The legendary Robert Saunders Dowst had a simple but most effective way of analysing form. His writings on the subject of handicapping are still worldwide best-sellers today.

Dowst formulated his theories on handicapping, money management and general betting approaches in the 1930s. They were refined through to the 50s.

In this article I have used the basic tenets of the Dowst approach to produce a “form chart” which you can copy and use for your own handicapping.

The chart is easy to use. You simply draw up the chart and make provision for as many runners as required. I suggest you do a chart for a maximum of 24 runners and have a few thousand copies made at your local print shop. Alternatively you could set up the whole thing on a spreadsheet on your computer.


The form chart allows you to “fill in” the requirements of Dowst’s five basic form factors. They are career win percentage, career win and place combined percentage, class, form and weight.

As I’ll explain, when you fill in the form you simply mark down whichever rating level is applicable to each horse. Once you have run through the field, you add up the figures and the horse with the lowest total is the main selection. Sometimes you’ll have two or more horses as equal.

Dowst firmly believed that there is no short cut to racing success as far as betting goes. He even expressed his concern that ratings often tried to measure differences in ability that were far too narrow to be made the basis of a sound bet.

“There may be only a difference of 1.72 per cent and a less than 2 per cent edge is not a solid basis for seeking out overlays,” Dowst wrote. “A horse race is not a mere mathematical exercise; rather it’s a contest between horses bred to run fast, and unless one horse stands out in the figures by a reasonable margin over the others, then a bettor can have no assurance that hair-splitting between runners will not be grossly offset by accidents of the race.”

Dowst reckoned that a major  purpose of good selection was to avoid what he called the “high percentage of races in which contention is so close that there can be no logical single choice”.

In other words, he was looking for those races in which he could positively isolate a standout chance. And he wasn’t looking at those horses widely tipped in the newspapers and formguides.

“I think punters should remember that horses widely chosen by newspaper selectors and sent out favourites or near favourites, will pay poor odds,” he wrote. “When a good horse is overlooked by the newspaper tipsters then in 20 to 25 per cent of cases it will win and pay from 5/1 upwards.”

Now we come to what Dowst’s basic approach is all about. Firstly, he has talked about the intrinsic class of each horse and this, he contended, can be ascertained through the use of his basic principles.

He used a ratings pattern to obtain a class consistency rating using different levels. Firstly, he was interested in WIN STRIKE. He divided this into four scales, 1-2-3-4. Rating #1 was for those horses with a win strike of 70 per cent or more. Rating #2 was for those with strikes between 40 and 69 per cent. Then came Rating #3 for those runners with a win strike between 20 and 39 per cent, and finally there was
Rating #4 for those runners with win strikes of 19 per cent or less.

Dowst then has another level for consistency and this operates on the COMBINED WIN AND PLACE strikes of each horse. You take both sets of figures and add them. So a horse with 30 per cent win and 55 per cent place strikes will total 85. On the scale mentioned above, this puts the horse as a Rating #1 for win/place purposes. A horse with 9 per cent win strike and 20 per cent place strike would total 29 and so would be on Rating #3.

In the form chart, there is a line for  WIN STRIKE ratings and another for WIN/PLACE ratings. You simply mark down the rating level, either 1, or 2 or 3 or 4.

The next step is for ascertaining CLASS and this operates at three basic levels, 1-2-3. Level #1 covers horses regarded as good Open/WFA performers, Level #2 is for Midweek Open horses and Level #3 is for the rest.

Now the class aspect may be the hardest you have to deal with when filling in the form chart. My advice is simply to assess whether a horse is in its right class and that it is up to the task of running well in today’s race. Obviously, the formguide will tell you if a horse has won in the class of the race so that’s a key pointer for you.

Now we come to WEIGHT. Dowst regarded weight as a vital part of the entire process. He divides this section into a scale of 1 to 3. The punter must decide the ratings; they are not automatic. If you believe a horse has an ADVANTAGE at the weights, or is weighted reasonably, it becomes a Level #1 chance. If it has no advantage, it is Level #2 and if you feel it is disadvantaged or badly weighted, it becomes Level #3.

Finally, there is the FORM factor. A horse whose recent races indicate he is able to run today’s distance well against horses of his own class receives a Rating #1. A horse whose recent form shows his fitness and form to be questionable, or a horse who has not raced recently, gets a Rating #2.

Once you have completed the form chart with the appropriate responses for the various sections, you simply add up the factors and the horse with the lowest total is the selection.

Dowst warned in his books that no horse should be bet unless its recent racing record indicates it’s in the condition needed to display the full measure of its ability. So, he said, keep recent form and consistency in mind.

Finally, on the money management side, Dowst said: “Any betting operation which aims at a planned profit and not merely wishful expectancy, should involve a strategy to make a series of bets over, say, six months or a year.

“These bets should involve horses that are well placed in their races and will return a fair average price. Success or failure depends on the averages. All bets should be on a flat stake basis until accrued profits have raised the available capital to a point where bigger bets can be made.”

To sum up, Dowst urges punters to remember the following:

  • To obtain a 20 per cent profit, get 40 per cent winners at 2/1
  • To obtain a 20 per cent profit, get 30 per cent winners at 3/1
  • To obtain a 20 per cent profit, get 20 per cent winners at 5/1

By Martin Dowling