There are certain key factors in horse racing which tend to determine which horses win races.

The use of logic will lead you to regard these factors with the greatest of care when you are assessing a race. By doing this, you will shrug off the temptation to rely on hazy ideas, hunches, suspicions and sheer guesswork to pick your horses. You will obtain little but disappointment from such an approach.

Certain facts in racing are standard ones and they are available to anyone who takes the time to examine the form. Why not show you can make use of logic by taking note of them.

Firstly, the racing history of Australia shows that horses that have started recently win more frequently than those horses which have been away from the tracks for three weeks or more.

This is a simple fact but it's amazing how many punters tend to forget it. How often have you, or someone you know, backed a horse which hasn't raced for 12 months, and then watched it drop out after showing some speed for only 600 m to 800 m? Not fit, you see.

The second 'logic' factor is that the vast majority of winners are horses that were within 31/2 lengths of the winner at their previous start, and those that actually finished in a place at one of their last three starts.

Why are these factors so vitally important when you are making your selections? It's because they are closely related to current condition, a factor which contributes the most towards a winning run.

If you ask any trainer around he will tell you about the importance of fitness. Remember that a horse is an athlete and an unfit athlete will not win Olympic gold, or even silver.

Humans have to be at their peak to beat other humans, and so it is with racehorses.

There are, of course, other factors which all contribute to a sound performance but you will find that in nearly every case the effectiveness of the secondary factors is dominated by current condition.

Next we look at class. This is the degree of a horse's inherent racing ability. Horses can race well until they reach a certain stage, or class, in their racing life. Some can go no further. Others go on and reach the highest class.

Class is the factor that separates them all. But class alone will not prove a thing because what is class without "Current condition is the factor that contributes most to a winning run" fitness? A horse may well be classy but if he is not fit and ready then it's most unlikely his class will see him through, particularly when he is racing against horses of similar class who ARE fit and ready.

Class without current sharpness is a weak thing on which to rely when you are investing your dollars.

You don't have to rely on my word for it though I wish you would - because you only have to watch certain races to see what I mean. Class horses finish down the track, often behind inferior horses, because they are just not fit.
Some punters seem to place great faith in 'kilos on or off', in the belief that weight off gives a horse a big advantage over the horses who are carrying more weight.

Statistics reveal that no amount of weight off will enable a horse to win unless it also enjoys the benefit of good current conditions. Nor will weight stop a fit, sharp horse, particularly if it is racing against horses not enjoying an equal degree of fitness.

It's a simple truism that the horse that runs the fastest wins the race, but it never ceases to surprise me that many punters do not understand that every race a horse runs either contributes to its fitness, or tends to dull the degree of sharpness it had when it ran its last race.

Fitness is a bit like a triangle. A horse reaches the peak of the triangle and then begins to train off. So punters must learn the trick of estimating the probable effect of a horse's last race before he can think about determining its true condition for the race to come.

All horses do not attain peak condition in the same way. Some nearly always display early speed, carrying this speed as far as the home turn before dropping back, a clear indication of their lack of race fitness.

Others turn in what is called an M-angle race, just one run before hitting their top form. You should watch for these performances.

An M-angle race is one in which a horse was racing within a few lengths of the leader early on, then dropped back sharply before raising another effort to run on in the final stages.

Some professionals say the M-race is a sort of 'test' race, meaning the trainer's instructions were such that he could determine from the way the horse ran whether or not it was close to top condition.

A horse has to be pretty fit to be up early, drop back, and then come again in the latter stages. We see, then, that early speed and closing effort are important when assessing a horse's fitness.

A race where a horse performs as we have noted, is the type of race which gives you a good line on a horse's current condition.

In contrast, there are certain types of performance that can act as warning signals that a horse may have had too much racing and that its fitness level is tapering off.

The uninformed racing fan might mistake the following example as representing good condition today: A horse that was under heavy pressure right from the start, missing victory by a mere half length. It required a lot of effort for the horse to be up there all the way and, as a result, it used up much of its reserves of stamina and is not likely to improve or do as well as it did last start.

That run indicates sharpness last start, not sharpness for the race you are considering it for. It's more than likely it will race well below its previous efforts now.

These 'hard' races are many and varied. By 'hard' ! mean races that took too much out of the horse, so that it becomes illogical to assume that it will race as well, or better, at its next outing.

The longer a horse was under severe pressure then the more the race will have taken out of it.

I know that some punters believe a rest following a tough run will fully restore the horse's previous fit condition. This can be so but it depends a lot on what the trainer has done with the horse following its hard run.

If the trainer has given the horse one or two morning gallops since the last race, it may well be that the rest - combined with the workouts - may help to retain fitness.

Trainers often use ‘distance' as a means of bringing a horse to its peak fitness. For example: A horse that had a testing 1200 m race at its last start may then be given a 1600 m race - or one even longer - at its next outing, in a bid to re-sharpen it.

The manner in which the horse performs over the longer distance may mislead some punters into thinking that it has lost its former sharpness and is 'going off'. But the importance of the run over the longer journey is somewhat enigmatic.

You must remember that the horse's trainer put it over the distance because he was endeavouring to re-sharpen it; in other words, to restore the lost energy resulting from its very hard run in the 1200 m dash.

Of course, the next question any reasonable person might ask is how you determine whether the run over the distance had the desired effect? Well, you now have to look at what the trainer is doing with the horse today. If he re-enters the horse in a distance race it is logical to think that he believes the horse needs more conditioning.

But if he puts the horse back in a sprint event then you can be reasonably sure that, in the trainer's opinion, the distance race 'did the trick'and prepared the horse nicely for his switch back to the shorter race.

It's best, too, to watch for how the horse galloped during the week. This will provide yet another indicator as to how the horse has come through the trainer's re-sharpening process.

The point should be made here that trainers can often use sprint races to sharpen up jaded stayers who might have had a gruelling run at their previous outing.

Here again, that horse's last run may have seemed to indicate that the horse was not fit, or sharp. But you have to bear in mind that the horse was in the race for one purpose, to restore the reserve energy it used up in its previous distance race.

The major purpose of what I have been stating here is that punters must be fully aware that current condition governs the effectiveness of all other considerations when you are analysing a race.

Current condition is of No 1 importance when you sit down to work out your selections. The moment you forget that, and replace logic with hunches or illogical reasoning, you expose yourself to inconsistent results and deprive yourself of any real chance of beating the races.

Occasional success is not good enough in the long run; you have to be able to achieve steady winning results.

Finally, we come to a pertinent point, which some readers may be anxiously wanting to know the answer to - what about those instances where a horse apparently not in form suddenly springs to life and takes a race at big odds?

How can you be sure when studying a race that such a horse is sharp enough to turn in such a good effort?

Well frankly, you can't be sure. There may be cases where the horse has dropped sharply in class, and it may be logical to assume that its trainer believes his horse is a lot sharper than its recent races seem to indicate.

Maybe we can find clues in the distance factor again. Say, for example, that the horse has won or finished close-up in a sprint race several races ago in its form. Now if it has been running poorly in distance races since then and is suddenly entered in a sprint you can start to think that maybe the trainer believes his charge is ready for a sprint, despite the fact that its distance race performances do not indicate sharpness.

Switching of distances is something quite a few trainers manage to do with success. Keep a close watch for moves like this.

So, the two major things ! have stressed in this article are:
(a)    The enormous importance of good current condition (fitness).
(b)    The use of logical reasoning when assessing the prospects in a race.

If you adhere to these points ! think you'll find that your selection process improves a great deal. And that means that you will win more - and isn't that what it's all about?

By Bryan Martin