When you settle down to work out the form in a race, do you bother to analyse every runner? Most punters do peruse every horse in the field, albeit that such perusal is brief for many of the longshot runners.

But how worthwhile is it, to go through the form of every runner? There is a school of thought that says each runner must be evaluated, and it is a strong argument. You can miss a winner by not looking at every horse.

On the other hand, history tells us, emphatically, that in 92 races out of every 100, you will be wasting your time looking at any runner not listed on the first six lines of betting in the morning newspaper! That's right. A total of 92 per cent of races are won by horses on the first six lines.

If you look at results over any season, you will see that few winners are priced at 25/1 and over. In fact, on average, only about eight in every 100 are won by longshots.

A recent British study confirmed our own Australian experience. A test was run at the York track in England over one season and 91.3 per cent were won by a horse that was in the first six in the betting.

Taking out the races of six and less runners, author Malcolm Howard found that there was a 12.5 per cent chance of the winner not being in the first six in the betting, which is the same as saying that the probability of the winner being outside the first six in the betting is 0.125.

Howard went on to say that punters could use such information to their advantage. He contends that 'the market' can be a true guide to a horse's actual prospects.

He says: "The point is that where the odds available are similar to the minimum acceptable odds (assessed by the punter), the market is not at variance with your opinion. On the other hand, where the available odds are well in excess of the minimum odds calculated, one can only assume that there is a possibility that an error has been made somewhere.

"If, for example, the odds available of 14/1 compared to a minimum acceptable odds of 12/1 you could conclude that the market was not giving you a distressful message. But the same available odds compared to a minimum of, say, 5/2 would indicate that the market was trying to tell you something."

Howard suggests punters use the betting market to validate selections by applying two simple tests:

  1. Is the selection in the first six in the betting?

    If the answer to this question is 'yes' the punter can proceed to back the selection. If the answer is 'no' a second question needs to be answered.
  2. Are the odds available more than 50 per cent greater than the punter's assessed minimum acceptable price?

Howard's examples are:

(a) Minimum 8/1, available odds exceed 12/1 - fails the test.

(b) Minimum 6/1, available odds exceed 9/1 - fails the test.

He suggests that if this happens, you should review the logic used to determine the selection. If you remain convinced that your selection can win then reduce your stake and bet with the bookies if the horse is at 25/1 or longer in a small field, or bet with the TAB if the selection is not in the first six in the betting in a field of nine or more.

Howard adds: "You may believe the market knows everything; this is clearly not the case, but the experienced punter can use the market to sometimes save his bacon. In other words, the market can never be used as a mechanism to select winners, but it can provide vital clues.

"Therefore, don't worry if your selection does not appear to be backed or if the odds are lengthened. Provided (my) criteria are met so that the selection is validated, then back it. The golden rule is to never allow the market to change your selection. It should be used merely to determine the stake."

What Howard is advising, then, is that you use the power of the betting market to 'reassess' your own opinions. For example, if you have priced a horse at 6/4 and it's being offered at 10/1, 20/1 or longer, then the market could be giving you a clear-cut warning that you have made a wrong assessment.

He says there is no need to panic - but you should take the time to have another look and perhaps cut back a bit on your bet.

Of course, it's you against the betting market, but the market is a powerful force. Think again about those 92 per cent winners on the first six lines of betting, and you get an idea about the power of the market!

Can you afford to ignore its message? I think not. When it happens that your odds differ greatly, then it seems practical and sensible to think again. You don't

have to axe your selection, just play a bit cooler with it. 'The Value Factor In Successful Betting' (Malcolm Howard), published by Raceform Ltd, available Oldcastle Books, 18 Coleswood Road, Harpenden, Herts AL5 1EQ England. Price: About $13 plus postage.

By Peter Travers