What is speed handicapping? How can you quickly determine the best prospects in a race by applying speed-rating theories? Well, to begin with, it is 'something of a challenge for the ordinary punter, which is one reason why in this two-part series I have tried to simplify the whole speed approach.

You'll find a full page of speed-ratings below. The ratings correspond with a certain time for each distance between 1000m and 1600m. Taking speed-ratings beyond this distance is not really worth the time and effort, mainly because of the varying pace at which longer races are run. The longer the race the more unreliable are the ratings.

But in the sprints up to 1600m, we can attempt to make some sense of what can be a most difficult and involved racing subject. Firstly, what is the main task of the speed handicapper? He attempts to evaluate the ability of each runner in their previous races - through times and then translate that assessment into a speed-rating for the current race.

Speed-ratings, very simply, are used to measure a horse's ability over a certain distance. Applied on their own, without taking other factors into account, they can still be most useful. Used in conjunction with subjective 'hands on' handicapping - taking into account weight, barriers, previous interference, jockey etc - they can be extremely powerful as a tool to help the average punter.

Now I realise only too well that no-one wants to spend hours trying to work out a horse's speed-rating. This is why I have tried to present an overall view of things with the generalised ratings which appear below.

For the average punter, they should be a boon. All you need do is check out a horse's recent times, and then cross-check with the Page 12 listings to obtain a rating. A winning horse's time will be instantly available in your form guides. But losing horses' times need to be calculated by the punter.

How do you do this? It's easy. Generally, 6 lengths is run in about 1 second, so for every length a horse is beaten you add 0.166s to the winner's time. If the horse you are examining ran 2nd, beaten 3 lengths, and the winner ran 1m 10s for 1200m, then your horse would have clocked 1m 10.50s.

With a calculator handy you can quite easily whip through a field of runners to obtain their recent times. The Page 12 listings enable you to easily check the speed-ratings for various distances.

One variation you have to make is to make adjustments so that all ratings are brought into line as if they were run on a fast track. Generally, you can assume the following adjustments to times (assuming we take Fast as the base):

 Good 0.2 secs per 200m Dead 0.4 secs per 200m Slow 0.7 secs per 200m Heavy 1.0 secs per 200m

So let's say that a horse runs on a dead track. To get the fist track value you would subtract 5 times 0.4s (2.0s) off the time. If the horse had run the 1000m (dead track) in 61 seconds, its expected fast track time would be 59s.

Our listings enable you to compare times at various distances. For instance, if you fancy two horses (A and B) over 1400m, and A ran over 1200m last start and B ran over 1400m, you can easily compare ratings. For instance, if A had clocked 1.11s over 1200m its speed-rating would be 93. If B had clocked 1m 24.20s for 1400m its speed-rating would be 90.

The ratings, then, tell us that A's performance over 1200m was slightly better than B's over 1400m. Obviously, the ratings are not perfect because I have tried to 'nutshell' them to coverall tracks. What you can do, if you want to streamline them further, is to 'adjust' times for varying tracks.

Let's assume you are going to look at a field of runners in a 1200m race on a city track. With each runner you go through the following steps:

1. Look at its two best times in recent starts for the distance of the race. If no runs over the distance, then check the distances run, as long as they are within the 1600m range.
2. If a horse won, then its winning time is taken and then, if necessary, adjusted to Fast going. If it was beaten, make adjustments for lengths beaten, then adjust the time for Fast going, if necessary (using the equation already mentioned).
3. Mark off the speed-ratings from the Page 12 chart on each horse's form details. Add the speed ratings together. The horses with the best averages are the major chances.

Once you have isolated the top five or six chances, you can then apply other form analysis factors, such as:

(a) recent form
(b) jockey
(c) barrier
(d) ability at the track
(e) weight
(f) ability to handle prevailing track conditions.

When you have factored in points for these areas of form you will have built up a complete picture of each runner, revealed through its final speed-and-form rating.

Take the case of Send A Sign at Moonee Valley in early February. It was entered in a 1200m race and had two races which we could use for the purposes of determining its ability at the distance of the race. At its latest start the 6yo. had run 3rd, beaten a half length, over 1200m at Moonee Valley. The winner, on a Fast track, clocked lm 9.7s.

Taking 6 lengths to equal one second, we can determine that we need to add 0.08s to the winner's time to show us Send A Sign's time - 1m 9.9s (round off to 1m 10s). If we then look at the speed-rating listings we can see that this is the equivalent of 107 points.

We then go back to Send A Sign's third last start, this one over 1212m at Moonee Valley. In this race, Send A Sign won in 1m 10.5s on a Fast track. We then have to allow for the extra 12 metres, which is the equivalent of 0.69s; this is deducted from Send A Sign's time to make a 1200m time of lm 9.8s, which is the equivalent of a speed-rating of 110.

The two speed ratings, then, are 107 and 110,which add up to217. Divide this by two and you get an average 1200m speed-rating for Send A Sign of 108.5. What happens now is that you start final adjustments for the factors I have already listed.

With weight, you might look at the weights the sprinter carried in its two base 1200m runs, and cheek to see if it is carrying more or less weight in the current race. Send A Sign carried 54.5kg and 55kg in those races and in the current race has 57kg, a significant increase, so one we would have to take into account when making a final assessment.

When setting out on your initial speed-rating assignments, try to limit yourself to the shorter races (1000m to 1200m) for starters. This will give you a good feel for what you have to do, and will limit the time you have to spend on working out each race. Because you are only working in the distance range 1000m to 1200m you won't have too many races on which to operate.

Concentrate initially on the Open and Welter races. Then work down the classes, leaving the lowest-grade races to last, or ignoring them completely. It's better, at first anyway, to take things easily and just make sure you get everything correct.

Get yourself some foolscap paper, rule lines down and across the page and write in the following headings:

HORSE / LAST-START / WIN.TIME / GOING / BTN MARGIN / ADJUST.TIME / ADJUST GOING / RATING

Now you can easily determine the times for the last couple of races for each horse, and fill in the appropriate rating. Your horse's name is written in, then its last start placing, the winner's time, the state of the going, how much the horse was beaten by (if any) then the adjustment for the time according to the beaten margin, and then the adjustment, if required, to translate the time into a Fast track time. Finally, you find the appropriate ratings and
write them in.

You are now ready to tackle the remaining form assessment tasks. Where weight is concerned, you should deduct points for 'extra weight' that is being carried hi comparison with the two races on which the speed rating has been based. In other words, if a horse carried, say, 55kg and 56kg in those two starts and is now to carry 58kg, you would penalise it 2 points (a kilo is roughly 1 point). If the horse is dropping hi weight, then add a point for each kilo dropped.

Of course, you can, if you like, just accept the speed ratings and not bother about anything else. This would be a crude, but possibly fairly effective, way of choosing your selections and I am quite sure you would land some good winners.

But to nail things down tightly, it is recommended you use the speed ratings as some sort of accurate base'. Once you have worked them out you will have a good idea of which horses are going to figure in the finish.

You will notice I have not made any allowances for different tracks with these speed-ratings. I admit this is the one drawback of the approach - but it's one I feel will not prove too much of a negative influence. Those among you who like to dig further might like to make track adjustments yourself (i.e. perhaps a 1200m straight track dash at Flemington is likely to give slightly faster times than around- the-bend tracks?). You can also use each track's distance records as a gauge of how well a horse has run.

As you work your way through week after week of ratings you will eventually be able to know the average rating which will win certain types of races. These will be accurately reflected the more races and the more horses you assess.

SPEED RATINGS POINT