First off, I would like to introduce myself. My name is Steven McAllister, and I am the nephew of the late George Tafe. Many of you would have read George's articles in the past, and hopefully found them informative and of some use in helping you to make your selections. I hope to be able to continue, and perhaps add to your knowledge, enabling you to become a more successful and educated punter.

George was a firm believer in the ability to pick winners by using the horse's known class and form. He felt that a horse's recent past form and current class rating were a good indicator to the chance of that horse winning. He would link this with the horse's older form to get a feel for the horse.

Checking to see if the horse is running against horses of a similar class, or dropping down and racing against weaker company horses. Whether or not the distance suits the horse. Is the state of track suitable? Is the barrier position favourable? Has the horse 'carried this weight previously, and if not, is the horse capable of doing it now?

Which hoop has been on their backs and so forth? Always keep in mind that we are talking about the class of a horse, not the class of a race.

Over the next few editions I would like to talk about class, previous and current form, the importance of weight and distance and the ability of trainers and jockeys to make a horse perform better than you expected. How often have you heard the expression that the jockey "carried the horse over the line"?

The importance that a punter puts on weight or class is dependent on where you've "cut your back teeth" in the racing industry. Let's face it, if you are making money on a system, using class or weight ratings, and you feel confident, why change? The answer is simple. If your system is working now, perhaps you can improve your win rate by applying an extra rule or two. Who amongst us is adverse to winning more and losing less?

Class is one of the most important tools in handicapping. Like weight and distance, it is ever changing with every run that a horse has. The class rating is a figure put against a horse to allow you to assess its chances of winning on the day. The class of a horse is dependent on how fit it is, its determination to win, its speed and its ability to carry a weight over a measured distance.

It is important to determine when a horse is running, whether or not it is running in its class, or, as happens in a lot of cases, it is running in a class of race that the horse has no hope of winning. The old saying of "never back a horse racing out of its class", is as relevant today as it was thirty years ago. The only exception to this rule is when you find a horse who, for one reason or another, has dropped down into a lower class company race.

Some trainers continue to race their horses knowing that they need a spell. Placing them into two or more races, knowing that they have no chance of winning or placing. By doing this, they are hoping that the official handicapper drops their horse's weight when it continues to lose. At the appropriate moment they spell the horse, then bring it back hoping for the lower weight.

Racing with the lower weight, the trainer sets the horse in a couple of improving runs, knowing that with the lower weight advantage the horse has a better chance of winning or placing, generally returning good odds. Try riot to fall into the trap of mistaking the horse that is simply outclassed on the day, for the horse that is running out of its class.

The job of the official handicapper is to weight all the horses so as to enable them to race on even terms. This is where the horse, racing in its own class, but showing little recent form, can return a tidy sum on your investment. The official handicapper equals the field, placing a higher weight on the horses with more recent form allowing the horse with little or no recent form, a low weight. Now, if this horse is racing in its own class, and not out of its class, it has a good chance of winning, and winning at good odds. By maintaining a card system, or a computer data base, you will be able to turn this knowledge into a tidy profit.

Class will make up for a lot of shortcomings in the horse's preparation, provided that the horse is racing in equal company, and not above its class.

How many times have we watched a horse, that we know is trained for long distance races, come back from a spell, placed in a sprint or short distance race and win?

Generally you find that the horses that win these sprint races are racing against horses that are of a lower class than themselves; even though they are distance specialists, their class enables them to OUTCLASS the other horses in the field.

Check to see how your selections have been running, were they finishing strongly, or just making it to the finishing post? What sort of field has it been running against? The margin that a horse wins by is generally not a good  indication of its form or class. A horse who wins, say, by 3 lengths, in a weak field, isn't a better horse than the one who has held out to win by a half head in stronger company. The class of the horse is not determined by the winning margins as such, but by the company it's running in, the time of the race, the distance and weight it carried.

Always watch for the horses that finish strongly, or the ones that seem to want to run on in shorter distances. You could find a little gold when they step up in distance. As a rule, the horse that has just had a hard win will not return the following week and repeat that performance, they seem to lose a little of that edge that separates the winners from the also rans. Those that do come out and string a set of wins together are the ones to mark for special attention for the future.

A lot of horses who win in restricted classes, and are then forced up into the next class of race, seldom ever win, or even place, against open company at their first outing.

Generally you find that with the change in weight, and suddenly running against a better class horse, they tend to lose a little heart. They need to find their sea legs so to speak.

A large percentage of these horses will never win another race; you find that by winning that one race, they have forced themselves into the company of horses with a class that they have no hope of beating. These are the horses that are running above their class.

Watch carefully, and those that can adjust do so quickly, normally within two runs. By then they are finishing closer to the winners. If you are aware of this, and can pick up the trend early enough, the odds that are offered are generally high, and your returns are good enough to offset the losses when you have misread the horses' form.

Punting is like any other business; if you intend to make money, you have to work at it. The amount of information that you have is not as important as the ability to turn what information you do have into a profit. Don't look at the official handicapper as a person you have to beat. Rather look upon him as another tool. Let's face’ it, he is already doing half your work by showing you the horses that he considers the best chances in the race. Use this to see if he is correct. At the worst he has given you a place to start your own handicapping.

Select your races carefully, always get good value for your investment. Never disregard a horse from the field until you have checked its form, and know that it cannot win. Look for the horses that have, or have shown, good reliable form. There can be 24 horses in a field, but only three of them count.

Next month I will look at distance and weight and the ability of trainers and jockeys. Always remember, never bet more than you can afford to lose.

By Steven McAllister