One thing leads to another ... This is one of the lessons we learn early in life, isn't it? In other words, cause and effect. You do one thing and it has an effect. Kick a football towards a window and we all know the effect!

It's very much the same as being a handicapper. Whatever moves we make when analysing the form have an effect on what happens next. Make a wrong move initially and the effect could be to lead you up the proverbial garden path and away from the much-needed winner.

So what to do to ensure that when we do one thing it leads us CORRECTLY to another thing, and so on? It's all-important, I feel, that we know where to start.

In our brain, we need what I like to call our "point-o-meter" factor: It points us in the right direction. We should have our handicapping down to the basic skills:


Now, each person will have his or her own starting point. This depends on your approach to handicapping a race. Some like to use "days since last start" while someone else will start with horses that were placed in the first three or four last start, while still others might begin with the horses ridden by the very best jockeys.

Once you have decided on a starting point, you can then make your next move" which is deciding where your analysis will point to next. Let's say your starting point is to examine only those horses who ran 1st, 2nd or 3rd last start within the past 21 days.

You can quickly go through the field and find these runners. All others are ignored. You can see, then, why I say it's vitally important that your starting-point factor is an all-important one.

It triggers your form analysis and it GETS RID OF any other runners. In a way, it's a short cut on form analysis and it's one you need to be sure about.

Once you have highlighted your qualifiers you use that "point-o-meter" in your brain to make the next move.

Which factor is going to be applied to these qualifiers to determine if you examine them further?

Once again, you have a wide range of moves. It's up to you to decide which ones flow on seamlessly from your opening move. In this instance, you have chosen last-start winners and placegetters within 21 days, so you must be assuming they are (a) FIT and (b) IN FORM, so you don't really need to follow through on these angles.

So where do you point to next? I would suggest that CLASS is the next move. You know your horses are fit and in form, but are they now in the right class of race to be competitive?

This is where you start to sift through the form and make your judgements. Sometimes this will be easy, especially in restricted class races midweek at the provincials. It's harder at the city races, where horses shift around a lot from class to class.

What you don't want is to fall for a fit and in-form horse which is hopelessly outclassed. This often happens. Trainers get overenthusiastic after a horse does well in minor classes and they pitch it in against much better horses. Most times, the horse won't be up to the task.

Once you have decided which of your qualifiers is racing in the right class, you are ready to make your next move. What will it be? Well, so far you have isolated those runners you believe are FIT, IN FORM and suited by the CLASS.

Mat question needs to be asked of them next? Knowing all the above things, perhaps you should point to WEIGHT? This is an area always to be addressed. The handicaps are there for a reason ... to level out the fields, to give each horse a proper chance.

Not much use with a fit, in-form and class-right runner if he's weighted harshly. This is your task: Check out the weights, see how each horse measures up and whether it's well off or badly off. I'm always suspicious of horses being asked to carry 58kg or more, and usually like to see an apprentice's claim to cut back the impost.

Once you have determined which of the qualifiers is okay on the weights angle, you come to the culmination of the form study. You've done the homework, you have probably got yourself down to a handful of qualifiers.

Now you point to the final assessments. Go over the form of each of the final qualifiers, test for weaknesses, check out the trainer and jockey, have a look at the barrier draw, see how the early market assesses each horse ... then make a considered decision.

Always bear in mind that you want your final selection to have as many direct factors in its favour as possible. Don't rely on too much "what if" speculation. Deal in the facts. Listen to your subconscious mind.

When you make that final decision, you need to be 100 per cent certain you've made the best decision possible based on the FACTS. Consider yourself a one-person jury!

By Jon Hudson