You should never be fazed by the prospect of studying form. It can be a most rewarding exercise and certainly not one that needs to be a boring bind on your time.

All my punting life I have followed a number of simple form rules and they rarely let me down. My strike rate has always been high and I put the success down to the fact that I am able to absorb form details without taxing my brain too much.


I have considered throughout my career that CLASS is the ultimate weapon for punters in the war against the TAB agencies and the bookmakers. Class can tell you a lot of what you need to know-and by class I mean simply this: IS A HORSE CAPABLE OF WINNING IN THE CLASS OF RACE IT IS CONTESTING? You will need to be able to answer this question about every horse you look at when assessing your bets for any particular day.

Some horses have heaps of class and that makes them consistent top-notchers. As we go down the various  grades of horse, the actual "class content" of a horse's makeup diminishes. A horse may be able to win by 3  lengths against Maiden class horses but be unable to win in any other higher classes.

So you must be sure of a horse's class ability when assessing a field of runners. You are looking at the fields, say, for a Progressive class race at Pakenham in Victoria. You see a horse there which has still to win a Maiden race. It is being raced well out of its class. Unless it is, “one out of the box" you could safely put it to one side as being highly unlikely to win the race.

Many people in racing become confused because the word "class" is used in many contexts by racing writers and radio commentators. But there is no need at all to feel confused. Class is a simple thing.

All you need do is change the word "class" to ABILITY-so then, when you are considering the prospects of a horse, the whole point becomes crystal clear when you pose the question: Does this horse possess the ABILITY for the class of race he is about to contest?

In most cases, the answer to that question is clear-cut. You can come up with a definite yes or no. Your form guide provides you with the evidence. Sometimes, as I have indicated above, a young improving galloper will overcome the race class barrier-but not often, and certainly not often enough for you to make a habit of ignoring class. My own view is that the average horse which has won a number of restricted class races is a betting hazard when he is stepped up in class-unless the horse in question has shown enormous potential.

You must have a clear appreciation of the differences in class when making your judgements. You must know which classes are which and in this regard I recommend you purchase a set of Equestrian Publishing's Class Factor cards.

They explain, very simply and succinctly, what each class in racing means and provide you with a "points allotment" for each class to enable you to determine the strength of each class. Every punter should have a set of these cards.

You should, of course, only classify a horse on PAST PERFORMANCES. You must be sure a horse has performed well in a particular class before giving it a chance again in that class. For instance, some horses may race well out of their class and be donkey-licked 30 lengths. When you see them entered again in that class, you have to discard them as prospects because their past performance indicates that they do not have the ability to be racing against the class of horses in that particular class.

One of the old axioms of racing is to look for a horse that is dropping in class--coming down from a higher standard race to a lower standard race. But you must not do this blindly and without rational thought. A young horse that has been deliberately raced out of its class to hide its ability and is then dropped down in class, can be a betting proposition but beware of the older gallopers who are brought down a grade or two. They are usually betting risks.

Broadly speaking, races are divided into three sections-handicaps, weight-for-age and races at set weights, or special weights. There is also the further area of Restricted and Open class races.

Restricted events are in three categories-age, sex and class and the word "class" in this instance refers to the class of races for which a horse is eligible, such as Maiden, Novice, Encourage, etc. If a race is a handicap it means the weights are framed by the official club handicapper whose objective is to weight the runners so as to provide them all with an equal chance of winning.

Most races are won by horses that are IN FORM. This means they have been racing well at their previous starts and have won or finished in the placings at one of their last 2 starts.

A horse with form is preferable to a horse without form almost every time. By sticking with horses that are in form you are carrying the winning percentages with you. Statistics bear out the fact that FORM horses are the BEST horses.

Recent figures published in P.P.M. testify to the strength of form horses. They showed that 30.8 per cent of all winners had finished 1st in at least one of their previous 2 starts. A further 29.1 per cent had finished 2nd in at least one of their previous two starts while 13.8 per cent had finished 3rd in at least one of their two previous outings. This, then, makes up a total of more than 73 per cent of races being won by horses with Ist, 2nd, and 3rd placings in at least one of their last 2 starts!

So, when studying form, and after having assessed which horses have the ability to win in the class of the race, you decide which horses of those are IN FORM at the moment.

A horse race is an athletic contest. For a horse to give a 100 per cent effort it needs to be FIT. You must assess that fitness for yourself.

I have always thought it would be an enormous help to punters if all horses were weighed and given a racing weight. Ibis is done in greyhound racing and is accepted as an integral aspect of that racing code. Now why isn't the same thing done in racing? It is in Japan. Over there, a horse is allotted a racing weight and if it varies to any significant degree on raceday they are automatically scratched.

Why horses are allowed to be raced while not in racing condition is beyond me and yet we see it all the time. How many times do we see fat, unfit horses resuming from a spell? Officialdom turns a blind eye.

The easiest way to determine if your horse is RACING FIT is to check on how long ago it last raced. It may be able to handle the class of the race and it may have a I st at its last start but you have to discover when that last start win was achieved. It could well be that the horse hasn't run for 4 weeks or more and if that's the case you place a query over it. In contrast, a last start winner who had its previous race within the last 14 days is a good bet.

Our statistics show that 67.5 per cent of all winners had their immediate last start within 14 days of their current race. This is a mighty big percentage, isn't it, and one you simply cannot ignore. It reflects the pattern of racing-IN FORM horses who are RACING FIT win races!

Now, then, we have three key factors in our minds--CLASS, FORM and FITNESS. Roll them all together and you are well on the way to picking a high percentage of winners and placegetters. Now we move on to the refining process.

Let's assume that after due deliberation you have looked at a field of 12 runners and decided that five of them qualify on the grounds of class, form and fitness. The other seven runners have been discarded because they fail to meet the criteria. You decide you can safely concentrate on your five main chances.

Using my form study method, you now turn to the betting market. The best one to use, for weekend meetings anyway,  is the one you can listen to on your radio on race morning. Most big city stations have a bookie who gives an up-to-the-minute betting market at about 11am. THIS IS THE ONE TO CONCENTRATE ON.

You are looking for the horses among your five who are listed on the first three lines of the betting. The majority of winners come from these lines of betting. In fact, close to 64 per cent of all races are won by horses listed on the first three lines of betting in the pre-race betting market! To give yourself an edge, on a long-term basis, you should allot preference to those of your final group of horses who figure on those first 3 lines of betting.

Having done this, you must now decide if these are your FINAL selections, or whether you should still consider any of your "possibles" who have not figured on the first three lines. To do this, you consider JOCKEY, TRAINER  and  BARRIER DRAW. You may have a horse who fulfils all the form study criteria and yet is on the 5th line of betting.

You then see that he is to be ridden by a top jockey, comes from a good stable and is well drawn. You may well be looking at a WINNER at TOP VALUE. So don't turn your back on it.

Without going into the mathematics of trying to determine value, I like to use my own judgement. Usually, after putting all my form factors to use, I end up with two or three horses who I consider hold excellent prospects in a race. I am happy if I can back them to win me a nice percentage profit.

I always look for VALUE and you should too, I don't like taking odds-on. I'd rather back a better-priced horse for a placing than back a horse to win at odds on. Always keep this in mind.

If you can back all your final selections and make a profit whichever one wins, then do so. It is a safe, profitable way to punt and I heartily recommend it.

You may have a preference for one of three horses and in these instances you may be able to "save" on the other two and then back your main selection to make you the day's profit. (By "saving" you back your 2nd and 3rd picks to return your total stake if they win).

Jot down these important rules and you'll be well on the way to getting your selection process under control.

  1. Make sure a horse has the ability to win in the class of race it is contesting;
  2. Make sure it has been racing well-in other words, that a horse is in form;
  3. Make sure a horse is racing fit;
  4. Make sure it is well fancied in the pre-race betting market;
  5. Make sure you obtain value whenbacking your selections.

By Richard Hartley Jnr