This series of three articles concentrates on aspects of form study. PPM experts The Optimist, Statsman and Jon Hudson discuss their approaches to form and how they pick winners.

J.H.: What I'd like to cover immediately is what I call 'the angle' in form study. Without an angle - a particular way of looking at and analysing aspects of form - I reckon you are going to have it tough. You've got to find short cuts to success; elements of the study of form which, if brought together on. a rational basis, will collect you enough value winners to stay ahead.

T.O.: There's a friend of mine, a successful punter, who has for years sworn by a method he developed in the 50s, and if it's been working for that long it must be a heck of a good angle. He maintains that most good-priced winners were really close-up to the pace in their last race. It's an angle that certainly bears looking at.

Statsman: I agree, but you would have to go much further than that, and also examine the best types of race on which to operate, and take into account days since a horse had that close-up run.

J.H.: Like all 'angles' in form, it can only be a component. There have to be many other factors taken into consideration, but a good, solid angle can pinpoint the way to go.

T.O.: I was talking to a most successful punter recently and he told me that any horse that wins by three lengths or more should be considered an even-money chance at its next three outings. Now what do you think of that as an angle?

Statsman: I think it's an ingenious idea. Once again, if you were able to use it in conjunction with other strong positive aspects of form you could wind up with some terrific winners.

J.H.: I think most punters approach form by believing that each aspect of it condition, class, last start performance, barrier draw etc-are all of equal importance, but I feel this is far from the truth. Some aspects are much more vital than others, and should be rated as having more value when final assessments are made.

Statsman: Trouble is, Jon, that the strength of the factors may vary from race to race. Weight may be all-important in one race, or with one horse, and not so important in another race and with another horse.

J.H.: Mat I would like to see one day is a survey of, say, 10,000 races with a breakdown of each winner's previous form. We could then make some sort of quality judgement about the value of the various aspects of form. I mean, how much influence does field size have, what about a horse's odds in a previous race, its previous finishing position, any switch in distance and maybe jockey change. There are so many things which need fuller examination but which, to my knowledge, have yet to be addressed.

T.O.: We talked about short cuts just now and I really feel it's essential that the average punter, who hasn't got a lot of time at his disposal, has access to an angle of form which enables him to get to the heart of the matter, so to speak. An angle that cuts through the fat of the form. and enables a start at the two third marks.

J.H.: That's exactly what I mean by finding an angle, and the two angles already mentioned could go a long way in that direction. What about a trainer angle? A punter could concentrate only on those horses trained by, say, Colin Hayes in Melbourne. He immediately isolates the Hayes horses, examines their form and begins to determine if they have value chances in their races. In this way, a punter could quickly zero in on a high percentage of winners from the Hayes stable horses. Of course, a few wins will be missed but if the assessments are sensible a high ratio of winners can be hit.

T.O.: I've always liked to look for horses that are down in class. By this I mean one of two types of horses-one that has been racing well in one class and drops back a notch, or a horse that has raced well in the present class, tried a harder race or two, and is now back to what is often termed his right class. Sometimes a horse goes through his Restricted classes over a two-year period, then graduates to win maybe two Welters. He then tries a Flying, or even accepts for and runs in a Group race on the bottom weight. He runs poorly and is switched back to a welter; his form reads 1, 1, 8, 0 and it's likely he will then start around the 5--1 mark when he should be a 5-2 chance.

J.H.: Those sort of horses, of course, are a bit hard to find. Especially for a punter with not too much time on his hands.

Statsman: I've always been a statistics man--as the byline indicates-so facts and figures are all-important to me. One angle I think is well worth a punter's attention is that of weight. When a horse drops a lot in weight from one race to the next you should always examine its prospects. Now, with weight you always work from the Limit weight; in other words, don't worry too much about what weight a horse is carrying but what weight he is carrying above the Limit (minimum) weight. If, in a race, he ran well carrying 4 kgs over the Limit and in his next race he drops, say, one kilo or 1.5 kilos, or perhaps more then he could be well-weighted.

T.O.: Punters do tend to ignore weight. I've seen many horses backed heavily even in the face of a big weight rise, albeit if the horse is in weaker company. Weight is the pivotal factor of handicap horse-racing and it's there to equal out the chances of each horse, but often, because of the vagaries of form, it is full of loopholes.

J.H.: A most important angle in any race is fitness, and the best way to determine fitness is to check how long it has been since a horse had its last race. Statistics show that most winners had their last start within the previous 15 days. In a survey I did last year, these winners outnumbered the winners in the 16-30 day group by three to one. Horses who haven't raced for 30 days or more don't account for many winners at all.

Statsman: A punter could, then, have ...z angle in deciding to concentrate only on horses which had their last start within the previous 15 days. That could be a terrific short-cut angle, because you would immediately be eliminating a lot of horses in any one race. This would please punters with little patience or time.

T.O.: Alternatively, or as an added angle to this one, a punter could decide that only horses with a win strike rate of 25 per cent or more are worth bothering about. But I read a survey result recently which suggested that a horse's win strike is not much of a guide to its winning prospects, and that horses won in the survey period who had very low win rates.

J.H.: Let me introduce another talking point here-do horses who are unfancied, say between 8-1 and 14-1, have as many form angles going for them as horses at much lower prices? Now, I happen to think they do, and if a punter can examine this area of operation he could be securing overlays on many horses which should be at shorter odds.

T.O.: I know what you're getting at. It came up in another context recently, and I believe it was you, Jon that raised it. I refer to your point, made in Banker Weekly, about tipsters. You said that a recent check had shown that the minority can be just as right as the majority.

J.H.: Yes, I said that over a sustained period, if six of seven tipsters pick the same horse to win and the remaining tipster picks another horse, it is very likely that the lone tipster will do just as well as the majority. Just because a horse is selected by only one tipster does not mean that tipster is wrong. I referred to an American test which showed that the 'informed minority chose the winner exactly the same number of times as the majority. There was one survey of 35 races and the majority tipped 12 winners and the lone tipster selected 11 winners!

T.O.: So the informed minority is just as likely to pick a winner as the informed majority! I think this is a most exciting angle to picking winners, and I'm going to be looking at it in depth in the months ahead.

Statsman: Anyone sitting down to study the form for a race should have in front of them a list of important factors and by these I mean the following-Fitness, Form, Weight, Distance, Track, Going, Barrier, Jockey, Trainer, Days Since Last Start, Weight Over The Limit. These have to be assessed at some stage. I mean, you may have an 'angle' that limits your scope to about three or four horses. Okay, that's fine, but then you must put them through all the rigours of the remaining factors. How do they come up when all the other aspects of form are applied to them?

T.O.: Yes, doing this you can then have your 'angle' horses and, by checking them off against the other factors. you can eliminate the risky ones and leave yourself, hopefully, with the best of them.

J.H.: That makes great sense to me. I've often looked at various 'angles' and been left with a lot of horses that qualify under that particular aspect. It is vital you then check them further.

T.O.: Following various horses can be good for winners, but again you run the risk there of following in on them without actually assessing their prospects for an individual race.

Statsman: Yes, it's all very well to have a 'stable' of horses to follow but you simply cannot go ploughing on without assessing their real prospects in the race in hand. The trainer may well have placed the horse badly in the wrong race, despite it having run well the start before!

J.H.: Any punter keen on becoming a form student should make sure he does lo at all avenues. In a way, you are like a detective. You are searching for clues which will solve a riddle.

Statsman: I think the greatest short-cut angle of them all is to find the right races on which to focus in a horse's past performance record. The first step in any handicapping process should really be to discard those races in each horse's form which contribute nothing and which serve only to confuse the issue. I think you should go over the form of each horse and strike out every race where the horse was decisively beaten. Once you've done this, you'll find that the race has assumed an entirely new perspective. The form has, in fact, been stripped down to the bare, but positive, essentials. Non-productive and confusing information has been eliminated and only the good efforts of each horse remain.

NEXT ISSUE: Statsman has more to say on the 'easy form' approach, and The Optimist and Jon Hudson discuss the 'don't' aspects of punting. Don't miss this absorbing second part of the form forum.

Click here to read Part 2.
Click here to read Part 3.

By The Optimist, Statsman and Jon Hudson