In terms of weight, what is the value of a length? The question is often raised, and there are differing answers.

I recently received a letter from a PPM reader who asked: "I note that in PPM, the contributors usually use 1.5 kilos equalling a length, yet I have read elsewhere that others vary the measurement according to distance. Your views would be appreciated."

Whenever I, and most other PPM staff, write about weight handicapping it's true that we use the 1.5kg to I length principle. I tend to use it all the time, no matter what the distance of a race might be, though others I know use this value only up to 2000m.It's a fact that some of the best-known ratings men years ago employed a sliding scale of relatives. The late Eric Connolly adopted a different value for various distances.

So did the Australian Jockey Club's late handicapper G.F. Wilson, who was regarded as one of the country's greatest handicappers.

Wilson never revealed publicly his relative handicapping formula but I know that it went something like this: He allowed 1.5kg to a length for 1600m. He increased the measurement as the distances decreased and reduced it as the distances increased. He may have estimated 2kg for 1400m, 2.2kg for 1200m and 2.5kg for distances under 1200m. His length measurement might have been 1.25kg for 2000m and 1kg for 2400m and further.

Connolly was another weights man to work along similar lines. Both men argued that the further a horse travelled, the greater the slowing effect of weight on the back. This is beyond argument.

My own feeling is that we can use 1.5kg to a length for all races up to 2300m, and then use 1kg to a length after that (say 2350m through to 3200m). The relative value of a 'length' in weight terms is important for all punters to understand, especially those working on weight handicapping ratings.

For example: Horse A is beaten, say, 4 lengths at 1200m. Using 1.5kg to a length we would say that he was beaten 6kg. But working to the Wilson formula of 2kg per length, the horse would have been beaten 8kg.

If we are looking at, say, a 2400m race and the horse is beaten 4 lengths, the Wilson formula would say the horse was beaten 4kg (1kg equalling a length).

Knowledge of these values can prove decisive when you are rating a horse in a race. Of course, you can get away with using an overall 1.5kg equalling a length. My colleague Brian Blackwell has already explained in our July and August issues how he prepares his weight ratings using this formula. It's a successful one for him.

One of my great friends, a merchant banker who likes to bet up big on Saturdays, does weight ratings as well, but he uses the sliding scale to good effect. He's been doing it for years. He's a pretty successful bettor. When you are allocating bonuses and penalties in your handicapping, then the 1.5kg to a length principle is fine. Let's suppose you are going to penalise a horse against its rating due to the fact that it's resuming from a spell.

Most professional punters would penalise a horse between, say, 3kg and 15kg; that is, between 2 lengths and 10 lengths, depending on the horse's previous first-up form and the calibre of the opposition it now meets, plus the class and distance of the current race.

Personally, I band out severe penalties, right up to 15kg, for horses resuming from long spells and which do not possess any significant first-up form. However, if a horse has won before first-up and if it looks suited in the current race, I will penalise it the minimum of 1.5kg (1 length) or up to around 3 lengths (4.Skg).

If you follow weight handicapping, and you really should apply yourself to it to some degree, then the manipulation of weight, and the relative lengths, will form an important part of your work.

You will hand out bonuses and penalties for good, bad or unlucky runs, the same for improvement expected or deterioration in form, and so on. If a horse is carted wide on the home turn, how much do you allow for lost ground? Did it lose a length, two lengths or three lengths? If so, the horse may deserve a bonus of 1.5kg, 3kg or even 4.5kg.

Even if you don't do actual weight ratings, you should at least consider lengths in terms of kilos. Think in your mind that when you see a horse was beaten a length it was actually beaten, say, 1.5kg, or 1kg or 2kg, etc., depending on the distance of the race.

Having a knowledge of weights, and relative lengths value, is part of your armoury as a punter. You'll be amazed at how many punters simply cannot be bothered to find out all these little points.

That means you have an edge over them. The punter who cannot understand that a beaten margin has a value is at a real disadvantage with the punter who does understand it.

By Denton Jardine

PRACTICAL PUNTING - SEPTEMBER 2001