In the third article in this series, US professional Barry Meadow and PPM editor Brian Blackwell discuss various aspects of the task of picking winners. The topics range over most aspects of handicapping. Last month’s article ended with Barry talking about "class" and the possibility of improvement in a horse due to changing circumstances.

Barry (BM): The intrinsic class I talk about comes from breeding; for example, the mating of Unbridled with Toussaud, both champions, yielded Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker. It’s more likely that a sire with a $100,000 fee will be the daddy of somebody great, compared with a sire who stands for $1000.

Become familiar with the leading sires and broodmare sires, or at least check the pedigree ratings you can find (note: in Australia, check out the Australian Bloodhorse Review at One clue as to the intrinsic class of a horse is its sale price, either as a yearling or as a 2yo. While you can’t be certain that a $500,000 yearling will outperform a $5000 one, it’s a reasonable guess that it will. These individuals either are out of top-ranked sires and mares, or look terrific in farm videos and in the sales ring.

Brian (BB): I have to admit I’ve never been a breeding buff, though I do spend a lot of time looking into bloodlines when it comes to finding winners on rain-affected tracks. Some sires manage to produce terrific wet-weather gallopers but others cannot do it.

Phil Purser’s Just Racing website ( has a full list of sires with their wet-weather rankings. I often refer to it, especially with new horses in Maiden races on country and provincial tracks affected by rain.

BM: The possibility of improve­ment due to changing circum­stances is the key source to profits in this game. There are a number of areas to consider. Is the trainer new (could mean a wakeup)? Is the horse switching from a sprint to a longer race, perhaps what he wanted all along? Is he adding or shedding blinkers? Is he trying a new surface for the first time? Has he just been gelded?

Is he switching tracks? Is he coming off a long break, possibly as an improved horse? Is a top jockey replacing a moderate one? When considering the possibility of improvement, you’re always guessing, no matter what the breeding, running style, trainer record, or anything else.

A horse can be bred to run all day and yet collapses at anything over 1200m. The more you rely on this guess factor, the more price you should demand. It’s foolish to take 6/5 on a horse who just won a 1200m race and is now entered at 1800m. With a greater margin for error, longshot players can take more chances.

BB: Everyone who looks at the form should be asking themselves a few basic questions: Why is this horse in this race? Can it improve on its last start? If it’s going up in distance, can it handle the new trip? You must be constantly making up your mind about something and, in the process, what you’re really doing is trying to rationalise the formlines. What do they really mean in the context of the current race?

BM: Horses are not numbers. They race each other, not the clock. When we handicap, we assume there will be no trouble, which is not usually the case. We plot the race by considering several factors – the horse’s presumed running style (which may or may not be the way he runs today, each horse’s recent figures (particularly pace), post positions (which may help or hinder each horse) and jockey styles.

The more a horse is a prisoner of his style (he has only one way to go and everybody knows it), the easier it will be to plot his probable performance, and the likely results.

BB: I think running style has to be combined with the track profile, too. In Australia, our tracks come in all shapes and sizes, and some suit front-runners, or on-pace runners, while others provide some comfort for those horses without early speed who get well back and then rely on securing a clear run to finish off and score.

When I do the form I try to imagine how a race might pan out, but it’s amazing how many times this sort of thinking is turned on its head when the race starts! But it’s something we need to try to fix on as punters. Who will lead, who’s going to get a nice run, and so on.

A member of the PPD Club criticised me recently for selecting horses drawn out wide. I tend to do this because, as I explained to him, if we want a level-stakes profit over 12 months then risks need to be taken. I’ve won many races backing horses drawn wide, and I’ve lost plenty on horses drawn close to the rails, mostly because they wound up snookered on the rails with nowhere to go in the straight when it mattered the most!

BM: Yes, a track profile, an examination of where the winners come from at all distances and surfaces for a particular track, is a useful handicapping tool.

At certain tracks at some distances, you’d better be near the front early to have much of a chance. At some, the inside gates have a huge advantage, while at others you want your horse on the outside.

By having an up-to-date track profile for each distance for each surface, you can see which horses might be favoured, or disfavoured, by the probable pace. This is also where today’s track bias, if any, can be factored in. How is the track playing? Find out.

BB: In Australia, we are gradually getting into the speed ratings side of things, and taking more notice of sectional times in a race. The Sportsman runs all the Sydney and Brisbane metropolitan sectionals and these are very useful for those punters who like to dissect the clock. So far as barriers are concerned for each track, take a look at the Racenet website ( for these details.

BM: Everyone is looking for the obvious, the lone speedster, the lone closer, in a race with four early-speed types, and so on. Generally, you’ll get prices on what is NOT obvious. For instance, a horse might prefer the lead but for various reasons he was not able to secure that position in his past four races. Today he draws inside in a middle-distance race without much speed on either side. This might be the time he can show what he can do.

If you don’t have much of a clue about how the race might be set up, you probably are better off looking for other races to bet.

BB: This is the big test for all punters, when to bet and when to stay out. I tend to wait for my instinct to come into play. I will type out a preview and try to build up a profile for a horse and then I tend to get a buzz when I read it, or I get some nagging flutters. When the flutters come, I know that I am not really happy about the horse. I then go back and look at the form of all the other contenders again.

For me, it’s a matter of satisfaction, and a keen sense that the horse I’ve chosen has a lot of positive factors in its favour. And the more I see that everyone else has missed the horse the better I feel.

Barry Meadow is one of America’s greatest racing experts. The author of a number of best-selling books, he is also the publisher of a monthly newsletter (back copies still available from TR Publishing,

Click here to read Part 4.
Click here to read Part 5.
Click here to read Part 6.
Click here to read Part 1.
Click here to read Part 2.

By Barry Meadow and Brian Blackwell