In the second of three articles, PPM experts The Optimist, Jon Hudson and Statsman discuss their approaches to form and reveal how they go about selecting winners.

J.H.: I'd like to say something about doing the weights. The Optimist has already stated that punters do tend to ignore weights and I agree. The point I want to stress is that when you actually do get around to working out weights, you should always work on the official weights. Only after arriving at your decisions should you think about taking apprentice's allowances into account and only if all else is equal in relation to the horses you are comparing. Sometimes, a top apprentice with a pull in the weights can tip the balance, but not always.

S: A good point, Jon. I remember a case recently where there were two horses I was interested in. They raced over 1400m and one of them won with 51.5 kgs, beating this other horse, carrying 57.5 kgs, by 2.5 lengths. I allowed the usual 1.5 kgs for each length so the amended adjusted weights read, in my mind, the winner 55.5 kgs and the second horse 57.5 kgs. In the next race, the second horse was given 56 and the winner 53. So the winner actually had the best of it by a kilo. But then I saw most of the tipsters were going for the other horse because it had an apprentice on board who could claim 3 kgs. Fair enough, but I had to weigh this against the fact that the winner was to be ridden by one of the top jockeys in the country. Did that claim make the apprentice the equal of the top jockey? I didn't think so, and in this case I was right because the horse with the top jockey won by a half-length.

T.O.: You made a good point last issue, Statsman, about only considering a horse's best runs, and ignoring his bad ones. This really does have a lot of merit. It's a matter of judging a horse only on his best form, and I tend to agree with this angle. If you can select the proper data for every horse in a race then you are going to be on a positive path to finding the winner.

S: Yes, simply discard those races which you feel contribute nothing but which can serve to confuse the issue. In other words, get the decks clear of any mess before the real task of comparative analysis. I think anyone who doubts there is an advantage in working in this manner should think again.

J.H.: The only way some people will be convinced is to do a test run or two. Go over the form of each horse and strike out every race in which a horse was decisively beaten. The race then will have a distinctly different appearance, I agree.

S: I'm going to be going into closer detail on this angle in a future issue of P.P.M., jon. There isn't time enough now to dwell on exactly which races should be stricken from a horse's record.

J.H.: That should be well worth reading. Now, what about some of the vital 'don'ts' in form study and betting? I suppose the best piece of advice I can give is to warn people not to desperately chase losses. It's a very dangerous thing to do, because your judgement is warped and nine times out of 10 you'll end up in a worse situation. You have to know when to call it a day. There is always going to be another race meeting.

T.O.: Don't bet on every race that's my prime slice of advice. Most of the consistent losers are those who bet wildly in this fashion. Unless a punter has a very systematic approach, race by race punting will empty the pockets. Betting for the sake of having a bet is a no-win situation.

S: Couldn't agree more. All I have to say is this--don't back bad horses or bad jockeys. Stick with the strength the good riders, the winning stables. You won't lose your fortune backing men like Cummings, Hayes, Marshall, Gauci and company.

J.H.: I suppose Eric Connolly, the great professional punter, made an equally valid point when he said, decades ago, that in punting you can't take the short term view. There is no such thing as a last race, Eric said.

S: All the professionals I know study form, form, form. When all the gossip and rumour and street-corner tips are put aside, the real winning punters are the form men. Myself, I eliminate very quickly all the horses I feel cannot win. That simplifies matters. Then I put every horse on the rack-1 sift through Class, Jockey, Track, Conditions, Barriers, Fitness, Distance, Weights and I try to examine every possible angle.

T.O.: I think it's important, too, that form students impersonally study the form. They should not be side-swiped by personal dislikes. I know a chap who was having so much trouble with his little likes and dislikes with horses, jockeys and trainers that he got his wife to black out the name of each horse in a race and he proceeded to form analysis on basis, not knowing which horses he was investigating. He assures me it made an enormous difference to his selections, for the better I might add.

S: Mat can we say about bookmakers? I'm sure readers will be interested in our views. Personally, I think many punters who go to the track, are under a wrong impression about the bagmen, they think that when a bookie unveils his market that the prices quoted are fair and correct. In fact, bookies are trying to rip you off. They are selling prices to their best advantage and if they can cajole you into backing a horse at 31 which should really be 5-1 they'll do it without blinking an eyelid.

J.H.: How true. This is where value betting comes in. It behoves every punter to try to estimate a horse's true chance in a race. If you can assess prices properly, and never take under the odds, you'll be well on the way to winning, even under today's tough percentage markets which the bookies offer.

S: Certainly. A punter, like any shopper, has to look for bargains. My own cheeks in recent years tend to show that the tote offers far better value on outsiders than do bookmakers. I've seen horses on offer with the bagmen at 25-1 and 33-1 and they are paying something like 60-1 to 200-1 on the tote. There's sometimes amazing disparities.

TO.: I read some time ago that the late Walter Mitchell had a simple approach to his betting-it was based solely on weight handicapping and all Walter sought was an in-form horse with a weight advantage and quoted at a better price than he had assessed as its true chance of winning. If there was a doubt about any of these points he didn't bet. He and a lot of other professionals will tell you that if there's the slightest doubt, then stay out. Wait for another race.

J.H.: Most people have an image of professional punters as characters who go in for sudden plunges. That's not really true. The pro punters I know regard it all as strictly business and they more or less cuddle-and-kiss their capital. They play safe but when given the opportunity to make a decent hit they do so, but generally they are taking the 12-month view and they possess patience and skill.

T.O.: I think any punter would be wise to try to shorten each race to about five main chances. On raceday, you can then look at the final factors-state of the track, barrier draw, jockey and latest trackwork. When you can reduce the chances to three, at the most, then you should think about betting, especially if you believe there's a weakness with the favourite. There are many false favourites around-that's why almost 70 per cent of them lose!

S: Yes, when you can find a false favourite it means you will be able to obtain much better value on the horses you have chosen.

J.H.: I'm glad you said horses, Statsman, because there is so much to be said for betting on more than one horse in a race. I'm only surprised that more people don't do it. I'm a great fan of the Dutching approach, and also having savers on the horses I regard as the threats to my main chance.

T.O.: If we put it another way, this is betting insurance. A punter should forget about making a lot of money, and think instead about an annual profit on investment. Multiple betting in the one race can make this profit attainable. It certainly restricts your losses.

S: In many races, you can bet three or four horses and still earn a profit if one of them wins. I implore punters to examine this angle. It is so important.

J.H.: If you really must back only one horse per race, then you should seek insurance by splitting your stake in the ratio of one unit a win and four or five units a place. Most times this approach will produce a profit from a minor placegetter, yet if you had bet for a winplace flat stake you would have lost. I should imagine that the better percentage profit on the invested dollar would be on the shorter-priced horses.

TO.: That just about wraps up this part of the forum. In the next issue, I think we should talk about staking and come up with some direct approaches that can help RRM. Readers get stuck into some decent returns.

Click here to read Part 3.
Click here to read Part 1.

By The Optimist, Jon Hudson and Statsman

PRACTICAL PUNTING - DECEMBER 1988