What is Form? Simply put it's the record of a horse's past performances and it is your truest and most reliable guide to the horse's ability.

Therefore, we must take great note of Form. And especially take note of recent form, because you'll find that it is the most positive guide you are likely to get when assessing the prospects of any horse in any race. Strong form, in whichever Class the horse happens to be racing, is extremely reliable.

There is, though, a sliding scale of reliability as you take into account the 'true' Class of a horse. That is, the better the horse the more reliable are the recent form indicators; the more inferior the horse the more unreliable is the recent form.

Form and fitness are key ingredients of finding winners. Fit horses equal good form. Unless a horse is race-fit it is most unlikely to produce its best form in a race. The problem facing punters is that they have to work out for themselves, using form as a guide, whether a horse is fit or not.

We believe there are some factors that can be reliably taken into consideration. Firstly, if a horse wins easily when not at the peak of its fitness, you can assume fairly safely that it will improve. In contrast, a horse that wins when at peak fitness is much less likely to show further improvement.

Form changes continually. After each performance, the punter has to decide if a horse is going to improve further or whether it has peaked and thus entered a downward phase in its campaign. These are the difficulties of form study.

Often, of course, a horse may not need to improve m order to post a win. But, generally, if a horse wins and he is penalised with extra weight, then the horse has to better its previous performance in order to win again.

The actual 'date' on form is an essential element of understanding the importance of a given performance. We regard 'recent form' (RF) as being between one and 14 days, then you get to 'less recent form', (LRF) which is a last-start performance between 15 and 28 days previously, and then doubtful past form (DPF) which is a performance of 29 or more days previously; obviously the further off a performance then the more risky is the formline.

If we were to put ‘stars’ (*) on these three factors, we would award 5 (*****) for RF, 3(***) for LRF and 1 (*) for DPF. This gives you a clear indication of the worth of the form as far as recency is concerned. Split into 9 sections (say 11 per cent) the recent form is worth 55 per cent, as against 33 per cent and 11 per cent.

Be wary, then, of form which is 'dated' or can be termed 'ancient form'. The older it is, the less notice you should take of it. A horse may well have been able to win a 1200m race 12 months previously, but that win cannot be considered a true pointer a year onwards. You have to search for much more recent form.

The same thing goes for horses resuming from lengthy spells. Their past form can be a guide, but it can be most misleading if the horse returns to racing unfit, and obviously older and possibly slower!

Bearing all this in mind, we can hear a lot of you remarking that it's all very well to suggest form study, but who has the time or inclination for it? Well, a lot of people do have the time and the inclination  though many of them probably don't do it as thoroughly as they should.

What we now propose is a method of speedily assessing horses, to be used when you have sorted out the main chances and, hopefully, given each of them a Base Rating. We have devised what we feel is an effective, all-embracing approach to giving penalties and bonuses to the various runners, taking their form into account. You are, in essence, digging deep into the form to find the winners.

The assessments take in the following seven factors:


We have already stated that recent form is best form, so the allotment of points for the 'date of last start' factor is along the lines we have already indicated by way of asterisks. That is, five for a last-start run between one and 14 days previously, three for a last-start run 1528 days before, and one point for 29-42 days. There are no points for horses resuming after more than 42 days.

Barriers are not assumed to be of major importance, but obviously in some races at some tracks, you are going to have to take the draw into account in some way. On some tracks, wide draws are difficult to overcome, and they have to be accounted for when you are analysing a horse's chance. So we make suggestions to this factor.

Then we have the last-start placings, in which we take into account where a horse finished last start.

These are important because a great majority of races are won by horses which ran in the first three placings at their last start. These points are only given if the horse had its last start within the previous 28 days.

The improvement factor is probably one of the most contentious. We have tried to put it into perspective by deciding on a series of bonuses for the various stages of a horse's campaign, on the assumption that a horse will show the most improvement after the fourth and fifth runs of a preparation.

This won't always be the case, but it certainly will be in a large majority of instances. In the 'same way we have allotted bonuses for expected improvement so we have built in a penalty factor for horses which haven't raced for some time. These penalties range from one to 10 kilos (or points).

The penalties will vary according to how much time a horse has had between its last start and the current start. They will also vary according to the type of horse. For instance, a 2400m stayer resuming after -a long break, and racing over an unsuitable 1200m trip, will be handed the biggest penalty (10).

In contrast, a sprinter resuming after along spell and racing over 1200m might well be very close to a solid run, and therefore would probably be handed only a 2kg to 5 kg penalty on its Base Rating.
In these cases, you will have to use some subjective judgement (in other words, your own opinion!) to try to get it right. Sometimes you'll be wrong, but many times you'll be right, and that's the name of the game as far as selecting the correct horses is concerned.

Then we come to the course, distance and going factors, all very important. A horse which has won on the course is given three points, if it's been placed on the course it gets one. A horse which has won over the distance gets three points, if it's been placed over the distance it gets one point. A horse that's been a winner in the prevailing track going (good, fast, dead, slow or heavy) gets a bonus lift of
three points.

Performance on the prevailing track conditions becomes a most important element during the winter months when tracks are likely to be affected by rain. You must always ask yourself whether a horse can act on the ground conditions. Some horses are hopeless on wet tracks.

We're confident that these factors can be used effectively to pinpoint the major chance in a race- as long as you can just as effectively isolate the top chances to begin with. That is, you examine a field of runners, pick out, say, the top four or five, and then apply our factors.

Better still, if you have access to Class or Weight Ratings (in this regard we cannot do better than point you towards the excellent service provided by George Tafe).

If you have Ratings, you can very easily trim a field down to the main in chances, simply by looking at the most recent ratings. Then, sing our factors, you can put the top fancies through a final 'grilling' to determine which ones earn the most points.

If you are a serious punter, you will attempt to bet on only a handful of races. On a Saturday, why not pick out two good races at each meeting in Sydney and Melbourne? That's four races in all. You will have time, then, to study each race carefully.

Draw up our list of important factors on a sheet of paper, write down the name of each of the top four or five fancies in each race, rule off the columns, and then check each horse's form and write in the necessary points.

Men you've done this task, you'll have a much clearer idea of which horse has the best chance of winning the race. With just a handful of races to handicap you'll find it won't take long at all to run through our factors and thus make some real sense of the mysteries of form.

Good digging!

NEXT MONTH: The series continues with Ted and Alan showing you how the form factors approach actually operates on real races. These 'test' races will show you exactly how the idea works.

Click here to read Part 3.
Click here to read Part 1.

By Ted Davis and Alan Jacobs