Many of the letters I receive each month from PPM readers ask me for ideas on how best to approach the task of studying form. Most ask me what I do and which formguides I use.

Because I am required to tip as many as seven days a week for the Practical Punting Daily Club, I have adopted a reasonably strict “modus operandi” in regard to form study.

This is essential, I think, for any punter. There’s no long-term value in picking up the formguide an hour or two before the races and skimming through the form to make some selections.

Okay, this is all right if you are purely a recreational punter who plays mostly for the fun of it and doesn’t really expect to win, just hopes to win. For the more serious punters, and there are ever-growing droves of them these days, a more intense application is needed.

Let me warn you that it is tiring, stressful and frustrating work, some of it sheer drudgery, but it all pays off when you land big winners and enrich yourself.

Not that such fruitful coups happen all that often. I’ve been frustrated this year because several big bets I made were in the losing basket through some awful luck.

The NZer Sedecrem was twice beaten in major races (the Stradbroke and Glasshouse) which he might well have won with a shred of luck. I stood to win many thousands of dollars on Charge Forward in the Golden Slipper; he ran 2nd.

I just failed on a Newmarket Hdcp plunge on Titanic Jack at big odds. Then again, there are the success stories…Media Puzzle at 150/1 in the Melbourne Cup, Honor Babe 100/1 in the Sydney Cup, Prized Gem at massive odds in the Brisbane Cup, Show A Heart at a great price in the Stradbroke, and so on.

So how does it all come about? What’s the daily routine and can you employ such an approach yourself? The answer to this final question is “yes” though I add the qualification that you will have to be ready to spend time, and throw in hard work, if it’s to be worthwhile.

After all, no two punters are alike. I will study a race and come up with a selection, while someone else will look at exactly what I’ve looked at and come up with a different selection. For me it’s a mixture of hard work and a basic instinct. Sometimes, you just KNOW you’ve hit on a winner. That gut feeling we all talk about.

Let’s start at midday and work through the next 24 hours. It’s on with Sky for the day’s racing. Three meetings to take note of (I don’t bother with Adelaide unless it’s carnival time, not that I’ve anything against racing in South Australia, but there just isn’t time for it).

While I watch the races through the afternoon I have the next day’s fields in front of me, downloaded and printed out from the Racing Services Bureau website. I trawl through the fields looking for horses I have made a mental note of from previous days.

I tick them off, but also do a thorough check later via Racenet website’s “black book” facility - This enables you to list any horses you want to be reminded of, and this reminder comes via an email, or via your own section of the website (password needed). The Racenet service is free.

I record the races through the afternoon but for the Victorian meetings I now use the very useful TVN video replays service. This allows you to call up any race you like and get an instant replay via your computer.

As the day progresses, I mark down horses that have caught my eye. Later, I’ll enter their names in the Racenet black book section. This ensures I don’t miss them when they race again.

Once the races are over for the day, it’s time to look ahead to the next day’s races. Using my personal ratings program I check each runner’s ratings for the races I have decided to concentrate on.

I usually choose four races on each card in the various States because it’s really impossible, timewise, to fully and properly assess any more races than that. I like to throw my full attention into the form analysis and a maximum of 12 races is enough. Sometimes I will cut this back to half if the meetings are of inferior quality.

What am I looking for? I am looking for horses “outside the square”; that is, horses who possess strong chances but who may escape the attention of the early market assessors, bookies and other punters.

These days, it’s a big ask. So much information is available that where once you could spot a “smokey” and be assured you’d more or less have it to yourself, nowadays it’s almost inevitable that many others have spotted the same horse!

I use form from the Racing Services Bureau (subscription) and supplement it with the free service. This is a great website. You can look up the full form of any racehorses, including New Zealanders, and then check various aspects of their performances via factors like first-up, second-up, course, distance and so on.

My ratings charts will tell me which horses have the highest figures for each race. Initially, I concentrate on these runners. This is where the TVN service comes in for the Victorian meetings, which are the ones I favour the most.

Each of the contenders has to be looked at via the video replays. TVN allows you to look at the photo-finish strip of a race, and then click on the “watch the race” button for the replay.

The replays usually allow me to get a race down to two or three chances. But once I’ve dealt with these top-rated runners, I look at the horses with lower figures. The form for most of them will indicate they have little chance, but there are always one or two who demand further attention.

This evening form analysis usually takes at least two hours, sometimes more. Once I’ve finished it, I have the basic outlines of the horses who appear to hold the strongest prospects for each race which I’ve chosen.

For the NSW and Queensland meetings, I mostly have to rely on the TV replays, though TVN is now providing replays for the Sydney metropolitan meetings.

I mark my tapes as best I can so it’s easy to find a meeting, but it’s certainly not a patch on having the replays for any race instantly available on the computer.

The next step in the process is raceday itself. PPD Club selections are usually made available by about 10am. The few hours preceding this are taken up with my final analysis.

After scratchings, I start to check out the morning newspaper pre-post markets. How are my selections standing up? Have I found one that has escaped the eagle-eyed market assessors? Are my top fancies ridiculously short in the market?

It’s time also to look for a final time at jockeys, barrier positions, the trainers, the going (will the fancies handle the official conditions, especially where wet tracks are concerned?). If it comes to a close match between a couple of runners, the final decision may come down to which has the better jockey or the most advantageous barrier.

By 9.30am, I am decided on what to do. Sometimes I’m right, sometimes I’m wrong. There are times when everything falls into place; the jockeys ride well, all the luck goes with you and a winning streak emerges.

Other times, luck deserts you, the jockeys stuff it up, the analysis turns out to be wrong, the horse is injured, the going changes and wrecks any chance, and so on.

It’s a fact of life, too, that losing runs are inevitably LONGER than winning runs. You have to expect this in racing. Anyone who tells you differently is a fantasiser.

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you cannot get off a losing streak. Everything, it seems, conspires to bring you undone. Hot favourites crash, outsiders get beaten a nose, jockeys have brain explosions, your horse will cop every bit of trouble in a race. It’s often beyond belief.

But then things will change. It’s your turn again. Suddenly, your selection finds the last minute gap in the straight, your jockey rides at his peak, the horses run true to’re on top of the world.

By Brian Blackwell