Where do you start when you analyse a field of racehorses? How do you pick the bones out of a mass of form figures? How, in fact, do you arrive at a decision about the best horse in the race?

All these questions continue to be asked by new and old punters as they square up to the rigors of winner-finding six days a week (remember the old days when it was mainly just the Saturday meetings that got all the attention!).

Doing the form should be split in different sections; you have to build it up block-by-block, like an ABC alphabet that grows until the final Z. With a race in front of you, your first task is an easy one: ESTABLISH THE CLASS.

If it's a provincial race you might be looking at a Class 2 race. This is now firmly stuck in your mind. Class 2higher than Class 1 and a Maiden, lower than Class 3. That's very simple to work out and notate in your fevered brain. Okay, with that safely ensconced in the brain matter, you can continue to the distance of the race. It might be 1600m. This is noted.

A Class 2 over 1600m. Okay. Let's note the track conditions next. The track is going to be firm-that is, Good or Fast. So now we are fully clued up on the race in hand. We know what we have to examine. This line of thinking goes for each race you look at. Each has its own limitations and conditions and, therefore, its own intrinsic Class. By closely following Class conditions, you can start to accurately measure one horse against another.

For instance, you might see a horse which has performed well in a Class 6 race entered in a Class 2 race. What does this tell you? It tells you that in Class 2 this horse should be able to give a good account of itself--on the basis that it has performed well before against better horses, those in Class 6.

As you analyse each horse, you take note of Barrier Position, Jockey, Fitness, Form and Consistency. These are the backbone of form study. Especially Fitness. Form and Consistency. Without a full and sensible analysis of these three factors your assessment of a race has to incomplete.

Firstly, though, you look at a horse's ability to handle the distance of the race. Refer to its previous efforts at the same distance, or distances very close to it (i.e. 1200m, 1175, 1215m, 1225m, etc.). If a horse's record clearly shows that it is UNSUITED at the distance, you can penalise it. How you do this is up to you. If you are working off Race Ratings (those from George Tafe, or perhaps Warren Block, or your own personal ratings) you can deduct the amounts you think are necessary. If you do not have specific ratings figures to work from, you can merely start from a zero base and, say, penalise a horse anything from 1 to 20kgs for its inability to handle the distance.

Do not, though, penalise a horse simply because it has not started at the distance. Penalties should be imposed when a horse is attempting a distance which is a lot more, or less, than at a previous start. Let's say a horse coming back from 2600m to 1800m, or from 1600m to 1200m. You also can penalise for a horse's continued failure at the distance.

The Barrier draw is next to be looked at. The barrier draw MIGHT affect the outcome of the race. It depends a great deal on which track, which distance, which barrier. The disadvantages, and even the advantages, of barrier draws can be overstated.

If you want a straightforward approach, I suggest that you adopt Don Scott's penalty system (outlined in his books Winning More and Winning In The 90s) or perhaps follow these suggestions:
Barriers 10 to 15: Penalise 0.5 to 1kg
Barriers 16 to 20: Penalise 1.5 to 2kgs
Barriers 21 to 24: Penalise 2.5kgs.

(There are exceptions: Down the straight 1000m and 1200m at Flemington, the outside barriers often have a distinct advantage so do not penalise horses drawn 16 to 24 in these type of races).

Now we come to the rider: Most punters will have their own ideas about the individual worth of jockeys. There is no doubt that some are better than others, but there wouldn't be a great deal between the top 10 to 15 riders.

Personally, I never penalise a horse's jockey more than 3kg, even if the horse is to be ridden' by an apprentice - BUT I never take an apprentice's allowance into account, either; I always work from the handicapped weight the horse has to carry.

In form apprentices, and successful apprentices, usually soon ride out their claims, anyway. I usually rate top apprentices alongside senior riders. By all means, take some account of the jockey factor, but not too much. There may be instances where you have two horses exactly level and the only way to split them is to pick the one with the best jockey. The jockey experience factor may be the telling Point in the end-but not always, that's the rub!

Now we come to Fitness, Form and Consistency. Fitness is a hard thing to equate, and much depends on how you, the punter, assess what a horse has done. Generally speaking, only a good horse will be' able to win first-up. My own approach is to penalise 'spell' horses those returning after being off racing for 60 days or more--anything from 5 to 15kgs. But if I know, from its past history, that a horse races 'well first-up then obviously I will not penalise it, or I will make only a small penalty.

A fit horse, to my way of thinking, is one that has had recent racing (two, three or at least four races). Second-up horses must be counted, in the main, as risks, though I know a proportion of them win, but my experience has always been that the majority of second-up horses will fail.

Be wary, too, of horses that are coming back after a break of more than three weeks (21 days up). Even if their previous form was good there could be a question about their fitness level; check out their form to see how they  have raced before when returning after such a break from racing.

Form is your next obstacle. But this is a reasonably easy one, because a horse's credentials are clearly set out in its form record. Wins and placings indicate good form, as do close-up 4ths and 5ths and 6ths. Concentrate on these horses, but always make sure they are racing in the right Class. If ' there is good form, ensure that it is form equal to the Class it is racing in now. This is very important. Good form against weak horses is okay, but a rise in class could offset it altogether.

Consistent horses win races. Put a lot of emphasis on a horse's win and place strike rate. Be wary of horses which have had a lot of races for a low win strike. Any horse with a win strike under 10 per cent is to be treated with caution. The higher the 'win strike the better the horse. That's the thing to remember.

After taking all these, points into consideration, you should be able to easily work out the three or four main chances in any race. But how to separate them? Which one is best?

You now have to look at the Weight angle. How much weight is each leading contender to carry? Has it Won before carrying such a weight? Is it up a lot of weight on its last run? Can it handle the weight increase? Has it dropped in weight? Will that drop help its chances today?

I have always found that a racehorse will improve SHARPLY rather than SLOWLY. That is, from one race to the next it can find many lengths' of improvement. My estimate is that improvement of up to about 5kgs is not unusual (on an average basis). Some horses can improve a lot more than that. In the same way, a horse's form can peak and drop off sharply as well!

Allowing for improvement from race to race is one of , the most difficult assessment tasks for any student of form-you can be wrong many times, especially when dealing with ordinary horses, as opposed to quality gallopers. But you have to try! So, broadly speaking, you can think in terms of horses improving say 2 to 3kgs from one race to the next.

Some horses are so good that you may feel confident in giving them an improvement factor of more than 3kgssay 4.5 to 6kgs. I would confine such improvement figures to top-class horses only. With horses that have been' lightly raced-and this means mostly 2yos and 3yos-the improvement factor is also a wide one, and these horses can often dramatically improve their ratings.

This is always worth keeping in mind. With these younger horses who haven't had much racing, the improvement factor is, often very surprising indeed. They can literally 'find lengths' from one start to the next. Another interesting phenomenon--one that has surfaced more or less in recent years-is that there is now very little difference between colts and fillies in the 2yo and 3yo age bracket. Years ago, mares were said to be
weaker (and they were then) but today's female racehorse is built on much tougher lines, and we find that fillies often clearly outpoint the colts in classic races. There  is a definite case to be made out for dropping any standard weight advantage given to fillies in these major races.

You have now, then, taken into account all the key factors in form assessment. You have considered Class, Distance, Barrier, Weight, Fitness, Form, Consistency and Jockey, and you should be in a position to say: "I believe Horse A will win this race because. . ." And there will be your reasons, all dearly and rationally laid out in your mind, and hopefully in front of you on paper.

In each race, you should be looking for the top three or four chances. In doing this, if you work out your selections in a sensible and rational manner, you will strike most winners. Not all, of course, but certainly enough to help put you in front.


  1. CLASS: A horse must be capable of competing in the Class of race in which it is entered. Ignore horses racing right out of their Class.
  2. BARRIER: Barriers are important, but don't let wide barrier gates overawe. you. Get a copy of 'Barriers' from Blue Ribbon Press and study it carefully.
  3. JOCKEY: A good jockey can outride an ordinary jockey, but there isn't much skill difference among the top bracket of riders.
  4. FITNESS: Recent solid racing means fitness. Absence from the racetrack indicates non-fitness. Be wary.
  5. FORM: Good recent form should be looked for. But it must be form that measures up to the Class of today’s race.
  6. CONSISTENCY: A horse's past performances record will tell you everything about its consistency, or lack of consistency. Check the form!
  7. WEIGHT: Some horses can carry big weights, others cannot. Check the form. Be ready for sharp improvement from race to race, especially in younger horses.

FOOTNOTE: Rick Roberts will contribute another article in this series later in the year. Watch out for it in your P.P.M. magazine.

Click here to read Part 2.

By Rick Roberts