If you really want to come to grips with the essentials of greyhound racing, with a view to making a profit from betting on the sport, then you have to be prepared to work hard. Easy enough said!

It's easy to fall into the trap of becoming merely a numbers player in greyhound racing, and it's truly amazing just how many punters do invest their money on box numbers, willy-nilly. But picking a winner is more than just going for the rails box, or coupling up the best boxes in quinellas.

Firstly, let me say this: There is no magic formula, scheme, chart, diagram, plan or method that will work at all tracks, in all Classes of races. Even my own ratings--as published before in P.P.M. and the P.P.M. Annual 1991-have their drawbacks, because they rely on a standard set of factors, and are not designed for a specific track (although I used a lot of Wentworth Park data when drawing them up).

My advice is that you concentrate on a major track in your area. If you're in Sydney it would be Wentworth Park, in Melbourne you could choose Olympic Park or Sandown Park, in Brisbane it would be the Gabba and in Adelaide you would look at Angle Park.

The aim of this series of articles is to lead you from A through to Z of looking at greyhound racing form and discovering 'angles' which can develop into a selection method which you can use as the basis of your final selections. I say use the system as the 'basis' for your final selections because I am recognising that a dog system may work on its own for some time, but then it is more than likely to fail, slowly or speedily.

A profitable method has to be continually updated. This is because all the various factors involved are subject to change as time goes by. You may have a system which targets a particular leading trainer-but then, after a few years, his strike rate collapses? Bang goes your system. (Horse-racing systems fans once slavishly followed Tommy Smith, but they'd be on a lean diet these days).

The reason I believe you should concentrate on one particular track is for the simple reason that tracks vary in many ways. They vary in course lengths, track surfaces, box placement, lure operation and quality of dog and trainer. If you stick to one track you will be aware of all its biases and 'tricks' and will be prepared for them.

After a period of time-assuming you have put in the required work-you will be able to determine with more accuracy than anyone else just which dogs have the best chances, or the worst chances, of winding up m the money. You'll understand the strength of the various Grades, you'll know all the track specialists, the early speed dogs, the late finishers, the railers, etc.

By the time you have completed reading the entire three articles in this series you should be well equipped to select the dogs at your chosen track which are MOST LIKELY to finish 1st, 2nd or 3rd. You also should be capable of achieving a better-than-average strike rate with your top selections.

For the purposes of this article, I am going to use form data from the Wentworth Park track in Sydney. Happily, many of its major meetings are well served with accurate form lines through the Greyhound Recorder formguide newspaper. So what do you take into account when beginning to draw up the various factors which you can use to formulate a selection method?

I think you have to consider the following:

(a)  Box draw value;
(b)  Has the dog early speed;
(c)  Has it mid-race speed;
(d)  Has it got late speed;
(e)  Win strike and place strike rates;
(f)  Likelihood of the dog striking interference;
(g)  Ability to handle the track, and
(h)  Recent race times.

The only way to quantify all these factors is to allot various points. Once this is done you must compute the relative advantages of each dog, and add bonus points where necessary, or impose penalty points where appropriate. Much of what you will be subjective, so you are the opinion-maker.

For example: You will decide, by looking at past performance form lines, which dog in a race has the best average speed, which dog is the next fastest and so on. But speed, as I have indicated, is just one of the factors you need to look at, because all too often the supposed 'slower' dogs win, while the 'fastest' dogs lose.

Bearing in mind all what I have said, I believe your first real move should be to establish what I call the 'Key Dog' in a race. The trick is not to spend too much time on this aspect, because it is merely going to be the first dog you look at, and then you can compare all the other dogs with the Key Dog. How do you pick the Key Dog? My approach is to merely take the pre-post favourite. This is the dog which has been chosen by reputable experts to have the best chance, so it's reasonable to assume that you can rely on it as being at least a worthwhile contender.

As an example, I'll look at the first race at Wentworth Park on April 20, in which the pre-race favourite was King Marmalade (3/1) running from Box 8. Going over his form, I could see that he did have a sound chance, having won five of his 10 races. One of those wins had been at Wentworth Park.

We now have to put King Marmalade through a series of tests, and once we've done that we can do the same with the others. To judge his expected race performance we allow points on the basis of 10 (good), 6 (Fair) and 3 (moderate). Zero is allotted when the dog doesn't measure up for any particular factor.

BOX DRAW VALUE: He is in Box 8 which at Wentworth Park in 520m sprints has won 118 of the last 969 races, a strike rate of 12.17 per cent, the fourth best strike rate of the eight boxes. On this basis we can consider the wide draw to be Fair and 6 points are allotted.

EARLY SPEED: The dog has won his last three starts. His positions in those were as follows: 2-1-1-1, 2-2-1-1 and 3-4-2-1. This tells us that King Marmalade is, indeed, an early speed greyhound. Significantly, one of those wins was from Box 8. This is an easy 10 pointer.

MID-RACE SPEED: The answer, again, is yes and another 10 points are given.

LATE SPEED: He has finished well in his three wins, so there seems no doubt he can run out the 520m, his wins having been over 537m, 520m and 486m. Give 10 points.

WIN AND PLACE STRIKES: His overall win strike is 50 per cent and his place strike, including wins, 70 per cent, so in this area, too, he is well deserving of 10 points.

LIKELIHOOD OF INTERFERENCE: His most recent runs show only three checks, all in the same race, from five outings. As the possibility of him striking trouble is slim we can allot 6 points.

TRACK ABILITY: He has won at the track, so 10 points seems appropriate.

RECENT TIMES: His times have been pretty good, without getting anywhere near the Best Times recorded for the meetings. In this area, 6 points should be given.

In all, then, the Key Dog has raked up 68 points. This is the Base Measure you can use when looking at the opposition. You have to put each dog through this same set of factors. Naturally, the dogs with the MOST points are going to emerge as the main contenders.

But, while all this seems a satisfactory way of assessing a dog race, it isn't enough. While you have now got in front of you the names of the three dogs who should figure most prominently, you now have to examine them further.

How do they measure up against each other? Is one dog better boxed than the rest, and will this prove a decisive factor? Has one dog got much better recent form than the others? Which dog has the best early speed?

It's when you get down to this searching final analysis that SPEED becomes a most vital ingredient of your investigations. You have three contenders but which one really is the FASTEST? It is time to look through the form very closely. This is an art in itself. You'll probably find that recorded times often vary widely for a dog's recent races. You will need to sort out clearly which times are the most important.

Always rely on recent times. What times the dog managed to run six months or 12 months ago will more than likely not be relevant anymore. As a year older animal, he may not be capable of running as fast as he did the previous year. So RECENT TIMES are what you are going to concentrate on.If the dog has been racing at other tracks, I suggest you eliminate them completely from consideration. Consider only his runs at the track at which he is racing. In the case of King Marmalade we have two runs to consider. The first was at Wenty back on November 19,1990, when he was beaten 4.5 lengths into 6th place, with the winner registering 31.61 (Best Time of the night was 30.15).

In this race, King Marmalade was checked three times. In circumstances like that, the time cannot be relied upon and the race is eliminated as a speed guide. And so the only other race to consider was his win at the track from Box 6 on April 13, when he clocked 30.71s. We can use this time as his basic speed figure.

Now the task is to look at the other contenders. How does their track speed measure up against this time? If, for example, we were looking at Woodford Time (Box 4) we could see that he had three recent starts at Wenty to choose from. On March 9 he won there in 30.62s from Box 2, then was 4th on March 16, beaten 5.75 lengths to 30.65, but in this race he was checked on the 1st turn and then was involved in a collision on the home turn.

Even in his winning race he was galloped on at the catching pen and ran out. In his third race, he finished 2nd on April 15, beaten seven lengths to 30.23s and in this race suffered a check.

The best race, then, to assess his speed would be that 30.62s win. It was a good time given the trouble he ran into at the catching pen. Because Woodford Time suffered interference in all three Wenty starts, we were forced to assess him on one of the races.

You can see, then, that Woodford Time has 9/100ths of a second in speed over King Marmalade (30.62s against 30.71s) and this equates to about 1.5 lengths. As far as speed is concerned we can see that Woodford Time holds an edge over King Marmalade, even if it is a fairly slender one.

If you wanted to take the speed factor further you could, if statistics are available, look at Sectional Times to see if any of your final contenders have clocked fast sectionals recently. The Greyhound Recorder lists First and Second Sectional Times for the Wenty meeting, but I don't know if this excellent service is available elsewhere.

These sectionals can tell you if a dog has the necessary early speed to lead. By retaining your copies of the Recorder you can build up a list of these early speed dogs.

In next month's PPM, I'll be taking you further into the realms of greyhound form handicapping, with more views on the various aspects of a dog's form, its worth and its value to you as a punter. This will be the second article in my three-part series.

Click here to read Part 2.
Click here to read Part 3.

By George ‘Barker’ Bellfield