There are, I believe, six 'basics' in horse-racing  form assessment. After experimenting with real money for the past three years I have formulated the following list:

  1. A fit horse
  2. One of the first 4 favourites
  3. A horse that runs on the pace
  4. A good jockey
  5. A good barrier
  6. A good track

Handicapping is indeed an art but unfortunately it can be an inaccurate one when these six factors are not taken into account. If the handicapper is wrong, or has been lulled into giving a lesser weight than necessary, the six factors will give you the edge in a majority of cases.

More and more private training tracks are operating in Australia, which means the true abilities of some horses can be disguised without the racing industry, or the public, being aware.

For instance, a horse with winning ability can be trained in private, then given a run in one or more races to give the impression it lacks ability. This can be done in several ways:

  • Running in a much higher class.
  • The ride is given to a poor jockey with the wrong riding instructions.
  • Starting the horse only when running from a wide barrier.
  • Running the horse over a totally unsuitable distance.
  • Initiating poor training technique by spacing runs too far apart, or by backing up too quickly.

No doubt there are plenty of other ways but these examples give you an idea of what can be done, or not done. Several poor runs will ensure a winning weight when the trainer decides to enter for the right race.

All these tactics are legitimate because the trainer has no obligation to disclose what is being done.

Another way of ensuring a fit horse does not incur more weight, and does not come under the scrutiny of stewards, is to make sure it is ridden in such a way that it finishes as close to the winner as possible. This can be done by:

  • Being locked up on the fence while the other runners move forward
  • Hence the term 'blocked for a run'.
  • Taking the horse to the front from a wide barrier and ensuring a fast pace. Horses generally cannot win at both ends of a race, so the horse weakens towards the finish.
  • Dropping the horse further back in the race than normal and coming home hard when the race is virtually over.

Horses that win are penalised at their next run. Horses that place also incur more weight but to a lesser degree. Horses that run 4th or worse usually have a similar weight, or a lower weight. Official handicappers can only go by the facts in front of them and allocate weights accordingly.

A basic factor that will save you losing money time and again is to ensure the horse you select is one of the first 4 favourites. The handicapper may be fooled. The general public certainly are. But bookmakers seldom are.

Only a bookmaker can tell you (of course he won't) how they know when to quote a horse shorter in the market than its form discloses. But a horse with no form which opens in the first 4 favs and, in particular, which starts in the first 4 has done so because of reasons only the trainer knows but which those wily bookies have somehow discovered.

Now to fitness. The 'last start' is important but 'days to previous starts' are critical. The days between starts has never before been considered as a means of pinpointing fitness yet my special Fitness Patterns clearly show the importance of this factor.

In looking at the basic breakdown of the fitness concept, the following generalisations can be made regarding 'peak fitness':

  • 1000m-110Om: Best at 1st run up from a spell.
  • 1200m: Best at lst-2nd-3rd starts from a spell.
  • 1300m-140Om: Best 2nd-3rd-4th starts from a spell.
  • 1500m-160Om: Best 3rd-4th-5th starts from a spell.
  • 1700m+: Best 4th-5th-6th starts from a spell.

These simple facts alone mean a great proportion of some fields can be eliminated without further consideration as to their winning chances. Keep in mind the first 4 favs, and the elimination process is even easier.

Further analysis shows that the Fitness Patterns reveal that over 1000m to 1400m horses need a minimum of 10 days to recover from the previous run. Further than 1400m, due to the different pace of the races, horses need to run more often to maintain race condition.

• This is an extract from Barry Blakemore's excellent new book, The Key Factor Is Fitness (Barrymore Publications).

By Barry Blakemore