In all the years I have been checking out racing writers around the world the one name that invariably crops up is that of James Quinn. I have enormous respect for him.

Quinn has been leading author on playing the races since he wrote the paperback version of The Handicapper’s Condition Book (1981), which remains in print through three later hardcover editions.

His popular anthology The Best of Thoroughbred Handicapping was re-released by Daily Racing Form Press after Quinn updated the 1987 original with 13 new essays.

He is recognised as the leading authority on identifying the ‘class’ of horses, and conducts handicapping seminars throughout Southern California. Quinn has also written the lead articles on the Kentucky Derby and the Breeders’ Cup Classic for The HorsePlayer Magazine. He lives in Arcadia, California.

On his popular Turfpedia website, Quinn hands out a host of ideas and angles about horseracing punting.

He contends that a basic mistake newcomers and novices repeat on the form factor is eliminating too many horses prematurely, either because they have not run within 30 to 45 days or because their most recent race looks dull.

Instead, Quinn says, it pays to be flexible and liberal on the form factor early in the handicapping process, when the purpose is to identify the authentic contenders.

If newcomers, novices, and casual racegoers would rely upon the few form standards below instead, they will be right most of the time and not eliminate the eventual winners too soon.

We start with horses that have run within the past 30 days, the largest group of horses at the racetrack.

Must be “up close” at the stretch (home turn) call. The “up close” standard varies with the distance, ie.,
Sprints to 6.5f (1300m) 2 3/4 lengths
7f and 1 Mile (1400m and 1600m) 3 3/4 lengths
8.5f (1700m) and longer 4 3/4 lengths

If horses are dropping in class today, they can be “up close” at any call in their most recent start.

If today’s race is shorter, horses can be “up close” at pre-stretch call in their most recent start.

SHORT LAYOFFS 31 to 60 days
Must show a four-furlong (9800m) workout (or longer) within the past seven days. Times of the workouts are not relevant. The trainer is not as important as the horse, but trainer performance is an important factor in handicapping.

When identifying contenders, it’s crucial to identify trainers as low-percentage (0), acceptable (N), or high-percentage (+). In particular, low-percentage trainers post a warning sign. Handicappers can resolve to support the horses of low-percentage trainers only when:

(a) their horses figure strongly and
(b) the odds are good.

When the horses of low-percentage trainers are the favourites or low-priced contenders in a contentious or unpredictable race, it’s best to pass.

What is a low-percentage trainer? Trainers should be expected to win approximately 12 per cent of their starts over a long, representative period of time, such as a calendar year. The 12 per cent represents the percentage of horses they start; they should win a similar per cent.

Allowing for normal fluctuations, if trainers win only 50 per cent of the races they should win, that’s a low-percentage trainer. So the dividing line is – 6 per cent.

Form standards involve recent races and workouts. Early in the handicapping process, form standards should be liberal and flexible. Do not throw out the eventual winners on form, but late in the handicapping process, when evaluating main contenders closely, form standards can be tightened substantially.

Four facets of form analysis:

  • Acceptable form Early
  • Improving Form Later
  • Declining Form Later
  • Peaking Form Later

Workouts are an indicator of form, not class. Workouts can be overrated by handicappers, and frequently are, but gain in importance:

  • For first starters
  • Following layoffs
  • As part of a pattern, positive or negative
  • Following a claim

NEXT MONTH IN PPM: More ideas from the international experts.

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By Brian Blackwell