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 Makybe Diva can run 3200m after two previous successes in the Melbourne Cup 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 formguide 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 in the city 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?” I should point out that if you seriously bet on Perth races, as I almost exclusively do these days, the issues of “where” and “class” are not usually a problem, as off city WA tracks like Northam, Pinjarra, Kalgoorlie and others are quite a few kilos below the city standard Saturday races.

The exceptions are the Cup races and some sprints that have been allotted Listed status or attract a city class field due to outstanding prizemoney during country carnivals. If you follow Perth those races are fairly easy to keep up with.

This would be similar across the country where there is a limited pool of runners with not too many visitors from outlying areas or even interstate. However, if you follow city racing on Saturdays, then you are really on the horn of a dilemma because you must be able to assess the worth of “where” and “class” to the ‘enth degree relative to today’s race.

Although I am strictly speaking about distance, I do have to ask you 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 Cranbourne or Ipswich or Gawler or Kembla Grange over the same distance as today is not the same if the horses our initial selection has beaten cannot themselves win or at least race well in the city. 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 those 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 formwise 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 formguide 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 formguide 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 obvious-ly be argued this is more a form factor. However, once again mathematically,  a case is being presented regarding distance which commonsense 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.

As you will have noticed, the initial thoughts some punters will have re: distance are not as simplistic as first thought.

By Roman Kozlovski