"Where on earth do I begin?' might well be the plaintive cry of many a poor punter as he settles down with the Sportsman on a Friday night to study the Saturday form. Where indeed!

Faced with 8 races, and possibly more than 100 runners, each with its own peculiar formlines, the punter does face a most difficult assignment in refining all those races and runners into a handful of prime prospects.

But let's be positive in a negative sort of way - in every race on any card you will find horses which, for varying reasons, cannot be said to have any real chance of winning. They are the no-hopers, the real roughies and the clever punter will set about getting rid of them before he does anything else.

With this in mind I've drawn up what I call the 'Slick Sixteen' factors which, applied sensibly, can enable you to more comfortably deal with the true chances in a race.

Study these 16 factors carefully, and try to apply them to each and every runner in a race. If you do it well, without cutting corners, the 'Slick Sixteen' should trim down a field sufficiently, without making you risk missing out on a winner (sometimes, inevitably, this will happen, but these ones that get away have to be measured against all the losers you eliminate).

My estimate is that perhaps half a dozen in a hundred (say around 5 to 7 per cent in all) will surprise and sneak under your guard. The remainder will support the 'Slick Sixteen' theories.

(Follow these elimination factors when assessing form for a race. If applied properly, you will be able to ignore many no-chance runners).

  1. Racing out of class. You can easily check these horses by looking at their total wins, and at races they have previously been contesting. They will normally be well down in the weights.
  2. Horses below the standard of the others in the race. These runners may well be in their right class, or very close to it, but their form will indicate they are racing a lot below their former best.
  3. Horses whose form is on the decline. These are in much the same category as Rule 2 horses. If you note the pattern of their performances you will see how they have lost form over a period of time, often due to over-racing, the effects of injuries or simply 'old age'.
  4. Horses that are too old. This rule flows on from Rule 3. Be very careful of horses aged 7, 8 and 9, who might have been very good in earlier years but who are now feeling their 'bones' and racing many lengths below their younger peak.
  5. The 'gonnas' - those horses whose formlines clearly show that while they race well, they very rarely win. It is always wise to check out a horse's win and place strike rate. When you see a horse with a 10 per cent or less win strike rate you should be very wary, particularly if the horse has had a lot of outings.
  6. Unfit horses. This is a difficult area, but you must apply commonsense thinking to determine if a horse is fit to win. Note that - fit to win! Not just fit enough to run a handy race. Fit to win - remember those three words.
  7. Heavily-weighted first-uppers. These are horses resuming after 'spells' ( say 60 days or longer) whose form last time in might have been good, and which are now expected to carry a significant weight burden over, say, 1200m or more. They have to be rated risks, unless they have clearly displayed first-up form before under similar circumstances. The further the first-up journey the greater the risk with a big weight.
  8. Horses which cannot handle the distance of the race. This is most important. Distance ability can easily be checked and your 'alert' buttons should be activated when you see that a horse has repeatedly failed over the distance of the race.
  9. Inability to handle the prevailing conditions. Again, we have a vitally important cog in the form wheel. Some horses just cannot cope with slow or heavy tracks; others are good in the wet but race many lengths below their best when on firm ground. Once again, your formguide will tell you a horse's history on varying track conditions.
  10. Inability to handle the track. Some horses are suited to certain tracks, but cannot race at their best at other venues. Your formguide lists each horse's history at the current track and if a horse has failed consistently then you must be very wary.
  11. Runners which are badly drawn. Outside gates over certain distances at many tracks can mean a horse faces a hopeless task, particularly if it's a slowish beginner. Look at barrier draws very carefully and decide only after long consideration whether the risk is worth taking with horses in wide draws, particularly in fields of 12 or more. The bigger the field, the harder the task.
  12. Horses with moderate jockeys. It's a fact of racing life that some jockeys are better than others. Some riders have poor records. Make careful note of these jockeys with low strike rates and lean against them when studying the form. Good jockeys invariably secure the best rides.
  13. Horses rising considerably in weight. Any significant weight increase has to be something of a worry. Sometimes it can mean that a horse is dropping in class; in these instances, a weight rise is probably not too much of a worry. When it is a worry is when the horse is racing in the same class as previously but is now going up more than 2 kilos. Look at this angle with strict care and decide whether you think the horse can cope with the increased burden.
  14. Horses from minor stables. In metropolitan racing particularly, it's a sad but true fact that minor stables do not have a high win strike rate. When a horse comes from a very minor country stable it has to be regarded with some caution. The further 'out in the bush' the bigger the query.
  15. The gay deceivers. These are horses that usually show 'flashes' of form but are, on the whole, unreliable. When these type of gallopers are engaged, look at them thoroughly and decide if you want to carry the risk with them.
  16. Horses switching from midweek city provincial racing to Saturday metropolitan. These horses may well have done okay midweek, but now they face a lift in class and competition. Be wary especially if they are from minor stables.

These, then, are the 'Slick Sixteen' factors which I hope will be of some assistance to all form students. When applying them, it is probably best to begin with the bottom weights in the handicap races and gradually work up until you have considered the top weighted runner.

Using this approach, you can get used to the quality of the field. Of course, in Set Weight and WFA races it doesn't really matter at which point you start the process.


  • Handicapping any race demands care and concentration.
  • It is a process of separating one runner from another by considering each horse's form and getting rid of those which possess little or no winning prospects.
  • The Slick Sixteen process will usually leave you with only a handful of runners to consider. These are the horses which, in theory at least, hold the best winning chances.
  • Your task is to weight each of these runners against the others until you have selected the runner you consider to be the best handicapped in the race.
  • Use commonsense and don't be afraid to adopt a flexible attitude when assessing a horse's chances.
  • Try not to be biased in favor of certain horses, jockeys and stables.
  • Think for yourself. Don't be swayed by the views of others.

By Jon Hudson