When we talk about the steps to take in greyhound racing form analysis, what do we really mean? Well, to my way of thinking, we're talking about factors ... the main factors that affect the outcome of any greyhound race, anywhere in the world, eight or six runners (as in the UK).

The five steps I am going to talk about here are: CONSISTENCY, GRADE, TIME, BOX and EARLY SPEED. These are the cornerstones of sensible handicapping. The problem facing the punter is how to assess such factors and put them together in such a way that the selections arising from them are good enough to win and haul in profits.

What's required is that you adopt a workable way to assess the factors. Like all good things, there is a beginning and an end. You start by marking off the card. The best way to get things underway is to cross out all qualifying trials, races a dog has had at a different distance to the current one (unless there is hardly any difference), plus races run in lower grades than the one now being contested.

Just strike a line through these formlines. If a race is made up of 'heats' or qualifying trials, ignore it. Always choose the races with exposed form in bettable races. There is often not much relationship between how a dog runs in a trial and how he races in the real thing.

Quite often, qualifying trials will have only 2, 3 or 4 runners. 'Class' is a hard thing to define in greyhound racing and I guess we have to be guided to a large extent by the race grading. Races in weaker company are not a good guide to what a dog may do in the better-class race.

Too many dog fans tend to ignore this important aspect. They allow finish times or a dog's placing to influence them, and ignore the realities of the class of the race.

If you're serious, then you must ignore weaker-grade form, no matter how well a dog may have done. In the long term, this approach will pay off.

By avoiding laying too much importance on lower-grade form, you are basing your selections completely on how a dog has performed in the current grade of race only, though you can, of course, consider higher-class races.

In this way, you don't have to grapple with the problem of deciding how a dog will perform in the better grade when he moves up after having won in lowergrade company. So, the position is clear ... rule a line through EVERY lower-grade race.

The problem of comparing form between different tracks is a tough one. There is a case for striking out any formlines from different tracks to the one now being used. However, the form from some tracks is often powerful enough to be considered, so we can't make a direct rule on this aspect of analysis.

I shall leave it to you to decide what to do. However, if you know for a fact that the grade of race from the different track is lower than the current race, then strike it out.

One aspect to be wary of is when dogs are moving from big to small tracks, or vice-versa. Then there's the question of distance. Unless a dog has winning form over the distance of a race, be very careful.

You simply must draw a line through races run at a distance different from the one you are now handicapping. Many punters tend to overlook distance switches when they do their handicapping. The fact is that dogs are rarely both sprinters and stayers, and some will only just get, say, 400m, and will fail at even a distance of 440m.

Others will find 500m too short and will appreciate 600m but not 700m. This is where your skills as a dog form analyst come into play. You have to discover, through the formguide, which distance is the best for each dog.

A dog with two wins at 500m may well struggle when trying to lift another 100m. A dog who has won at 600m might well find that switching back to 500m is too much of a task.

The form analyst should always look for consistency. Many world experts stress this aspect. It may seem a truism but it's still something that can easily be ignored.

How do you pick a consistent greyhound? Experts around the world agree that using the last six races is the ideal way. These races are easily the most important to show whether a dog can handle the class of greyhound confronting him, and whether his form stands up to scrutiny (a) over the distance, (b) in the same grade, and (c) at the track.

Statistics show that 70 per cent of all greyhound races are won by dogs who are competing in the same grade as their last start. Another 15 per cent of races are won by dogs dropping in grade. That leaves only 15 per cent for dogs rising in grade.

It's also worth remembering that even though a dog may be dropping in class, this does not necessarily mean he's the class dog of the current race. He may have failed regularly in the higher grade and is now simply returning to his right grade.

American expert Bob Mays, in his book The Quick Way To Pick Winning Greyhounds, writes:

"My method for picking the consistent dog is based on the percentages of m-the-money races a dog has had at the current grade level. A dog must have at least two in-grade races in order to qualify as the consistent dog.

"No lower- or higher-grade races are considered, even if a dog shows some in-the-money finishes at a higher grade. Each 1st, 2nd or 3rd at the present grade is counted as 1 point and the dog with the best percentage of such races is the consistent dog.

"If two dogs have the same percentage of in-the-money finishes, use the one with the most races."

On the time factor, the speed dog is usually easy to find. If you've struck out all the banned contender areas, you will be able to scan the selected races in the form to see each dog's times. You just remember two key points:

The first is to use races in the current or higher grade only when the dog has finished in the money (lst/2nd/3rd). Secondly, be careful of using times from another track even if the distance is the same.

A dog can run fast times in lowergrade races, but when he is lifted in grade he can't produce the same performance, mainly because he is now meeting dogs who can match his early, middle and late speed.

Starting from box 1, write down each dog's best time in-the-money. Then look at his rivals and circle only those dogs with better times. You only need the final times for the fastest dogs and the second best time.

The box draw is all-important, as if I need to remind you! Some dogs run their best races from certain boxes. The formguide will tell you which ones suit.

You can allot 1 point to each dog in relation to the box it came from for an in-the-money effort in the same or higher grade. The following checklist will help: (Left = current box, right = qualifying boxes for previous placings.)

1 1-2-3
2 1-2-3
3 2-3-4
4 3-4-5
5 4-5-6
6 5-6-7
7 6-7-8
8 6-7-8
Add the points each dog has scored and the two dogs with the highest tallies are considered to be very well boxed. Remember, though, that the dog must have raced in the same or higher grade and over the same distance to receive a box point.

As for speed: Some formguides list where a dog raced throughout a race. Many formguides don't. Try to watch SKY TV's coverage of your area's dog racing and make notes yourself. You will soon have a list of early-speed dogs.

With points allotted for early speed, follow this formula:

1st/2nd/3rd at first turn: 1 pt

Once again, you use only those races which are considered worthy of examination (as explained).

Try to work out your analysis in the five easy steps. Find the consistent dogs, then move on to grades, time, box and early speed. After a while you'll find that it will be a breeze to whip your way through the formguide and do all your crossing-out work on the ineligible races.

Once that's done, it's plain sailing to work out which dogs have the best credentials.

Where do you get the form? For NSW meetings, the Greyhound Recorder, available at newsagents or by mail, in Victoria the Gold Guide, and in Queensland you can now secure full form for Queensland meetings from the Internet at $3 per meeting.

Believe me, form analysis in the way I have suggested will really pay off in the long run. It's all very well to back haphazardly on box numbers, or favourites, but although you'll get some pickups your long-term future is in the high-risk category.

By using the form properly, by taking a bit of time, you give yourself every opportunity to beat the betting crowd.

NEXT MONTH: The 5 Steps process in action on selected races. How it works ... and how you can follow the same procedure.

Click here to read Part 2.

By George 'Barker' Bellfield