Show me the way to go home! The words of the old song can be applied to finding winners. When we look at a field of runners and try to work out the winner, we are looking for the way "home".

The formlines make up a pathway for us. Most times, alas, we end up against a brick wall cul-de-sac, other times we will actually make it "home" and land the winner.

There are short pathways and long avenues to finding winners. Most punters will admit to preferring short cuts, or simply relying on someone else to pick their selections for them.

Others enjoy wading through mountains of form, trying to sort the wheat from the chaff, the good from the bad. The search for clues along the pathway is never-ending.

PPM editor Brian Blackwell asked me to come up with a couple of chart approaches that cater for the "quick form" addicts and the "in-depth form" aficionados.

It’s been an enjoyable task, and one that I think will work out well for those readers who decide to test out what I’ve prepared.

You will see from the chart on Page 5 that this is the quick form approach. It has provision for seven form factors, while the chart on Page 41 gives you 16 factors to check.

As you’ll see, all you need to do is place a "tick" in the box relating to each factor and each runner, provided the answer is positive. If it’s negative, then leave the square blank.

When you’ve finished applying the factors to each runner, simply add up each horse’s number of "ticks" and the ones with the most ticks are the main prospects.

Basically, what we are doing with this approach is to compartment­alise each factor. All you need do is tick in your responses.

You are still assessing the form but you are using our form factors to draw up your selections.
Now for a description of each of the factors, starting with the quickform chart (these seven factors are also used in the chart on Page 41, along with nine others).

FIRST 3 LAST START: It’s a fact that horses that ran 1st, 2nd or 3rd last start are very likely to be figuring in the finish again. It’s a key factor in the form and cannot be dismissed lightly. The old saying goes that GOOD form is GOOD form next time out. Just check out the results of any meeting and you’ll find this is borne out.

FIRST 3 IN THE BETTING MARKET: Once again, we are looking at the "percentages" with this factor. Horses on the first three lines of betting win a great many races. This has happened since racing began. The public is a reliable judge of which horses are the main fancies in a race, so the first three lines of betting take on big importance, whether it’s a Melbourne Cup or a Maiden at Corowa.

LAST START WITHIN 21 DAYS: Recent form is the best form. This is another truism that we cannot escape in racing. Most races are won by horses that had their last start within the previous 21 days of the current race. Any horse in this bracket deserves a tick over those runners whose last start was further back than the required three weeks.

IS THE CLASS OKAY: This rule asks whether the horse is suited in the Class in which it is now racing. Be careful with this one. If a horse hasn’t shown form in the Class, then don’t give it a tick, unless you are absolutely sure it can handle the race Class. Even one leap in Class (say from Maiden to Class 1) can prove difficult. Class is all-important. Make sure your tick goes to the right horses.

DISTANCE WINNER: Previous form over the distance of the current race can also be an all-important factor. You can accept a distance 50m either way of the current race’s distance (that is, if the race is 1200m, then a win at 1150m or 1250m is acceptable for the tick). It’s always nice to know that your horse has already won over the distance it is now asked to tackle. It’s a truly positive factor.

TRACK WINNER: Is the horse a winner at the track? Once again, we come to a most vital form factor – the ability to handle individual tracks. Some horses just won’t handle some tracks, yet love others. Some are straight-course aces. The information for track winners is readily available in your newspaper formguides.

TAB NUMBER 1 to 5: Statistics show that MOST winners will carry TAB saddlecloths 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5. So each runner with these numbers is definitely worthy of a tick when you go through the form. Most races are handicaps, and the best horses are at the top of the handicap weights. This is a simple fact of life in racing, and one that always deserves your attention.

GOOD JOCKEY ABOARD: No need for me to tell you about the importance of a good rider. Do you want Damien Oliver aboard or an inexperienced apprentice? There’s a big difference. So when you mark this category always ensure that you are giving a tick to a very good rider. Be ruthless on this point. Some jockeys are ordinary, others are brilliant and reliable.

GOOD TRAINER: Does the horse come from a reliable stable that always gets a good share of winners? If so, it deserves a tick, because you know you have strength and ability behind the horse. A runner from a very minor stable with a low win strike is always something of a risk, even if they do win now and again. Generally, GOOD trainers stand out. Check the premierships.

LAST 2 STARTS, SP 4 OR UNDER: Check each runner’s last two starts. If their SP adds up to 4 or less, they get a tick. This is what is known as a strong SP (Starting Price) profile. So, if a horse was 2/1 and 6/4 at its last two starts, that adds to 3.5, so it would get a tick.

CAN HORSE HANDLE THE TRACK CONDITIONS:
This factor is particularly important when you are assessing runners for rain-affected going. Slow and Heavy tracks can prove great or bad for different horses. Make sure you check to see if a horse has winning and/or STRONG placed form on the prevailing track conditions. The information is freely available in your formguides.

IS THE WEIGHT OKAY: You need to assess very clearly whether a horse is weighted well, or not. Any horse with 57.5kg or more is burdened with a tough ask but some horses can carry these weights and win. You decide on this issue. Use your general knowledge to assess each runner’s weight and if you are satisfied the weight is not a problem, then give the horse a tick.

BARRIER DRAW:
We have to decide if the horse is well positioned at the barrier. This is a very tough factor. Sometimes wide barriers can be an advantage. Mostly, they are not. Our advice is to stick with inside gates for the ticks. That is, barriers 1 through to 6. You can, of course, make your own decisions about other barriers. But think carefully.

THE WIN STRIKE: A consistent horse is always an asset for punters. We need to be backing reliable conveyances. The horse’s win strike is one way to get a guide. The minimum strike rate required for a tick is 20 per cent. You may be even more strict and set a minimum of 25 per cent, or even 33 per cent. This is a subjective area and one where you must call upon your all-round knowledge and commonsense.

TOPWEIGHT NOW, LAST-START WINNER: This is always an intriguing area. My studies have shown that horses at the top of the weights, or listed No. 1 in other races, who are last-start winners can often repeat. So, if you see a horse with top weight, or No. 1 in a wfa or set weights race, and it won last start, then give it a tick.

TIPSTERS’ POLL LISTING: Check out the tipsters’ poll, or make one up yourself. A horse can be given a tick if it is selected anywhere in the tipsters’ poll (minimum number of tipsters, say 4, but 6 to 8 preferable). Even if a horse is tipped as a third pick by only one tipster, it still gets a tick. If it’s worth being picked for a place, then it deserves a tick.

By Philip Roy

PRACTICAL PUNTING – MAY 2004