it a most worthwhile exercise in multiple win betting. 

THE CLUES TO LOOK FOR …

  • Last start winners who are to be ridden by good jockeys and come from top stables. Check that the distance is right, and that they are fit.
  • First-uppers - when you see a horse resuming from a spell take the time to check back on its form. Ascertain if it is a first-up winner.
  • Significant jockey changes can be a positive influence with any horse. A switch from apprentice to top rider should be treated seriously. It indicates stable confidence.
  • Good form, with a close-up unplaced run last start. Although a horse is beaten out of a place, it might well have been only a couple of lengths from the winner. Give this sort of formline due respect.
  • Check out longshots from top stables - and if there's no decent recent form, flip back through the formguide to see if you can find a positive performance (see the remarks in this article about Carimarc).
  • Horses beaten only a neck or so into 2nd place can look good next time out, especially if the stable is strong and a crack jockey is aboard and the weight handicapping is not negative.
  • Look for excuses if a horse has losing runs to its name. Discover the causes, if any for the failures. Look for drops in class for unplaced runners last start. A horse beaten 5 or 6 lengths in one class can drop back in class and win easily.
  • Horses placed last start who drop from 1.5 kgs to 3 kgs next time out are probably going up in class, but their fitness helps them overcome the class factor.
  • Always check on 'days since last start' and keep 21 days in mind as a key for fitness.
  • When studying 2YO racing, bear in mind that the form usually holds up well. Winning form is good form, and winners from top stables often repeat their wins.

By Jon Hudson

PRACTICAL PUNTING - FEBRUARY 1994

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