We continue our Form Forum features with a chat between P.B. King and Philip Roy about aspects of form that can often prove misleading.

PHILIP ROY (PR): Let’s start this discussion with a few thoughts generally on form. Most of us who take our racing seriously, and who appreciate the value of the money we earn, will know all the ins and outs of a form-guide.

What means what, all the dots and asterisks and so on. The form-guide is something we come into contact with every day, and yet after all the years it can be our master and not our slave.

P.B. KING (PBK): Absolutely right, Philip. There are so many traps the form guide throws up we constantly find ourselves misreading it, taking too many things for granted, and failing to recognise form that can be misleading, which is what we are talking about now.

PR: One of the main things that comes to mind is the difference between form on a heavy track, or a slow track, and the form from firm conditions – as it affects certain horses. We might have a horse running 12th on a bog track and if we accept that at face value we might well dismiss its chances next start when conditions are better. In other words, don’t take a 12th placing, or any unplaced run, as being bad. It may well have been on the day but its relevance to the race being run today may be negligible.

PBK: That’s one of the everlasting problems, and it works in reverse, too. You see a cracking win from a horse in the wet but what does that win count if the horse is running next on a rock hard surface? So, yes, this aspect of form can be misleading to a great extent and we should always be wary.

PR: The key is to examine each horse’s last start form and ask yourself what relevance it has to today’s race, which may be on a different track, on a different surface, over a different distance, different jockey, different draw…the whole box and dice.

PBK: The course and distance details can often be misleading, as can the number of wins a horse has had, or even its overall strike rate.

PR: I know what you’re getting at here. Take a horse’s average strike rate. We might see a horse with a 30 per cent strike rate and think, well, he’s pretty consistent, but closer examination of the formlines reveals that in the last 12 months the horse has not won at all. His strike rate came from his early career performances as, say, a 3yo. He’s now a 5yo in the latter part of the season and he’s winless for a year. So that 30 per cent win strike starts to pale a bit doesn’t it?

PBK: On this aspect of things, I truly believe that the formguides should show a horse’s strike rate in the previous 12 months, as well as the overall strike rate. It can be really relevant, whether positive or negative.
PR: The lesson, then, is to look at recent form to determine of a horse’s strike rate bears any relevance to its more recent racing. When you see a horse has had 15 starts, say, in the last 12 months and has a zero win strike it can make you think very carefully about it.

PBK: Statistics can tell us a lot but we have to treat them with a degree of caution. After all, I think we all agree that what a horse did more than a year back is not something we should treat too seriously. It’s what the horse is doing NOW, or within very recent times, that matters.

PR: The distance strike rate is another factor. It can be a reliable guide, but sometimes it’s worth checking out why a horse managed to win at a certain distance. Perhaps it met a very weak field and was able to score, yet pitched against better horses it hasn’t got a prayer.

PBK: I like course and distance statistics. I find winning ability at a track is a great guide. Take, for example, Our Sweet Moss, who won the Dane Ripper Quality for fillies and mares at Eagle Farm on June 4. She’d started four times at the track for two wins and a 2nd . Her last start failure, a 6th over 1,350m was at Doomben. Coming back to Eagle Farm, which she obviously relishes, up she pops at double figure odds.

PR: So, in this case we could say that perhaps the loss at Doomben could be excused, or at least put on the shelf and be outweighted by her liking for Eagle Farm?

PBK: Exactly. The course win strike is a solid guide. At least, I think so, though I do like to see at least two wins and a high strike rate percentage before accepting it.

PR: In the case of Our Sweet Moss, she had a 50 per cent win strike at Eagle Farm, while her overall strike rate at all tracks was 40 per cent. There’s an edge there to consider, for sure.

PBK: This whole strike rate thing can be a trap, of course. There are many occasions when we see that a horse has been in superb form and that form dazzles us. But it can be misleading. Perhaps its next start will be at a track at which it has failed four or five times before. Does this negate the winning form at other tracks? It’s one of the questions we must tackle as punters and form analysts.

PR: And as with most things in racing, and form, the answer can have a number of heads! Nothing is very definite, is it? I mean, horses do lose many races at a track and then win there. It happens, for varying reasons.

PBK: What about apprentice riders? Can we be misled by attaching too little importance to them, and can we put them into an all-embracing category? I tend to treat all riders as individuals and put from my mind whether they are apprentices. How about you?

PR: I’m with you to a certain extent. I think it can certainly be misleading to wipe a horse out of contention just because it has an apprentice aboard. There are terrific apprentices and totally inexperienced apprentices. These days, many of these kids are exceptional and I’m referring to the likes of Nicholas Ryan, Joe Fuji, Kathy O’Hara, Jamie Mott and so on. I have no compunction about backing horses ridden by apprentices like these.

PBK: I suppose the warning, then, is to examine carefully the skill levels of any apprentices and make a judgement, taking into account all the other factors about the races.

PR: One of the biggest concerns I have always had as a punter is to assess the worth of the pre-race markets in the newspapers. Now, having had some experience in the media, I know that these markets are pretty much hit and miss. It’s the reason I took up producing my own markets some years back. I thought, well, if I’m going to lose I may as well do it with my own assessments! What I am saying is that too many punters treat the pre-race markets as gospel. They are not.

PBK: Prices can vary amazingly from market to market, and often those horses listed on the first few lines are nowhere near that on raceday. Worst of all, is when we punters mindlessly back the horse listed as favourite in the market.

PR: Yes, favourites will win only three out of 10 races, which makes me wonder why we make so much fuss over them! I can only advise any punter not to be too swayed by the horse that is set down as the favourite, whether in the morning paper or one minute before the race. Remember, seven out of 10 races will not go to the favourite.

PBK: I often think there’s a tendency among punters to go looking for the easy winner. They see a horse listed at 4/5 or evens and think, hey, I’ll back that, pick up an easy bit of cash and then go all-up on the next one. This is an approach fraught with peril, believe me. There are few easy winners. Midweek or Saturdays, every favourite is vulnerable to some degree and you have to weigh up the price on offer against any negatives. Never accept a horse just because it’s listed as the favourite.

PR: What we’re basically saying in this little chat is that most things are not what they seem in racing. Those gold nuggets you think are easy pickings often prove to be fool’s gold. You have to examine everything as much as you can, sift and sort, until you are satisfied aspects of form have passed scrutiny.

PBK: You are the jury. The decision is yours. Weigh up the evidence. Then determine what the decision is going to be.

With PB King and Philip Roy