Do you judge a horse’s chance only on its best form? If so, what approach do you make to the performances which are obviously not in keeping with the horse’s true ability?

These questions are often thrown at me whenever I am in the company of fellow punters and they learn that I occasionally write, and claim to be some sort of "expert" for PPM.

I’ll take some time to answer the questions but to all the punters who ask me for advice I always say: Simplified Selections.

Now I can’t claim full credit for these important two words put together. A long time ago a clever man named Al Rogers used them when talking about the easiest and best ways to judge a horse’s chance on recent form.

When we do the form for a race we can easily be sidetracked by a horse putting in a bad run . . . but under Rogers’s plan of attack we wouldn’t even have taken this bad run into consideration.

Simplified selection, he says, means eliminating a lot of "waste material". So Rogers is into the "elimination" theory of form analysis, and that’s not such a bad thing. Concentrate on the positive, forget the negative.

Rogers has this to say: "One of the distinguishing marks which sets the pro selector apart from the amateur is the ability to choose wisely from among the wealth of data available in past performances.

"The expert is aware that some of this data is highly pertinent to his work, while other information is of relative importance to the job of selecting the winner.

"Because he is able to choose the proper data, the pro selector can simplify his task, reducing the expenditure of both time and labour. He’s aware that only certain races in the past form will advantageously serve his purpose. The others contribute nothing to the work at hand in trying to work out the prospects.

"His first step in the handicapping process is to discard those races in each horse’s form which not only contribute NOTHING but which serve to confuse the issue. In a manner of speaking, he is clearing the decks before undertaking the real work of comparative analysis.

"This gives the pro an advantage over the racing fan who tries to examine all the data, accepting the good and bad as it appears in the past performances."

Rogers goes on to say that anyone who doubts the advantages to be gained by eliminating those races from the form which contribute nothing to the work of assessing a horse’s chances would be well advised to try the following test.

  1. Pick up your formguide and choose any race in which the runners have as many as five races in their past performances.
  2. Go over the form of each horse and strike out every race in which the horse was decisively beaten. Rogers says: "When you’ve completed this striking-out process you will note that the race as a whole has assumed a new and different appearance.

"The form has been stripped down to the bare essentials, and non-productive and often confusing data has been stricken from the formlines. Only the GOOD efforts of each runner remain.

"The task of comparing each runner now becomes much easier. Formlines that might have been a distraction are gone."

Rogers make a valid point with this approach, though it must be said that the job of actually eliminating races from the past performances is not such a simple matter.

Under actual conditions we find that we cannot throw out EVERY BAD RACE, nor dare we give full credit for every good effort.

Rogers explains: "In every instance we must be guided by certain factors, the presence of which may place quite a different face upon the appearance of either a good horse or a poor race. The trick is to learn which races have no legitimate place in a horse’s chart, as far as comparative handicapping is concerned."

So, what type of races should be eliminated from a horse’s form­lines? Firstly, says Rogers, among races that have no value are CONDITIONING runs in which the horse was not expected to win or make even an impressive showing. Bluntly, the horse was out for exercise as part of its preparation for races in the future.

"Such a race has no bearing upon the selector’s work, for it reveals little or nothing which may be accepted as hard evidence of winning ability."

My own view is that in Australia we would see a conditioning run as usually coming after a spell away from the racetracks.

If we see a confirmed 2000m horse resuming over 1200m and it ran 10th in a field of 12, we can safely eliminate that race from assessment. We can’t say the horse ran badly because more than likely it wasn’t fit, and it was racing at a most disadvantageous distance.

On another tack, perhaps we see that last start a horse ran 5th in an Open Handicap at Flemington, beaten 8 lengths. But today it’s on a provincial track in Class 5; that is down in class. So that Flemington race must be considered.

We might see that a horse has run 8th in a Class 4 and was beaten 8 lengths. A bad run on the surface. Yet when we examine the report from the stewards we see that it was badly checked 800m out, and then had trouble securing a clear run in the straight. Obviously, then, we won’t consider that defeat as being meaningful.

I hope from this that you get some idea of what Al Rogers is on about with his Simplified Selections.

Rogers has this to add to his theories: "Next we encounter the class factor. Now, every horse has a basic class.

This is, it owns an innate degree of racing ability. It may not be an Open Handicap performer, it may just be a Class 4 or 5 horse but whatever its basic class it cannot be expected to defeat a horse of a higher quality UNLESS the better-grade horse is off-form, outweighed or unfit.

"Therefore, the selector strikes out those poor efforts where the horse was asked to compete with horses of superior class.

"And how do we go about determining the basic class of a horse? This calls for a clear understanding of the horse’s past performances.

"Once the basic class has been determined it’s a simple matter to eliminate the poor showings made in races of a higher class.

"Obviously, the poor races turned in when the horse was mis-matched have no room in the evaluation of its true ability when engaged in a suitable race."

Rogers places emphasis, too, on weight. He says every horse has a weight-carrying limit and any bad efforts produced when it was overburdened should be struck out.

He says: "If a horse wins or finishes close-up in a race carrying 50kg and turns in a bad run with 57kg, the poor race should be eliminated. We cannot rightfully blame the horse for a below-par run when it might have been forced to carry weight beyond its capabilities, unless the study of past form shows that the horse has carried big weights okay in the past.

"The same reasoning applies to track conditions. If the horse has given no evidence of being able to run well on a rain-affected track, then a poor race on a muddy or heavy track should not be held against it.

"If the track is fast today, its inability to run well on a rain-affected track is purely negative evidence and should be disregarded."

Rogers then goes into the distance factor, saying: "Some horses are sprinters, others are middle-distance performers or stayers; a few horses only can run well at both short and long trips.

"If the evidence indicates a horse is a sprinter, then we cannot logically charge it with a poor effort if the trainer sends it out in a long race. The same thing applies in reverse to stayers. All poor efforts where the horse was out of its best distance range should be deleted before we begin work on form comparison.

"The pruning of uninformative data requires only a few minutes work. After some practice, anyone who can read and interpret the past performance columns can complete the striking-out process in a matter of minutes.

"A glance at a poor race is usually sufficient to inform the selector of its value, or lack of value. If it lacks value, then a stroke of the pen eliminates it from the form."

There you have it, then, the Al Rogers approach to form. Get rid of the races that are not positive. Stick to what the horse has proven is its best. That way, you will work out your selections using POSITIVE formlines.

By Denton Jardine