"If the greyhound in a race with the fastest average time has an average that is two lengths or more faster than the other greyhounds in a race, you must include this greyhound in your bet."

These are the words of one of America's leading greyhound analysts, Pender Noriega, and I endorse them, as regular readers of my articles in this magazine will know. Speed is what dog racing is all about, and the punter determined to win at the game MUST take all measures necessary to discover which runners have a speed edge.

I have talked before about how to 'average' a dog's times. It's simply a matter of adding together a dog's recent times and then dividing them by the number of starts.

Of course, nothing is as simple as it seems. Some dogs will have had only one start at a certain distance, so an 'averaging' is not possible. Others may have suffered interference and because of this registered a slow time compared to their other times.

In these instances, you need to be able to spot the 'interference' run and eliminate it from the averaging. You might see a dog has clocked 43.53s, 43.29s and 43.93s in three runs at Sandown Park over 715m. My inclination would be to look at the formlines for that slow run to determine if the dog suffered interference.

If it did, or perhaps it got away very slowly in comparison with recent outings, then you should consider only the other two times for averaging. If you included the slow time this dog's average would be 43.58s, but ignoring the slow run the average would be 43.41s, which is 2.5 lengths faster (at 0.067s per length).

Of course, if you want to really and truly study dog form you have to consider other aspects apart from averaging. Let me now run through what form professionals, like myself, do when studying the charts.

For the purposes of this exercise, I am using the Pearsons' Gold Guide for a recent Sandown meeting. This is one of the best formguides you can get for Victorian racing.

(1) Average each runner's times. Eliminate the slowest time if there are known contributing factors for the dog running below its other times.

(2) Now you check out each runner's ability at the track. Has it won there before? How many wins? Look cautiously at any dog with no form at the track, or a lot of runs without winning.

(3) Try to find the way the race will be run. Go through the details in the formguide. The Gold Guide, for example, will have notations like this:

S/6/5RC/4/2 or 4C/2W/2/2/1

The 'C' indicates the dog was checked, the 'S' means it was slowly away, the 'R' indicates it railed. Other notations that you will quickly understand include 'XTO' (crossed to the outside), 'LAW' (it led all the way), 'VS' (very slow away from the box).

If you check up on each dog's last six runs you can usually get a fair idea of which dogs have early speed, which ones are quick from the boxes, and which are likely to be slow out and running on late. What I do is add up the early positions as listed and then average them out (yes, it's that averaging again).

Example: Ginger's Ace's first notations from the box in its last five starts were: 6, 8, 7, 5 and 7, a total of 33, which averages out to give you a figure of 6.5. We can assume that this dog will be about 6th early. We then have to look at the box factor to see if this will continue.

In the case of Ginger's Ace it was now in box 1 after starting previously from 8, 8, 2, 3 and 4, and it had won from boxes 2 and 3. The conclusion could be drawn that he would be well suited in box 1 and could conceivably get into a more prominent position than 6th, even if after a slow getaway (the red box is a real help to some slow starters).

In this particular race, I had Briag Sally down as the likely leader, from Enduro Boy, Dinney's Magic and Prince Buccaneer. I then had Ginger's Ace and Ticket Of Fame together.

Trying to discover if a dog will get into trouble in a race is difficult, because each race is so totally different to any others. But by adding up the 'C' marks in a dog's form we can draw a reasonable conclusion.

For instance, if a dog has 5 'C' markings in its last five starts, that means it is copping one cheek per race. Against this you have to measure the number of races in which it did not get a check. It could be that a dog has 6 'C'
markings but five of them might have been in the one race!

In this instance, I would tend to ignore that 'bad' race and draw the assumption the dog can race relatively free of trouble, especially if he is suited by the box draw and has early pace.

You must always keep in mind that dogs with early pace can avoid a lot of trouble. In times of confusion, lean to the early speed dogs.

(4) Check each dog's win strike rate, and take careful note of those runners with a high strike rate (over 25 per cent). These are consistent runners. They deserve your attention.

(5) The betting. We are not so much concerned with the current betting but the betting on each dog at its most recent starts. We are looking for those greyhounds who were well-supported in their last four runs. If you find a dog that has been at 7/2 or under in its last four starts, then that is proof you can have some confidence in the dog, even though it might not have been a winner in all the starts.

The betting can be a true and dynamic guide to future winners. Confidence in the betting at recent starts is a sign the dog has been rated fit and strong in those races. In contrast, a dog very easy in the market at its recent starts should be viewed with some suspicion.

Once again, your averaging can be used to effect. Add up the prices of a dog's last four starts and then average them. For example, in the case of Ginger's Ace it had been sent out at 7/4, 5/2, evens and 7/2. This gives an average price of just over 2/1, meaning it is a dog we can put in what I call the 'SF' list strongly fancied.

(6) The box draw. A final vital ingredient in the form analysis. Is the dog well suited by the draw? Has it won before recently from the same box? Is it better off in its current draw than at recent starts?

These are the questions you have to ask. And answer as best you can.

Once you have done all this analysis you have to try to fit the pieces of the jigsaw together.

You are looking for a runner who can fulfil Most of the following factors:

• VERY GOOD AVERAGE TIME FOR THE DISTANCE
• WINNING ABILITY AT THE TRACK
• ABLE TO ASSUME A GOOD POSITION AND AVOID INTERFERENCE
• SHOWN WINNING CONSISTENCY IN ITS CAREER
• WAS WELL SUPPORTED AT LAST FOUR RUNS
• SUITED BY THE BOX DRAW

If you can sensibly answer all these questions, you should have a very good idea of which dogs are going to figure in the finish of any race, no matter which track you are betting on, be it in Australia, New Zealand or somewhere else in the greyhound world.

It requires the availability of a good formguide. For Wentworth Park meetings, you can use the Greyhound Recorder, while for Victorian meetings you can use the Gold Guide.

By George 'Barker' Bellfield

PRACTICAL PUNTING - APRIL 1997