How do you know when a horse is at, or approaching, peak fitness? PPM's  Richard Hartley Jnr tells all in this article, and explains how you can instantly find major prospects in a race.

Every preparation a horse has, whether it wins or loses, reaches a peak. The riddle for the punter is deciding when that peak is close to being reached and when it is starting to fall away.

You have to study form carefully. If you learn to do it properly, and with cautious skills, you will soon discover the art of 'fine-tuning' a field within a matter of minutes. One thing you have to keep in mind is that there are three aspects to any horse's form:

(a) The horse's form is improving.
(b) The horse's form is steady and at a peak.
(c) The horse's form is deteriorating.

You have to decide at which stage a horse has reached. It is very likely, according to my research and that of other notable form students, that the average horse, in a preparation spanning about 10 races, will 'peak' between the 4th and 8th starts.

I always assume that a horse needs two or three runs to achieve a race-winning fitness level. When the 4th and 5th runs come along, the horse should-if it has been making the necessary improvement-run sound races, and then hold that form or even improve on it, for another three runs, possibly four, before form slips.

This average horse is relatively easy to follow. The horse that isn't is the one that runs its 'peak' races without much rhyme or reason to them. It can produce a flash run and then sink badly for several starts before producing another run close to the peak level it achieved earlier.

These type of horses are the ones that show winning form very soon after resuming from a spell. In other words, they don't need two or three runs to get fit. They 'hit' first or second-up from the spell.

Students of form who study ratings, and use them, can usually plot a horse's rise and fall in form through the ratings revealed by their actual race performances. Don Scott and George Tafe are two of the 'masters' in the ratings game. (You can read all about a horse's peak fitness levels, and how they are achieved, in Don's book Winning More.)

Let's say a horse resumes after a spell and has a race rating of 51 in its first outing. You expect its form to improve. You can allow around 2 kgs to 3 kgs for improvement at its second start. If it achieves this, then it's rational to assume it can improve that amount again. By its fourth start, it should be ready to strike the expected level of 'peak' form which you anticipate (say 10 kgs from its first run back, which translates into about six lengths).

My plan for a quickly-assessed major prospects list is to mark off the past performance races in your form guide for each horse, dating from the first run back from a spell, in the following manner:

FIRST RUN BACK (from spell)A

The races upon which you concentrate are those marked C, D, E, F and G, and you consider only those horses which are currently in that bracket. A horse that has just completed an A,B,C trio of races can, generally, be expected to be very close to producing a winning performance. The same goes for horses which have reached the other levels of D, E, F and G.

They are all in the prime 'peak' runs area. Horses A, B, H, I and J can be considered somewhat risky, in that the first two are probably not fit, and the last three indicate that their peak has been reached and passed, and thus form is on the decline.

Always remember that when a horse resumes from a spell it is usually not fit. Horses that win first-up from a spell are the exception rather than the rule. A horse resuming is probably anything from 3 kgs to 20 kgs below its peak fitness generally about 7 to 10 kgs inferior.

So, if a horse had a top rating run of, say, 63 during its previous preparation, you should assume that when it resumes from a spell it is capable only of returning a rating of around 51 to 53 kgs-that's 10 to 12 kgs (or up to eight lengths) off its best potential.

To find the contenders for any race, use a coloured marker pen to put your A, B, and C's on each horse's past performance, and then concentrate your attentions only on the ones with C, D, E, F, and G, markings. You'll find you are left with the main-chance runners m any race.

The ones I like are those that have finished 2nd or 3rd at ~ immediate last start, especially %%-hen they are 'E' horses-that is, they are hay' ng their 5th runs back from a spell Keep a very dose watch on these of runners.

They will be FIT, they will have shown they are CLOSE to a %%in, and as a result they invariably run well. Race 1, Canterbury, Dec. 13:

Contenders using the 'lettered race' formula: Karma Girl (A,B,C,D), Wave The Colours (A,B,C), Creative Pride (A,B,C), Ideal Company (A,B,C,E,F), Jathken (A,B,C). Karma Girl which came in as having her ‘E’ race, had finished 3rd at Canterbury at her 'D' run. She won the race at 6/4.

By Richard Hartley Jnr