The study of form is the essential ingredient to becoming a successful punter. All professional punters learn to study form because they know that without it, they are like a carpenter without hammer and nails.

Now, there are many ways of looking at form. You can skim over it, and plunge in on a horse simply because it ran well last start. Sure, he might have run well, but what weight is he to carry today compared with that last start?

What class is he now racing in? Is he on a different track? What about the distance of today's race compared with his last run?

If you check back on any amount of results in racing, you'll find that few horses can win when asked to carry, say, 2.5kg upwards extra weight on their previous run in the same company UNLESS they are really improving horses. Weight will stop anything, and that applies particularly so in horseracing. In fact, it's what racing is all about.

So always go through a field and, before you do anything else, find out how much weight a horse is UP or DOWN from its previous run. And always ensure you check the weights from the LIMIT weights. The Limits (minimum weights) vary from race to race. You are concentrating not on the actual weight a horse carried, but how much over the minimum (Limit) it carried, and is to carry today.

Weight is just one aspect-and vital one-in form study. You also have to consider carefully factors like fitness, form, track suitability, correct distance, barrier draw, trainer, jockey, class and the expected pace of the race.

But how do you bring all these strands of information together. Students of ratings do it by allotting a numerical figure to each horse to denote its ability (see The Optimist's Ratings in this issue, and every issue, of P.P.M.).

But-ratings take a lot of time, and most punters, because of work and domestic considerations, cannot afford a lot of time. The idea I am now going to put forward is aimed at those punters who are prepared to put in a couple of hours' work every Friday night, or pre-race night.

Firstly, I want you to look at a race card and divide it by two. Pick the four worst, or hardest, races and discard them. Don't even think about having a bet on them. If you have judged them as being of poor quality, then finding the winner is going to be fraught with dangers.

Now, with the other four races, make another decision. Are you going to bet on all of them, or just a couple, or maybe three? Having done this, you then get to work on studying the form and the weights. Go through their records carefully, be on the lookout for improvers (those horses who might have been unplaced last start, but get into this race on a lower weight and on a suitable track or distance).

Once you have all the form assessed in your mind, we come to the main part of what I am writing about today-the breakdown of this form study into a discernible pattern.

And the way in which you do this is VERY SIMPLE. You use 'ticks' on the various factors and, at the end, the horse (or horses) with the most ticks becomes the selection. In other words, you have a list of key factors and the horse that fills the most of them is the horse who, theoretically, has the best chance in the race.

You can, if you wish, restrict the 'tick' horses only to those you have assessed as being the main four or five chances, or you can go through the entire field. In every race, there are usually several runners whose elimination is merely a matter of routine.

You are trying, with your study of form, to reduce by division a field of horses to the lowest number of chances.

Those that are left are given a series of test questions-12 in all. If the answer to a question is positive, you give the horse a tick. Answer all the questions for each horse-then add up the ticks.

You then quickly have the answer as to whether one horse enjoys a definite advantage of winning factors. If there is no distinct margin of ticks between your fancied horses, then it's an indication of a very open race (a closely contested one, that is) and it's a signal to act with great caution from a betting angle.

For a standout bet, there has to be a definite margin of ticks separating it from the next highest on the list. A punter operating this selection by elimination method carefully and properly won't back a winner every time(!!) but he will come up with an excellent percentage of winning bets, and many of them at value prices.

So, remember the rules--eliminate the 'bad' races for a start, then concentrate on no more than four races. Study the form, get things in perspective in your mind and then apply the ticks for the 12 questions relating to the form etc. of each horse.

You'll find that with this method you begin to have fewer bets but on better horses, because you are coming up only with those runners who pass the strict 'ticks test'. Careful elimination is one of the most powerful steps towards successful selecting, and this method allows you to do that elimination process yourself, using your own judgement and commonsense.

We now come to the vitally important 12 questions, the answers to which will give you the best horse, or horses, in a race. Think carefully before applying ticks to a horse. Try not to be biased in favour of any particular runner.

You are the independent arbiter of the form and the judgements you make are going to be critical in the final wash-up. So do yourself a favour and don't give ticks where they are not deserved.

These, then, are the 12 questions that will help you sort out each race. Answer them properly and you will end up with a most accurate guide to the best chance in a race.

In a way, you are allowing yourself to become a sort of human computer. A computer can be programmed to provide the answers to questions like the above. In this case, you are using your own judgement to do so, and if your judgement is sound then you are going to enjoy the thrill of backing many winners.

I want to stress that elimination is one of the strongest of all racetrack plays-providing you make a really honest and unbiased approach to the task, and do not allow yourself to be swayed by likes or dislikes.

Always remember that you can beat a race, but you can't beat the programme. With this method, you are clearly not trying to beat the card. You are dying to win by restricting yourself to good quality races. You are eliminating all the weaker races with the unreliable horses.

I know a number of successful professional punters who always go through the Tick Test to get their thoughts in order. They swear by the method. So do I. So should you.



  1. Is the horse fit?
  2. Is the horse racing in form (Ist, 2nds, 3rds) or closely approaching his best form?
  3. Is the horse reasonably well-weighted? Note: Be careful of horses which have to carry anything from 2 kgs upwards more than at their most recent start. Be very wary of horses having to carry 3 kgs or more.
  4. Can the horse handle the track? Note: Look for track winners, and track placegetters, and horses which have run well before on the track.
  5. Are the track conditions suitable? Note: This is especially important when tracks are rain-affected.
  6. Is the horse racing at the right distance?
  7. Is the horse drawn well at the barrier? Note: Ticks should only be applied here if a horse is drawn between gates 1 and 7, except in extraordinary circumstances and in races longer than 2100m.
  8. Is the horse in the hands of a successful trainer? Note: Be strict with this rule. Some trainers rarely get a winner in the city.
  9. Is the horse to be ridden by a very good jockey, or a top and reliable apprentice?
  10. Is the horse racing in its correct Class? Note: Many horses are raced out of their class in the city.
  11. Is the horse on the first four lines of pre-post betting?
  12. Do you think the race will be run to suit this horse?

By Brian Blackwell