The search for an angle that Twill turn the tide! We're all after it in racing, and especially those of us who like to dig deep into the form book. The problem with 'angles' is that they tend to be okay for a while - and then they take a wrong turning!

There are, though, certain basic factors that will stand us in good stead if we are relatively serious bettors. If we keep certain strong factors in mind we should at least help put ourselves on the right path, with not too many silly and frustrating deviations along the way.

What we have to remember is that picking winners at the races is no easy matter. Handicapping is an art in itself. To my way of thinking, it's not a science and never has been. My approach is to try to be as methodical as I can.

In this regard, I tend to closely follow certain guidelines. But not slavishly. The challenge of handicapping a race is always going to be an intellectual one. Your knowledge is matched against those of all the other punters at the track, and off-course.

I suppose this is the real excitement of racing. So, good handicapping requires you to do pre-race study (if you're serious about winning, that is). It's vital because if you fail to assess a race fairly and squarely you'll have no-one to blame but yourself if you back a loser.

When you do back a loser, try to figure out why things went wrong. Why did you make the wrong choice? Why didn't you pick the winner? Perhaps it was just bad luck in the running, and so it's not your fault. Or maybe you made a misjudgement? You have to be honest with yourself.

I have always believed that to be a good handicapper you need to be firm and yet flexible. You have to make strong decisions but when you're at the track you must be flexible enough to make a change or two if they're needed.

By this I mean you must have the capacity to change your plans if you see something on which you hadn't reckoned with when doing the form assessments for a race. Changes in odds might affect your plans.

Maybe the price is just too short. If so, don't hesitate to scrap the bet. Maybe the horse looks pretty awful in the mounting yard. This is where my first set of 'ace angles' come into play.

We should never underrate the importance of weight in horse-racing. A big weight can stop the best of horses. A look at Past performances will give you an idea of each horse's weight-carrying ability.

Average out its winning runs as far as weight is concerned and this will give you a nice guide. A horse with 6 wins carrying 53, 55, 55.5, 56, 54 and 54.5 has an average of 54.5kg. Thus, we can assume it can win up to this weight and probably up to around 56kg.

Follow these "ace angles' on weight:

  1. The importance of weight increases with the distance of the race.
  2. Weight doesn't mean as much in races under 1600m.
  3. A change of just a kilo or so will not mean a great deal in any race.
  4. Sharp rises of 2.5kg and more are a worry.

Always keep them in mind and you will be able to cope with last minute crises:

  1. Allow at least a couple of hours to study the form - and use a good formguide.
  2. Be confident of your selections - but always be flexible. Believe in what you SEE, not what you HEAR.
  3. Never take under the odds. Why not make even money the lowest price you'll accept?

Form study should always try to take account of how a race will be run. It's a difficult task but one you should always have a go at tackling. Look for speed horses, tick them off, then mark the 'come from behind' horses in a different colour.

Work out who is likely to lead, who will sit off the pace, which ones are facing being caught wide, and which horses can run home hard from well back on the turn. Can the speed horses run away unchallenged?

These are important questions. Find how each horse has gone in previous races by checking out the run-of-the-race details in your formguide. Average them out, and then you'll have a good idea of where each horse is going to be placed in the run.

For example, if at its last four starts a horse has been 5th, 4th, 6th and 5th at the 800m mark, you can average out that it is very likely to be about 5th at that mark in the current race. Do this averaging with all the runners.

As for Class, well, many things can tell you about this. A horse's average prizemoney earnings are always a good guide. Then there is each horse's win strike percentage. Check out carefully the Class of race each horse has competed in at its last four starts.

Look for the following 'ace angles':

  1. Look for horses that are consistent and have shown the ability to win in similar Class races.
  2. Look for horses with high average earnings figures over a lot of races.
  3. Remember that the higher the Class of a race the more likely it is that the form will stand up.
  4. Watch out for horses dropping in Class - but also be on the lookout for horses that are improving and stepping up just a bit in Class.
  5. Be wary of those horses with poor recent form. Never back them unless you are totally convinced they are in the right Class to be able to bounce back to form.

Track conditions play a big role 'n how races work out. This applies especially in the winter months, when we are usually faced with slow and heavy tracks.

Any change in track conditions can prove deadly to the best-laid plans. We've all had those days. You work out the form for a firm track, then when you arrive at the track it's pouring with rain and suddenly the track is slow and getting worse.

It's often a good idea on slow and heavy tracks to look for the one paced horses rather than speed horses. Brilliant horses almost always need dry tracks to produce their best. Some horses can just plough away through the mud at the one 'bat'.

Keep the following 'ace angles' in mind:

  1. If you must bet on wet tracks, check the horses that have proven themselves. Be careful with speed runners.
  2. Remember that form is going to be more reliable on dry surfaces.
  3. When the track is wet, disregard dry track form. When it's dry, disregard wet track form.

We all like to find a longshot. Trouble is, few punters are prepared to do all the searching to find one! (See Alan Jacobs' article Hidden Aces on Page 11 for more views on this subject.)

My advice is contained in the following 'ace angles':

  1. To better your prospects of cracking a longshot winner, do your form assessments without looking at any of the selections of the newspaper tipsters, and also don't look at the pre-race betting market.
  2. Look for little things in a horse's form pattern that might suggest it's a better chance in the current race than it might seem at first glance.
  3. Look for clues in races two or three runs back, especially if the horse has done poorly at its last start.

These, then, are some angles to consider when you are poring over the form. Keep them in mind and I am confident your strike rate will improve.

By Philip Roy