It doesn't matter if you are an intellectual or a fifth-form dropout, a form guide can bring you together on equal footing. Because form is the great leveller in racing.
Each man can make of it what he will. Each man can read the form of all horses in a race and come to totally different decisions. That's the fun and the mystery of racing, isn't it?
Many punters like to avoid making the decision at all. They rely on newspaper tipsters to do the work for them, either because they haven't got the time to spend on poring over form or simply because they lack the willpower to make the effort.
Form study can be enormously rewarding. It's like anything else in life - the harder you work at it the better you get. And, as most millionaires will tell you, hard work makes good luck.
I've been a keen student of form all my life. It has provided me with some of my headiest moments, when success came in dollars after hours of weighing up the form of dozens of horses.
There's an intellectual challenge in form study and even our racing-fan Prime Minister, R. J. Hawke, has testified to that. If you see the PM at the races it's odds-on he'll have a Sportsman tucked in his pocket (or at least he used to when he was just a Trade Union leader).
What are my rules for form study? I have several key ones that I never fail to follow. The first is never to look at pre-post betting markets before I dip into the form guide.
It's best not to know the values that someone else has placed on the runners before applying your own consensus of opinion.
You do not want to be swayed in any way when you are putting the horses through the form tests.
All the clues to determining the winner of any given race can be found in a form guide. Here, set out clearly, are the 'keys' to each horse - where he has won before, how many times he has won, in which class of race he has been successful, the distances over which he has performed well, the ability he has to handle different types of going,
the weight he has carried, the jockeys that have ridden him, the horses he has beaten and those which have defeated him.
It is all there; all the punter has to do is unravel the web of statistics and compare each with each other in the long, difficult task of pinpointing the best prospects.
Sometimes you'll see that a horse which has been racing in a low class of event has clocked the same time over a certain distance as a horse which is known to be a much classier galloper.
This can be misleading, because if the two clash it is more than likely the better class runner will win. 'Class' is the great determinant in form study and in racing itself.
Know your'class'and you will soon know your form.
Your form guide will tell you how long it is since a horse had its previous start, and also how many starts it has had during its present racing campaign. These are important facts.
A fit horse has a winning chance. Unfit horses do not win.
When you are faced with the prospect of a slow or heavy track it is important that you comb through the form looking for each horse's performances on rain-affected tracks.
Use a bright coloured marker pen to ring each winning or good placed performance on wet tracks. I write 'S', 'H' next to a horse's name if it has won in these conditions.
This way, you will be able to tell at a glance which horses have no history of being able to handle wet conditions (that doesn't mean they won't win, but it certainly puts you on your guard).
Often you'll find that horses can win on slow going but are not able to handle the transition to heavy going, when tracks have been turned into 'bogs'- this is particularly so during Melbourne's wettish winters.
Let me give you an example: We'll look at the case of Fine Offer in the Craiglee Stakes at Flemington on September 14.
This was a race to be run over 1600 m (at weight-for-age) on a very heavy track. After studying all the form for the race I came to the conclusion that Fine Offer simply had to be the winner.
Why? Well, as you will see from the extract I have reproduced here from the Sportsman, this five-year-old galloper from the Colin Hayes stable had all the attributes that were needed.
You will see that I ringed each of his winning performances on rain-affected tracks. There were two wins of note on heavy tracks (at Feilding in New Zealand in September, 1983, and again at Cheltenham in Adelaide on June 10).
In the latter race, Fine Offer was having his first run for a month and cruised home to win by five lengths from the handy type Count Wynyard, to whom he was conceding 6.5 kgs. After that, Fine Offer ran 3rd at Sandown, again on a heavy track, to the fine city types Bow Mistress and Luther's Luck in the St Aubin Handicap.
This effort was followed by a fourth at weight-for-age on a heavy track in the 1400 m J. J. Liston Stakes at Sandown on August 24.
What the form guide told me about Fine Offer was this:
- He could handle a heavy track and this was what he would have to do in the Flemington race.
- He was a CLASS horse, and well up to the field he was striking in the Craiglee (go back to April 13 and we see that he ran two lengths 5th to Vite Cheval in the All Aged Stakes at weight-for-age at Randwick).
- He was a FIT horse, having had four solid hitouts since May 11, three of them since June 10, and the last two on August 10 and 24.
- He was in a top stable.
Bearing all these points in mind, and weighing up his opposition, I thought Fine Offer was able to win- and he did just that, at 2-1, scoring by 11/2 lengths from the very smart performer Tristarc.
So this is just one example of how a form guide can tell the story of a race - if you study it closely enough.
When looking at any form guide, you have always to take into account the 'class' of the runners. This is vital.
Some runners will be racing out of their class. You must pinpoint these runners and then weigh up carefully whether they can match, and beat, horses that have proven themselves in higher classes.
The great punter Eric Connolly had a golden rule on class. He said: 'Class is all important. Backing horses racing out of their class is generally bad business. Occasionally, a young improving horse will overcome the class hurdle but when such a horse comes along it is generally obvious.'
Connolly always believed that the best approach to finding winners was to concentrate on horses racing in their right class, yet possessing the potential to carry on in a higher class.
Distance is another factor to take into serious consideration when going through the form. You must be sure in your own mind that any horse you select has the ability to run the distance of the race.
There are tricks in this, too. This is when you have to compare a class horse, with a slightly inferior horse which has better form over the particular distance of the race.
You may have a top-class 2400m stayer resuming after a letup in a 1200 m race. Now the percentages say he will not win, but you know. that he will be running on late, as stayers usually do in first-up outings. Now you have to rate his prospects against those of a tried and proven 1200 m sprinter who is in form.
It's a must to check back on all the performances of each horse. You may find that the stayer has won first-up before, or you may discover that he always needs three or four runs to reach peak form.
When you are assessing fitness, your form guide will tell you almost instantly which horses can be said to be fit. All you do is glance at how many runs the horse has had in its current campaign.
Although it may have run 7th, 8th, 9th and 6th in four runs since a spell, you must now ask whether it is ready to produce a vastly improved performance, merely because it has had those four conditioning outings.
Fitness is a key requirement for a winner. Results show that horses can overcome all sorts of handicaps but they cannot win if they are not fit.
The recent runs shown by the form guide will give some indication as to whether a galloper is on the improve and nearing its peak, or whether, having reached its top, it is now on the decline.
Horses cannot hold top form for lengthy periods. They reach a pinnacle, remain level for a time, and then begin to taper off and lose form. When there is the slightest sign of a horse losing form it is a signal to be ultra-careful.
You will also have to work out weight differences when analysing form. Weight, like class, is at the heart of racing.
Added weight over longer distance races can be crucial. A 2kg weight difference between 50 and 54 kg is not as significant as a similar rise in the 55 to 58kg range but each extra kilo is a burden to carry.
Bear in mind that a rule-of-thumb says that one length is equal to 11/2kg. You can measure each horse against the other using this rule.
If Horse A beats Horse B by two lengths at level weights and they meet again with Horse A having gone up 2 kg, then - all things being equal - we can see that Horse B has been narrowed just over one length closer to Horse A for their next start.
But will it be enough for him to beat Horse A? The figures suggest it won't - but the way the race is run will be all important.
If you look at your form guide in a calm, rational, sensible manner - throwing off prejudices against certain horses or trainers or jockeys - you should be able to come up with many winners.
What you are making, in essence, is an ,educated guess' as to which horse will win, and which will prove his dangers.
An 'educated guess' sums it all up, doesn't it. You have used all your knowledge of racing, and of form, to come up with the horse that, given a good run through the race, should be right there at the wire.
You may care to consider the following aspects when making your final decision:
- Does the horse have a good, reliable jockey?
- Can it handle the track conditions?
- Has it shown winning form before over the distance of the race?
- Has it won or been placed at the track?
- Is it well-fancied by the experts and in the pre-race market?
- Does it have a good barrier draw, taking into account the distance of the race?
- Is it racing in its right class - or is it capable of handling the class of the opposition?
- Is the horse fit?
- Has it had a race, or races, within the last 21 days (If not, treat it with caution).
- Is the horse well weighted?
Once you have answered these 10 questions you should be sure enough in your own mind about each horse.
There is no easy way to selecting winners, as we all know, but the study of form will narrow the gap between winning and losing.
Stick at it - and you will make your own luck.
By Des Green
PRACTICAL PUNTING - DECEMBER 1985