It's easy these days to convince yourself that by looking at video replays and turn-and-finish photoform you can, suddenly, transform yourself into a winning punter. Oh that it were that easy!

To win at the races, as most P.P.M. readers will know (!), is a hard and rocky path. What succeeds one week will fail the next. And vice-versa. There are no clear-cut ways to take the cream off the cake.

But, even allowing for this dose of pessimism, you have to go through all the various factors in order to make yourself a better punter. You may not be 'Wildly successful but you definitely will be a better, and therefore less poor, punter than if you fail to look deeply into things.

' Racing - or more precisely the selection of winners - is a form of intellectual challenge. It challenges the racegoer with a minefield of maybe's and might be's. The punter's job is to slice through it all, to avoid the traps, and to come out at the end of the day having won at least some of the battles.

My own forte has always been studying photoform and video replays. In latter years, naturally, the emergence of excellent video replays has more or less replaced the turn-and-finish photos, though I still collect them and file them away, and refer to them often.

I especially like the midweek Sporting Globe's three-section photoform, where you get the 800m, 400m and finish strips, all neatly tagged, along with the full results with exact margins, of each race. The races are indexed with a number as well, and so is each horse, so you can easily check back on its past form by reference to the index numbers.

A minority of punters use video replays, so I won't dwell too much on them in this article. In this piece, I'll aim for those among you who have access only to the newspaper turn-and-finish photos.

In Sydney, you can use the Sportsman's photoform (available in the midweek edition), for Melbourne the midweek Sporting Globe, and for Brisbane the only one available is the Sunday Mail (with the Saturday photos). The Adelaide Sunday paper, I'm advised, also runs photoform, and the Weekend Sporting Globe contains the previous Saturday's Adelaide turn-and-finish strips as well as any Melbourne midweek meeting.

Now, we are looking for winners, not at winners. You are looking beyond the winners of each race. Generally, you'll know how the winner went and also he's the one everybody will be reading about. They also know about the runners-up and you can bet your boots that any horse that flies home into a placing will be well marked out by the punters next start, and there'll be no value at all (in most cases, anyway).

Various kinds of horses should com into your calculations. A good idea is to split the 400m photo into three strips.

That gives you three panels – the backmarkers at the turn, those in the middle at the turn, and those in the leading bunch.

Concentrate your attention on the backmarkers for a start. Look at the last horse in the photo, and then switch to the finish photo and see where he is positioned. Many times the backmarkers and those close to it at the turn, will remain where they are, but sometimes you'll see that they make up a lot of ground.

The ones to take particular note of are those which make up some good ground and finish in 4th to about 8th position. Keep a notebook and mark down their names - just as a reminder. Once you have a list of these horses that made good ground from the rear, you can then take a quick peek at their past form.

How many times before have they done something similar? Did they show such a run before winning at some time in their past performances? Just check, and satisfy yourself you are dealing with an honest type of racehorse, or at least a definite improver.

You'll find that these 'made up good ground' gallopers will lose at their next start - but then win second time around. It's something else to be on the lookout for! As an example of how you can find winners by noting these types of horses, I'll refer to the Doomben meeting on June 13, the last race on the card.

Using the Sunday Mail turn-and-finish strips, I saw that Pistols was running a clear last of the 12 runners on the home turn. He also was parked quite wide. The interesting aspect of the run was that Pistols continued to be trapped deep into the straight and on to the finish line, and yet he was able to make ground to finish 7th, just four lengths from the winner, Too Many Guns.

On this run, Pistols looked very close to a win should his connections put him over a middle-distance trip. I checked back on Pistols' form and saw that his last win had been over 1800m at the Cold Coast on November 14, 1991. Seven days later, what happens?

Pistols is entered in an 1800m race at the Gold Coast! It looked too good to be true, but I was keen enough to ask my pal Martin Dowling to have a 'little something' on Pistols at the Coast. My judgement was spot-on, because Pistols scored an easy one and three-quarter lengths' victory at the fine odds of 9/2.

This is but one example of how careful sifting of form can make you a winner by providing you with first-class next start propositions, as long as you are prepared to do a bit of homework after firstly sorting out the photoform contenders.

On the debit side, I noted another made good ground horse from that meeting. It was God's Prospect, who came from last to finish a splendid 4th behind Blushing Bijou. I was confident God's Prospect would go very well next start. Alas, different tactics were used on her next start - she raced 'on the pace' to the home turn and was soon beaten off in the home stretch.

But she is one I would possibly still give one more chance to if her connections decided to continue her campaign.

Study all the horses in the various strips you have marked off on the photoform and prepare a small list of those you feel will be worth following. Refrain from putting too many horses in your notebook, because if you do you are going to get cluttered up with far too many losers for the good of your pocket.

You really do need to be highly selective. If you find several likely looking horses in the one race, take another good look at them, study their raceform history, and then discard any of them which could be doubtful.

Finally, the video scene. Replays of Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne races are available on the Turf Talk video service from Hoyts. This is an excellent service because the videos are delivered to your door on Mondays, giving you lots of time to study them. If you can't afford Turf Talk (more than $50 a week) you'll have to try to tape as many races as you can from the normal TV services.

Channel Nine's Wide World of Sport covers some races in Sydney and Melbourne on Saturdays. Melbourne TV has some coverage, too. Check the sports programmes in your city on Sundays for the turn-to-finish replays.

The best way to approach the video analysis is in three stages:

  1. Spend perhaps two or three hours on Monday night, when the euphoria of the weekend is behind you. It helps if you study only one city's racing. Your first viewing is when things will be noticed. You will find yourself remembering a horse's previous run. You'll see that some horses suffered a great deal of interference. Others you'll note, were trapped wide all the way (no ,wonder they folded up under pressure!). Jot down the names of the unlucky horses, whiz back and watch a race again to satisfy yourself, then have a look at their previous form. Where did they win before, and over what distances? Next to their names, write down the type of race which will suit them next start.
  2. After a day or two, you will have got together more information from the newspapers and from publications like the Sportsman and Sporting Globe. By all means, clip out and keep as much photoform as you can. Sometimes you just won't have the time to refer to video replays so the turn-and-finish strips will have to do. With videos, you often cannot positively identify a certain horse; having access to the turn-and finish strips will solve the problem for you. This applies especially to unplaced runners.

    Now it's time for you to have a second session with the video replays. If you're concentrating on Sydney racing, and you bet at midweek meetings, you'll probably want to look at horses who are engaged at Tuesday and Wednesday meetings. Comb through your notebooks for runners which you have marked down for turning in bold runs, and then see how they measure up in the race for which they are now engaged.

    Then you can look further at the weekend's replays, with a view to re-examining your original thoughts from the Monday viewing. It's surprising sometimes what you miss! Many times I have latched onto subsequent winners from this second viewing - horses I completely missed the first time.
  3. We now move on to Friday; this is a most important day as far as the Saturday racing is concerned. I go to my notes and eliminate all those who are not acceptors for the Saturday. I may have six or seven of my video notebook horses entered; these are horses I have specifically marked down as having run extra well last start, horses I believe should - if placed in the right races - go very close to winning.

With these horses I am really on the lookout for value bets. It's unavoidable that some of the horses picked out from the video replays will have been 'noticed' by everyone else, and this means there won't be any value about them.

I have trained myself to unearth the longshots. Nothing gives me more pleasure than to find one of my video notebook horses quoted at a long price, more so if I look at its form and realise that it truly does have a far stronger chance than its pre-post price might suggest.

Usually, I have anything between six and a dozen horses to 'inspect' from the video replays of the previous two or three weeks. The closer the form is to today's date the better I like it. I end up, on average, with about six bets each Saturday. Maybe one or two midweek, but only if I strongly fancy the horses.

Mainly I bet for a win. Sometimes I'll ‘save’ if I know that a certain horse is capable of beating my selection. There's nothing cowardly about insurance betting. It's sensible in certain circumstances.

Summing up, then: Study the photoform, study those video replays, check a horse's performance history, weed out the doubtfuls, leave yourself with the hot ones -and bet them with an air of confidence. You'll turn the corner into profit, I assure you, if only you can get it all right!

By Michael Kemp