In this Form Forum article, PPM editor Brian Blackwell and our longtime form analyst George "Barker" Bellfield discuss aspects of studying greyhound form, and come up with some ideas to help dog fans beat the game.

Brian Blackwell (BB): George, you've announced that you are retiring from the greyhound game after a lifetime of being involved. What's the main lesson you've learned after watching tens of thousands of races?

George Bellfield (GB): Early pace is what I learned, Brian. I mean the value of early pace. Couple that with box position and ability to get away from the boxes very quickly, and I think you have the greyhound business pretty well sewn up. I've tried to embrace these factors for most of my betting life, and I've done well from the game; had my ups and downs, but basically I lived off it and the only real work I've done is to write articles for PPM! That's not bad, is it?

BB: Exceptional, I'd say. So you've been an active professional most of your adult life?

GB: Well, my most productive period was in the 1970s when greyhound racing boomed, and there were lots of bookies around, and lots of mug money. That went on all through the 70s and into the early 80s and that's when it all started to go pear-shaped. It's come back a bit because of the coverage of the racing on Sky but I doubt we will ever see the glory days again.

BB: And in recent years? Have you maintained your professional approach?

GB: Yes, but on a much lower scale. You see, I didn't need to bet big because I'd made the big money, I invested it, and for the last 10 years I've been a bit player, really. I still do the form but I don't bet a tenth of what I did.

BB: Okay, then, let's look what needs to be done to be successful. You say early pace, box ability and box position. Those are the main elements?

GB: I think so, but of course a dog has to possess speed above all because this is a game about hundredths of a second meaning the difference between winning and being beaten. A length is around 60/100ths of a second. Bear this mind and you will understand how important speed is, and also how important it is to get all the luck that's going. A check, a bump, a slow getaway, running wide, will cost a dog a winning chance even if he loses only one second in time. That's enough to costs him a length and a half. So the game is delicately balanced and the punter has to work it all out enough times to ensure that he can get it right, say, 60 per cent of the time.

BB: A tough ask, but I would say that with selective pruning it can be done. In my days as The Mailman on the old Sunday Observer in Melbourne I found that by concentrating on the best races, those in which the form was well exposed, I could get a really high strike rate.

GB: Did you concentrate on the factors I have mentioned?

BB: Oh, yes, though I was very much a video watcher, as I am now on horseracing. When replays became available to take home that's what I did and I looked at them and found the unlucky dogs and followed them.

GB: Well, that's easy enough for folk to do these days, isn't it, with so many races being shown on TV You can watch the races over and over to your heart's content.

BB: Where do you start when you are analysing a race?

GB: I'll go from Box one. I don't like to see any pre-post markets as such because they are merely another person's opinion and I am basically interested only in my own. So I will look at each dog in box order.

BB: What are you looking for exactly?

GB: As I said earlier, I am looking for the early speed runners, those who I consider well boxed, and those who have shown they have the speed to race competitively in the grade. They are pretty easy things to discover. I like dogs that finished close-up in 2nd or 3rd last start and which seem to be better boxed in the current race.

BB: What about the speed factor. Do you work out individual times and then compare them? That's what I tend to do. I like to see which dogs have the best times at the track and distance.

GB: It's one of the things I do once I have gone through the form and tagged the ones I think are the best chances. I might have three or four contenders. I'll use my local knowledge in regard to their early pace ability and to decide if they are drawn well. The times factor part is important, very important, so I'll take a bit of time over it. I will go back five races but never more than six weeks or so ago, because I am interested in what times the dog is running this week, not six weeks or more ago.

BB: You work out each time for each of the races that fit the scenario?

GB: Once I've done that, for my contenders, I will have a very good idea of which is the fastest dog. It can often be surprising. I find that a dog has six lengths on its rivals sometimes.

BB: One point that always troubles me. George, is when a dog has been racing at different tracks and you have to decide how it will race at today's track. It's very awkward to analyse.

GB: Yes it is. but over the years the formlines show you the strength of form from different tracks.  I know that winning form at a few tracks is usually hopeless when the dog moves to, say, Wentworth Park, but other tracks show up well.  So this can be a matter of personal experience. There is no real tried and true measuring stick.

BB: If you have a very simple system that you could pass on, what would it be?

GB: Well, if the punter doesn't mind taking short odds I think I can safely say that if you concentrate on Box one and bet any runner at 3/1 and under, you will get maybe a 60 per cent strike rate.

If you want more bets, then bet the Box one dogs who won or ran five lengths or less behind the winner last start. The price cutoff is 10/1; nothing over that. The 3 / 1 and under dogs in Box 1 will, barring accidents or shock poor form, invariably land in the money.

BB: Maybe we can pass on some do's and don'ts for the readers, George?

GB: Sure. Keep written records of your bets, obtain the formguide early and prepare properly, watch the replays, keep a close eye on trials, give greater emphasis to the dogs you feel will be in the first two or three at the first turn, do the speed/times.

BB: As for betting, well, let me suggest a few ideas. One is to vary your betting unit, don't get locked in to a conservative approach, bet "special situations" with confidence in the exotics, look for value, concentrate on the trifecta if you want to get some big divvies, bet 8/1 to 10/1 shots with the same conviction as you would favourites.

GB: I suppose we can advise not to madly chase when losing, don't be content just to cash tickets, always concentrate on making a profit, and don't feel you have to bet every race on the card.

BB: My advice is to concentrate on Boxes #1 and #8, don't make rushed last-minute decisions, follow the four C's of competence, concentration, confidence and control. Finally, don't bet dogs that are obviously in the wrong box! You can often spot these greyhounds and you will get an instinctive feeling that they will be in early trouble in the run to the first turn.

GB: As you said earlier, Brian, I am retiring from the game and I am going to spend much of my time doing some fishing up in northern Queensland, but I do want to leave a final article for all those PPM readers who have followed my ideas over the last 20 years.

BB: Yes, George, we plan to run your final articles in the December and January PPM. They sort of nutshell all your views on how to pick winners and you've packaged them in a simple, easy to follow ratings approach that I fancy will appeal enormously to greyhound racing fans.

GB: I reckon they'll do well if they follow the approach carefully and pick the right races, but I'll tell them all about how to follow it. It's served me well in recent years and I have no reason to think that it won't go on doing just as well.

By George Bellfield and Brian Blackwell