Weight is the most important single factor when any punter comes to analyse race form. It doesn't matter if a race is a handicap or a Set Weights or Weight For Age event-weight counts!

There is a rigid simplicity behind handicapping. The handicapper allocates higher weights to the horses with the best form. The aim is to get all the horses across the line in a dead-heat, something which never happens except on a small scale (two horses dead-heating).

It is vital for the keen punter to understand how weight is used to 'control' a horse's performance. Some horses can carry weight better than others, because of their individual size and often because of their courage (or lack of it). It's often suggested that a horse is not greatly affected by weights less than 51kg but as its weight is increased beyond this mark there is a growing effect on performance.

'Weight will stop a train' is one racetrack saying, which is at some point true in regards to horses. A horse eventually will be beaten by the weight it has to carry. Determining when a horse is weighted to lose is one of the mysteries of horseracing selecting.

I suppose we can call this the 'critical weight'. If you were to examine all horses racing, you could draw up a 'critical weight' level for each of them, based on their past performances. Let me explain this with an example:

Horse: MYTHICAL MICK

Runs at Weight Weight Placed
1st 51.0 3rd
2nd 51.0 1st
1st 53.0 2nd
2nd 53.0 4th
1st 55.5 7th
2nd 55.5 8th
The table shows that Mythical Mick has been placed twice when carrying 51kg and has won and been placed 4th with 53kg but has failed twice when carrying 55.5kg. A quick study of such a few runs would instantly tell you that Mythical Mick's critical weight is probably 53.5 or 54kg. He is unlikely to win when carrying more than that.

Let's look at this further and look at another theoretical horse.

Weight
51
52
53
54
55
55.5
Places 5 5 5 6 2 1
Runs 15 16 10 24 18 10
Percent 33 31 50 25 11 10
You can see from this that the horse's place percentage drops away sharply once it is asked to carry more than 53kg. Its critical weight is 54kg - once it is asked to carry that weight, or more, it has to be treated with some suspicion.

Weight, as I have said, is an important factor-but its importance varies from horse to horse and, very importantly, between distances. In sprints, weight is not so important; the longer a race the more important each kilo of weight becomes. In Australia, we usually use 1.5kg as being the equivalent of a length, yet there is a body of opinion that suggests we should really be 'grading' the effect of weight according to distance.

I'm not so sure about that. I have always had a certain faith in the 1.5kg equals a length philosophy. Constant use of this has convinced me that the conversion is just as accurate as attempting to use a more complicated variable scale.

The area in which many punters experience a dilemma in sorting through 'weight form' is when a horse is going up in weight from one race to the next. What is a reasonable yardstick for caution? Is it a rise of 1.5kg or 2kg, or 2.5kg or more?

My answer is that the cut off point should be around the 2.5kg mark. A bigger weight rise than that - often an indicator that the horse is dropping sharply in class - must be viewed with a degree of scepticism.

But, yes, horses can win when carrying up to 7kg or 8kg more than they did at their most previous start - but they are in the minority. In my research, it is always horses diving in class that can do so, and usually they are helped, though, by an apprentice's claim.

Generally, the handicapper will penalise winners 2kg or 2.5kg for a win, and that's about the ultimate mark you should be looking at. Treat with enormous caution a horse raised in weight more than that, but do take into account the effect of any weight claim by an apprentice rider (make sure, though, the youngster is worth the claim!).

A system I was told about many years ago relies heavily on weight to determine its selections. I am sure many readers will be interested in looking at it closely, because it certainly has the potential to add at least a bullet or two to your punting ammunition belt.

The system is used only in handicaps. Firstly, you eliminate any runner which did not finish in the first four at its last start. From those horses remaining, you add together the total of their last three finish positions and eliminate any which total more than 10 (that is, 11 or more). So a horse finishing 1st, 5th, and 3rd at its last three starts would have a total of nine, while a horse finishing 1st, 8th, and 5th at its last three runs would have a total of 14 and would be eliminated.

Now we come to the weight aspect. With the final qualifiers you are looking for the runner with a weight advantage. You mark down the weights each horse has carried at its last three outings, and then single out the race in which it carried the highest weight. If it has more weight today than it did in that race it is eliminated.

The final selection is the horse which has the biggest reduction in weight for today's race compared with the weight it carried in the marked race. In the event of a tie, go for the horse with the best winning strike rate.

This is an ideal system for those punters looking for 'wild card' horses to include in quinella and trifecta combinations. Many of you will be wondering about apprentice claims. Do you take an apprentice's claim into account? In my view, the answer is Yes, because we are talking about weight carried in a race, and thus claims and overweights have to be considered.

Example: Three contenders left. Horse A has previous highest weight carried in last three starts of 57kg. Today, carries 56.5kg. Drop of a half kilo. Horse B has previous highest weight carried in last three starts of 56.5kg. Today carries 54kg. Drop of 2.5kg. Horse C has previous highest weight carried in last three races of 57kg. Today carries 56kg but has an apprentice's claim of 3kg. Drop of 4kg.

The selection, then, is Horse C, which has a weight drop of 4kg, taking into account the claim by its apprentice rider of 3kg.

You can see that this is an easy system to evaluate. You are looking only ,at horses which finished in the first four at their last start, and then from those you are eliminating any whose last three finish positions total 11 or more (always remember that a '0' in a horse's form figures means it finished 10th or worse).

There are many ways that an informed punter can use weight to determine selections. I do know that many punters use weights as the basis of system selections, and this is not a bad approach, as long as the system rules are rational.

When I was in the U.S.A. a few years ago, and betting on the Californian tracks, a chap I met there told me he always bet the favourite as long as it was carrying a certain weight-the weight being 31b to 51b below the top weight for the race.

He found that well-backed horses in this area invariably performed very well indeed. This is an angle that might bear looking at in Australia. Here, we would convert the 31b to 51b to 1.5kg to 2.5kg.

So, if the top-weighted horse in a race is carrying 57kg, you would be looking for a favourite carrying from 55.5kg to 54.5kg.

Summing up, then, we know that weight is vital. We know that the handicapper's job is to align all the horses according to previous form; in other words, to give every runner a fair chance of winning. He raises the weight of horses that win or are placed in the same class, and reduces the weight of horses that are unplaced in the same class. Broadly speaking, we can assume that he works in the following fashion:

This Start
Next Start
Same Class
Winner +2.5-3kg
2nd Horse +1-1.5kg
3rd Horse 0.5-1kg
4th Horse +0
5th Horse -0.5kg
6th worse -1-1.5kg
These figures will vary, of course, when a horse is switching class. If a horse is rising in class, it may well get no penalty from the handicapper. For instance, a horse going from a win in Welter class to racing in an Open Handicap is rising in class, and the handicapper may well decide that the rise in class calls for only a 1.5kg to 2kg weight increase, taking into account the stronger class of the Open Handicap.

There are differences measured in kilos between Classes (as so admirably outlined by Don Scott in his book Winning More, and by PPM's Brian Blackwell in his Invader Ratings, which are included in that great publication The Gold Collection, still available now from Equestrian). A study of Class differences is essential for all punters who want to win!

The Invader Ratings tell us that in New South Wales there is an approximate 15kg difference between a city Welter and a top WFA race. Between a city Welter and a city Open Handicap the difference is up to 6kg. Don Scott though, puts it at about 4kg.

By using the Class kilo ratings, you can easily assess how much up or down a horse is switching between classes (in kilo terms), and then accurately assess how well off a horse is at its assigned weight.

For instance, a horse may be dropping, say, 3kg in weight to be on the bottom weight in a certain race, but by looking at the Class tables you will discover it has gone up in Class by 6kg or 7kg. This fact puts the weight drop into more perspective.

So, if you are a keen form student, and you want to ensure you have an 'edge' on the lazier punter, a study of weight and its effect is vital stuff for you. Once you become adept at looking at weight changes, and fully understanding them, you'll be that much more better equipped as a punter.

By Alan Jacobs

PRACTICAL PUNTING - APRIL 1992