In the latest part of our Form Forum series, Mike Jenkins and Jon Hudson discuss the merits, or otherwise, of the top four horses in the field and the betting market.

JON HUDSON (JH): Mike, you're a relatively new member of the PPM team so I don't know much about your thinking on various aspects of the game, so I'll ask you straight away what your thoughts are on this top four business. Is this grouping something the punters should get excited about?

MIKE JENKINS (MJ): Well, we're actually talking, I take it, about TAB #1 through to #4, and then the top four in the betting market. That is, the first four lines of betting? If that's so, then, yes, I'd have to say we need to take serious notice because the statistics from years and years of racing indicate that this is the safest way to go.

JH: I'm looking here at recent statistics from the season up to the middle of June and they show that on the Melbourne tracks there is significant advantage in backing TAB #1, 2 and 3. There were 889 races and #1 won 142 of them, #2 won 137 and #3 won 103. In all, then, we saw these three saddlecloth numbers winning a total of 382 races, which is 43 per cent of all the races.

MJ: We are talking about the top four but here's evidence that maybe we should trim it back to the top three! What about the other metropolitan tracks? Do the statistics pan out in much the same way?

JH: In Sydney, there were 816 races, and #1 got away with 121 of them, #2 got 131 and #3 won 130. Then we had #4 getting home 99 times. If we look at the top three, they won a total of 382 races (same as Melbourne) and the strike rate for them was almost 47 per cent, even better than Melbourne. Brisbane was a little bit different, with 657 races, of which #1 won 101, #2 got 78, #3 won 74 and #4 scored 79 times.

MJ: So if we look at the top three in Brisbane we get a strike rate of 38.5 per cent, which is somewhat lower than the previous two cities.

JH: As for the Adelaide meetings, we had 466 races and the top three saddlecloths claimed a total of 193 winners, which is a strike rate of 41.4 per cent.

MJ: Maybe this tells us that whatever form of betting you happen to be using, you should always have one of these numbers going for you! The exotics, particularly.

JH: What we have to always keep in mind, though, is that any of these numbers can hit rather worrying losing runs. In the statistics I've been looking at, #4 in Melbourne was on a losing streak of 21, and #1 in Sydney was on a losing run of 22. That's sobering.

MJ: It shows that no matter how much you might love a certain number it can kick you in the teeth. The fact that #1 can go so many times without producing a winner is interesting, and a bit frightening.

JH: Let's do a survey of one, the Randwick meeting on June 25. TAB #1 won the opening race with Beau Covet at 6/4, in the second race only numbers two and three were left after scratchings, and there was no winner; in the third race, number two won at 11 / 4, in the fourth race only two, three and four were left after scratchings and there was no winner; the fifth race saw two, three and four again and no winner; the sixth race and all four of them failed; in the seventh race, #1 won at 15/4 from only two runners, while in the eighth race only one, two and three competed and there was no winner.

MJ: This is what I call a sobering meeting. There were lots of bets for the top four numbers but not many winners. It shows that while the overall statistics look promising, it's the day to day delivery that will shake your confidence.

JH: I guess it comes back to the old issue of LOOKING at all of them, but only backing SOME of them. A study is probably needed into the backgrounds of the winning horses in this one to four bracket. Are there certain characteristics that make some of them stand out as bets. Now we know that the group will win between, say, 40 and 50 per cent of all races, so this statistic is on our side. Next we have to do the old trimming down approach.

MJ: With the winners that cropped up at Randwick on this particular day (June 25), Beau Covet had run 2nd at his most recent start, was well-backed and had Darren Beadman aboard. And, perhaps crucially, his last start was 14 days before. More Than Hugs was a last start winner 15 days earlier, came in for substantial backing, and had Hugh Bowman aboard. Rich Megadale was 16th of 20 in a Group 1 wfa race at Doomben at her latest run, which was more than a month ago, and she was dropping in class to a Mares race and had Craig Agnew aboard. She, too came in for a lot of betting support.

JH: Maybe, then, we should start thinking about any of the top four who have good last start form, a win or a placing, within a couple of weeks or so, and who are now to be ridden by a top jockey?

MJ: Well, that could be a starting point although I'd certainly like to see some in-depth statistics. There may well be the chance of unearthing a typical winner in the top four saddlecloth horses, a sort of "profile" horse.

JH: That's worth thinking about. I'll have to ask one of my pals with a deep computer database to seek out the stats on such a thing. Maybe something could pop up.

MJ: At the very least, I'd suggest that using the top four horses, via saddlecloth or betting, is a good enough starting point for your form analysis. If you really fancy a horse in the bracket, then the percentages seem to be on your side. I mean, if it's a tossup between a horse with saddlecloth #2 and another with #12 then you'd have to lean towards the lower number, percentage wise.

JH: As far as the betting market is concerned, well, I've read and heard so much about it over the last 20 years that I am in as much of a quandary as I was back then! One thing I have learned is that it's tough to win backing favourites but I know most punters are still not game enough to back against them, and can easily be drawn in time and again to put their money down.

MJ: It's psychological. We see a horse listed as favourite and we immediately mark it up in our mind and give its form more importance than perhaps we should on many occasions.

JH: We are never going to avoid this sort of thing. Most of us are open to suggestion where picking a horse is concerned, and we're affected by just about everything, from our own indecision through to hearing someone say something or other on radio, or TV, or through the newspapers. We have to always stand back and understand that everything in this game is speculation, especially where the betting is concerned. When we look at the top four horses in the early market we need to understand that they are there only because one man, the price assessor, thinks they should be there. It's his opinion.

MJ: Yes, we could very well sit down at night and do it ourselves. Which, I might add, I do, and have done for a very long time.

JH: Me, too. But I wonder how many punters are like us?

With Mike Jenkins and Jon Hudson