In the December 2005 edition of PPM, I wrote an article which attacked one of racing’s most time honored core values, the issue of weights and how it impacted on form analysis. The essence of the article was to advocate that form students should forget about weights as a major form tool.

My research into this area revealed that “doing the weights” had little predictive value and punters should shift their focus to other areas of form data, which would have greater benefit in the selection process.

I probably did the point I was trying to push an injustice, by the limitations of a single article. I had collated an enormous amount of statistical evidence to support my claims and, in hindsight, should have done at least a double feature.

The key points raised by the article were:

(a)    Weight handicapping does not bring horses together under the current compressed scale of weights.

(b)    Weight does not stop good horses winning; and

(c)    Frugal weight turnarounds between gallopers will, in most cases, not constitute a reversal of placings.

The shift of focus to areas of greater importance which is alluded to, is certainly directed to the area of racehorse speed and how comprehension of associated data in this realm, is an extremely powerful tool for any form analyst.

The most important attribute any racehorse can have is speed. A horse race is like any other race and if we ignore the implication of bad luck, then it is relative course speeds that will determine the final race placings. Slow conveyances do not win races. If, as punters, we are able to correctly assess each race runners’ speed capabilities and limitations, then we are tantalisingly close to making each race assessed pay for us.
Race data for speed is readily accessible in two areas:

(1)    Overall race time; and
(2)    Race sectional times.

I personally rate overall times and what they can provide, as far superior data than sectional times. Of all the data that is available to punters, sectional times must represent the most enigmatic.

Most punters I know are at a loss on how to use them in the predictive sense, and I am yet to see anything definitive that would warrant them as an indispensable commodity. Per se they are no guide for unearthing future winners. At this year’s autumn carnival at Caulfield I examined the 36 races run over the four days. Of the 36 races run, only 12 were won by horses that reeled off the fastest closing sectionals.

Over this period there were 17 horses that provided the quickest sectional in a race that raced during the carnival for only five winners. I know that this is indeed a limited data sample, but it is an area that I have paid close attention to over a number of years. These statistics are fairly indicative of the bigger picture. More often than not, the best sectionals of a race are returned by non-winners, generally backmarkers making late ground.

It is nice to know a horse can close out races regularly in sub 34 secs but it is certainly no guarantee that the animal is a regular winner. There is no greater example of this than a horse that raced in the mid nineties called Telesto.

Telesto was capable of running astonishing closing sectionals; he would break the track record for 1000m in a 1600m event, however, in a career of more than 40 race starts he retired with only three wins against his name. Sectional times can be very useful in a post mortem sense; they can clearly define the pace of a contest, which may have significant bearing as to why many beaten favourites failed.

In recent years, the overall race time has spawned something that has become known as par times. A par time is the time a certain grade of horse is expected to run over a specific distance at a specific track, to be competitive.

It is the average time for that particular class of horse, over the track and distance. Par times have become the cornerstone of speed ratings. Speed ratings are big business in American racing but are still very much in their infancy here in Australia.

For many, speed ratings are replacing a somewhat archaic class rating system. Generally, the fastest horses race in the best races, so when you are talking about class, you’re really just talking about speed.

The class rating of any horse is ascertained by the grade of races it wins, but it is a system that has inherent flaws. The problem lies within that individual races have been given a pre-determined status; however, the quality of many fields can fall below the given status of the race. This is particularly noticeable in many black type races.

A perfect example of this is in my home town of Perth where the Railway Stakes holds Group 1 status. Over the last two decades, the race has generally only attracted minimal interstate representation, resulting in a race contested by locals only.

Apart from Northerly and Better Loosen Up, all other winners in this time frame could certainly not be considered as genuine Group 1 performers yet by annexing this race the class system dictates they are.

Don’t let anybody tell you a horse cannot win a race because he doesn’t have enough class. If a horse can win a Class 4 race over 1200m at the provincial circuit in a time of 1.08 sec, then provided they can replicate this time in town they can win black type races over a similar course.

Many punters would find the significant class rise as off setting but when they load a horse into the gates he doesn’t look around and think “gee these are all group performers; I’m going to struggle to win this”. If the horse is fast enough and the conditions are right then they can certainly win. Application of perceived class distinction can cause punters to often overlook horses that have legitimate winning chances.

Par times can give punters a grasp on whether horses have the pace and speed ability to be competitive in any race. They can also provide a valuable window to assess whether any animal can withstand the rise if hopping several classes.

A little net browsing should direct punters to some publications that list par times for most of the Australian tracks The information is cheap and far more appealing than the taxing task of compiling the times by oneself. Personally, I only use par times at distances of 1600m and less. I find that times over distance races not very helpful, as many of these type races develop into sit and sprint type affairs. The other advisable filter is to operate only on good to dead tracks.

We are dealing with issues of speed here and nothing negates speed in racing like wet tracks. When initially introduced to par times, I looked for horses that continually ran better times than par for the relevant course and distance. I found many good priced winners from horses that were able to produce times around a full second under par.

For those who have been using pars for some time will realise there are other numerous factors to consider. Many punters will be aware that the speed of any racetrack can change on a daily basis. Rain, wind, rail placement and track maintenance can all affect how a track plays in terms of speed.

When these factors are taken into consideration, then adjustments need to be made to the par time chart. These are known as Daily Track Variants (DTV). DVTs are nothing more than a numerical rating that is either added to or subtracted from, the overall race time. They bring times into perspective on tracks that are racing either too fast or too slow.

There is also a factor known as Inter Track Variant which allows transference of speed figures between different tracks. So, as you can see, complexity is now starting to creep into this area and as if we don’t already have enough on our plates with the multitude of factors in form analysis.

I would suggest that any punter operating on any basis outside the professional arena, dispense with both forms of variants and keep it simple by using the raw data as a basis to establish a horse’s speed capabilities.

Raw data of any kind in racing, can easily be translated into ratings for those who wish to put in some time and effort. For those whose objective is to generate speed ratings from par times it must be remembered that these figures are really only an estimation of a horses speed, and those figures may not be repeated at a horse’s next race start.

Some techniques used in the calculation of speed figures are highly refined and can produce some extremely accurate assessments. Predictive assumptions based on those assessments will show that in similar circumstances a horse is likely to repeat or exceed that speed figure. Accurate speed figures will give a reliable indication on how fast a horse should run on any given race day.

The trick is determining when that horse may be relied upon to replicate its speed rating. Factors such as current form, quality of opposition, track condition etc., can all influence the ability to produce optimum speed ratings.

Remember if a horse’s speed rating says it can win a race, then forget about any class implications, providing there are not any adverse other factors present “get on”, you will pick up some very nice priced winners with quality speed assessment.

I have found accurate speed assessment to be a very good culling tool when sorting out those who haven’t a realistic chance in races. If there is a 1200m race on any card and the par time for that particular grade is say 1.10, then a horse with an average time over this distance with 1.11 can, in most cases, be ruled out because it simply cannot, based on history, run the distance fast enough.

This sort of culling is generally applicable to age groups of four and above with at least 20 race starts, younger horses and animals with limited career starts can improve dramatically in certain conditions. ?

It shouldn’t take too long before the nation’s punting fraternity realises the underlying value of being able to evaluate a horse’s speed limitations. Sometimes the race isn’t won by the quickest, as luck in running and rider decisions can have a bearing on the final outcome. But if you can assess and be on the fastest horse in the race you are more likely to get the money than not.

Speed, like any factor for form consideration, will not guarantee success by itself. As punters, the more areas of form we gain proficiency in then the more enhanced our chances will be of ongoing punting success.???

By Ken Blake