What IS form? How can we quantify it to our advantage? How can we get it clear in our minds exactly what constitutes form, and how can we 'manage' the form statistics to our advantage?

Form is a horse's exposed ability on a racetrack in terms of its actual past performances. Much as a human being is assessed on his past job qualifications, so a racehorse is assessed on what it has achieved in the past.

Signs of true speed over various race distances, courage, stamina, potential for improvement and elements of physical strength or unsoundness, are all form pointers.

The study of form produces an essential background to a race. Without it, the punter would not know which way to turn. Without form at your fingertips, the punter gropes in the dark.

So, the initial lesson is this: Never bet at all unless you have the time to study form. Learn to tell the difference between good recent form, best overall form, poor recent form and form from many months before - old form. Old form can be misleading, but it can provide subtle keys to the future.

Think carefully about the following points:

  1. Good recent form plus the best overall form in one horse usually equals the favourite.
  2. Good recent form usually means full fitness.
  3. No recent form means a probable loser, subject to the punter examining the reasons for recent poor runs.

Winners, of course, cannot be consistently discovered on one factor alone. Every factor is relative to other factors, so we have distinct plus and minus signs. Warning devices, really. For example: A horse may be fit, have a weight advantage and the services of a good jockey but all these advantages could be cancelled out by a poor barrier draw, or a race over an unsuitable distance, or a race on track conditions the horse cannot handle.

It is not always possible to find direct form lines between horses in a race. Men this happens you must look for indirect form lines, through other horses. Race ratings can help in this regard because they can often accurately measure one performance against the other (see Winmaster Volume 2 for skilled ratings of 400 horses).

Getting started on serious form study is not a difficult task, but it does take a firm decision to set your old habits aside. This often can prove as difficult as, say, giving up smoking for the Iongtime nicotine addict. Many people who pick up a formguide never really know how or where to start, despite the fact they look at such guides every racing day. It might surprise you how many punters would be unable to explain the different abbreviations in a formguide like the Sportsman or the Wizard.

The form can represent to them a bewildering maze of figures and statistics which they find impossible m dissect and understand. Some punters inevitably end up seizing on one outstanding run as the only real clue and thus wind up backing the obvious but not necessarily the logical horse in the field.

My main purpose with these ABC of Form articles is to impress upon you the importance of a proper start and a proper long term approach to getting the form facts right. In any undertaking, getting started in the correct way is half the battle, and this applies particularly to the intricate and tricky art of selecting likely racetrack bets!

The essential tools of trade for the race selector are reliable form references, plus a personal knowledge of several contributing factors to the outcome of most races, including the horse itself and the jockey. You must, of necessity, learn as much as you can about each horse and rider. You will then be able to slot them into their proper categories; this will assist you greatly when the time comes to make comparisons, and estimate relative qualities.

Form study is all about comparisons. You are constantly comparing one horse against another. It's vital, then, that you read as much as possible about racing, particularly in the area where you bet the most, be it Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, etc., or country tracks. It shouldn't take long for you to 'grade' the various journalists who write in the newspapers and formguides. Look closely at their tips and evaluate their success or failure.

Now, it doesn't cost much to buy indexed notebooks. Whatever expense is involved will be money well spent. Into these notebooks you can enter notes which commonsense tells you will be of value to you in the future. Don't be disheartened if you find you really do remember most of the information you have indexed because the fact that you actually wrote it down would have implanted it in your brain's memory bank! The day will come when a forgotten memo will assist you to land an important winner, or save you money which you would have lost on 9 weak investment.

The purchase of large exercise books is also a necessity because I am suggesting that you paste in two things-results (preferably from major newspapers where all the run-ons are given, and comments made) and general articles about how horses performed. You can also paste in stewards' reports, which often can help to land winners.

You will frequently find it enlightening to turn back to a horse's previous run. By checking comments made about it, and by looking back at the turn and finish photos of the race (see Sportsman and Sporting Globe, and Sunday newspapers) you can very often find clues to what the horse might do in the future. Form is a tool of trade, so you cannot know enough about it. Remember that.

Incidentally, always keep your Sportsmans. If you have no room for them then at least retain the turn and finish camera charts on the Sydney meetings. They can be most helpful. Now all this information may seem elementary but it IS important. It allows you to get yourself into a shipshape approach-reasoned and ordered.

Let's now consider what constitutes playable races. A playable race is one in which all the horses have past performances dependable enough to enable the punter to make an accurate assessment of how each horse might be expected to perform in relation to the other. When you strike a race containing some horses which have no form (first starters) it's always advisable to avoid the race, because you have no way of estimating the ability of the first-starters.

When you have analysed a race, the top selection must have some 'Class' ability or superiority over the other entries. The 'conditions' of a race could have an important bearing on whether or not the race is playable, since these conditions control the kind of horses which will be running. Some horses are better suited in certain races, especially top-class gallopers in weight-for-age races.

In handicap races, the full responsibility for the weights assignments rests with the club handicapper. In theory, the handicapper tries to 'weight' each horse so the entire field goes across the finish line locked together in a mass deadheat. It never works out that way, naturally. In other words, he is trying to give each horse an equal chance of winning based on the form they have shown in the past.

He shifts weights around in order to bring in all the contenders with equal, or near equal, prospects as far as relative weight is concerned. One of the fallacies of racing is that when it comes to assessing chances on weights the skilled club handicapper cannot be beaten. He can, and is, practically every raceday. Remember that the handicapper does his work well ahead of the raceday and has no knowledge of riding engagements, the state of the going, barrier positions, the final composition of the field, or the true physical condition of each horse, or how the race might be run!

What you, the punter, has to do is to be constantly alert for horses which are definitely ADVANTAGED by the race conditions, especially in the area of handicapped weight. Some horses do win when they are at a disadvantage, but most often they will lose.

As I have stated before in P.P.M., recent form is, to my way of thinking, the safest form on which to base your predictions. And of all the races which appear in a horse's formlines it's the LAST START which has the most influence on the average punter. While horses with good last-start performances win a lot of races, it's also a fact that horses who ran ordinarily, even poorly, last start also win! In many instances, these wins are regarded as surprises and they pay off well.

The number of times these surprises happen is more than you might think. Certainly the entire issue of a bad last start outing deserves closer examination, because if every now and then you can find a loophole in the poor past performance through which a ray of light may be visible, it would certainly help you to pick those shock winners.

The fact is that some of those surprise wins by horses after a poor last-start effort really aren't the upsets they are claimed to be. Many of them cannot be explained but there are times when a discerning punter can recognise that such factors as age, sex or track condition may have contributed to the failure.

Additionally, you could often reason that the bad race might have been just one of those things that could happen to any horse, and you could say that the remainder of the horse's form record brought him in with an undeniable chance. The lesson, then, is to look beyond the basic form lines.

If a horse ran badly, look for a reason. Was it outclassed and is it now racing in its own class? Maybe it couldn't handle the track conditions last start but now it can. There are many, many reasons why a horse performs out of character. You have to track them down, detective-style.

Finally, a word about consistency. Consistent horses are usually good horses, and always remember it. A good winning percentage is 30 per cent and higher. A horse with, say, six wins from 14 starts has a win strike rate of 42 per cent, and that's very good indeed. In contrast, be wary of those horses which have had a lot of races for very few wins.

As I said in my first article, consistent horses win races. Horses with low strike rates must be treated with the utmost caution, and the more races they've had for a low strike rate makes them even more of an object to be avoided. They are non-winners.

* Rick Roberts will contribute further articles on the ABC of Form in future issues of P.P.M.

Click here to read Part 1.

By Rick Roberts