In his fine book The Key Factor Is Fitness, Queensland racing analyst Barry Blakemore provides some classic examples of how the power of the form book can guide you to winners.

The Chester Manifold Stakes of February, 1995, is one example. The 1432m race went to Cut Up Rough from the David Hayes stable.

Blakemore says the winner had six powerful form 'basics' going for it and he listed them as follows:

  • FITNESS: A good first-up run over 1200m and then an increase to 1432m after a recovery period of 17 days.
  • ONE OF THE FIRST 4 FAVS: Favourite at 7/4 after 9/4 had been bet.
  • ON-PACE RUNNER: A natural leader.
  • JOCKEY: A good big-race jockey, Alf Matthews.
  • BARRIER: For a leader, barrier 2 was ideal.

Other positives for the winner, says Blakemore, were having won one of two starts at the track, a 57 per cent win strike rate, and the fact he was an improving 4yo with only four career starts.

There were negative factors against the other favoured runners - Tristalove was first-up over 1432m, Telesto was also first-up at the trip, was not an on-the-pace galloper and was drawn in barrier 10, Taos had a fitness pattern against it and also was not an on-the-pace runner, Mr Elegant had a fitness pattern against it and In Top Flight was first-up over 1432m and had an apprentice rider.

This is an example of how the positives of form can give a punter the edge, and how essential it is that when you 'do the form' you try to isolate a number of vital factors.

Blakemore's book, which is becoming increasingly regarded as something of a 'bible' for serious form students, goes into great detail about fitness patterns and how they should be studied and followed if you are to make longterm sense of form.

His chapter on horses coming back in distance and going up in distance are most interesting. This is what he has to say on the subject of horses coming back in distance to 1000m or 1100m:

"The horses to avoid are those that have had at least one race this preparation and coming back from 1200m or 1300m. If backing up within a period of 2 weeks (up to 17 days) the horse has not been given a chance to freshen up.

"This may sound contradictory but when you remember that 1000m-1100m races are run at full speed all the way and need a fresh horse (first-up wins, 33.7%), a horse with racing, unless freshened up, is more likely to be looking for further distance, not less.

"However, a horse given time to renew energy for a minimum of 3 weeks (18 days or more) can sprint again successfully ... In the case of specialist top-class sprinting horses it is wise to also include a four week break between runs (25 to 31 days) even though the statistics show a much lower percentage of wins."

Blakemore provides a general guide to other distances and then hands out the following advice regarding distance jumps from a horse's last start:

  • 1000m-1100m: Next start should be no further than 1200m-1300m.
  • 1200m: Next start should be no more than 1400m.
  • 1300m-1400m: Next start should be no further than 1500m-1600m.
  • 1500m-1600m: Next start should be no further than 1800m-1900m.
  • 1700m-2000m: Next start should be no further than 2000m-2300m.
  • 2100m-2400m: Next start should be no further than 2400m-3200m.

He adds: "Where a horse is moving up to 3200m races such as the Melbourne Cup, one of its previous runs should have been over at least 2400m. Dropping back to a wfa race over 2000m just prior to the Cup can become the fine tuner. This is why so many Cup winners also win or race well on the previous Saturday."

Blakemore has also looked closely at the factor of finish positions of winners at their immediate last start. These statistics show that 53 per cent of all winners finished in the first 3 at their last start (25% were winners, 16% were 2nd and 12% were 3rd).

Then there is the matter of a horse's form at its two previous starts. Here the results of the research are as follows:

  • 1st in at least one of two previous starts: 31% winners.
  • 2nd in at least one of two previous starts: 29% winners.
  • 3rd in at least one of two previous starts: 14% winners.
  • 4th in at least one of two previous starts: 6% winners.

He says: "The message is clear that only horses that place in at least one of their two last starts should be considered in the present race. It means that you must have the courage to study a horse's last run in an endeavour to make the decision whether the run can be discounted because of (a) wide barrier, (b) unsuitable distance, (c) ridden a bad race, (d) unsuitable track, (e) blocked for a run or (f) not allowed to run on its merits.

Blakemore's book goes into so many facets of form, especially with regard to winning fitness patterns, that it would be a mug punter indeed who failed to gain knowledge and insight from it.

** The Key Factor Is Fitness, by Barry Blakemore, published by Barrymore Publications.

By Brian Blackwell