In this, the first of a three-part series, PPM's computer expert Neale Yardley passes on the results of his  computer research aimed at weeding out the important from the not-so important formguide details.

Over the past couple of months I have been devoting all my 'time to a new handicapping package for computer owners (hence my absence from these pages). In doing so I have been pouring over the form of around 500 horses every week and exploring every possible factor likely to pinpoint upcoming winners.

The results of my efforts have been particularly interesting. Not only have I come up with a handicapping package that will literally amaze computer users, but I have been able to confirm without a doubt which form factors are the most important. Many of these factors you will already be aware of although you may be unaware of how important some of them really are. One of the factors I have come across (number of starts into current preparation) can be particularly important and is probably one you have not given much attention to.

The purpose of this series of three articles is to share these secrets with you.

In this and next month's article I will examine in detail the factors I have found to be most relevant to picking winners. In the final article I will show you how easy it is to use these form factors to identify value horses without having to use any complicated ratings or pricing calculations.

Knowing how to properly read your form guide is a skill that comes with practice. The more you read them, the better you should become at using them to pick winners. I say 'should' because if you read the form the wrong way there is a danger you will always get it wrong. It is essential that you know which form factors are the most important if you are going to improve your form reading abilities.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I have been pouring over a lot of form recently as part of my work developing a sophisticated handicapping program that automatically handicaps races by taking all the form details required from a database. The aim of the package is to do all the form reading and race analysis for you, but more on that next month.

Of all the form factors there are available, there are a handful that I always consider in any handicapping program I write. In perfecting my latest program I had to include all of these factors and make sure I correctly identified the contribution each one mad e towards a horse's winning chances in a race.

In the remainder of this article I will start discussing the more important form factors so you will know what to concentrate on when next reading your form guide. As I go, I will also discuss the relative strengths of each factor so you will learn which ones to place more importance on.

Fitness is probably the most important form factor in determining whether a horse is able to win or not. Since there is no one form statistic that tells you whether a horse is fit, we have to consider a number of form details to decide how fit a horse is. Although the results of such form reading are not always conclusive, the effort is more than worthwhile as fitness is that elusive factor that can easily make the difference between winning and losing at the races.

Since not many of us are fortunate enough to watch the horses in the mounting yard just before a race, we have to look at form to get an idea of fitness. The most important indicators are, without question, recency of last start and number of wins or placings at recent starts.

Recency of last start is very important. A horse that raced seven days ago is likely to be fitter than one that last raced two weeks ago. Similarly, a horse that last raced two weeks ago is likely to be fitter than one that raced three or four weeks ago.

Horses resuming from a let-up (a break of more than four weeks) or a spell (a break of more than three months) are unlikely to be race fit-especially when it comes to distance races. There are exceptions, though, like the homes that always do well first-up. These horses are trained specifically to achieve success on their it run back from a spell-an ability you will best be able to identify from either a good memory or form records going back a couple of years.

To give you an idea of the importance I place on recency of last ~, consider the following penalties and bonuses I give horses based on the nu~ of days since their last start. (I use these in my handicapping programs but - is no reason why you can't use them yourself in any points based - you may be using.)

For horses that have raced within seven days, I apply a bonus of up to one kilogram. Where the last ~ was between one and two weeks ago, I apply a bonus of half a kilogram. For horses who last raced more than three weeks ago I apply a penalty equal to one third of a kilogram for every week that the horse hasn't raced (e.g. 2 kgs for six weeks, 3 kgs for nine weeks, etc-).

Next month I will continue our examination of fitness and then turn to the consideration of two more extremely important factors, namely form improvement and consistency. Penalty and bonus points will be suggested for each of these factors for those of you interested in using them.

Click here to read Part 2.
Click here to read Part 3.

By Neale Yardley