Talk to any number of racing professionals and ask them to name the key 10 factors in their form analysis and you are likely to receive differing answers! It's the nature of the game. Everyone has a different opinion.

Some pro's will tell you that recency of last start can be a powerful form factor; others will stress that weight drops can prove of real significance.

On this one, we can point in recent times to the Oakleigh Plate win of Drum. The Lee Freedman trained 4yo dropped 7.5kg on his previous run when he stepped out carrying only 51.5kg in the big race. That weight drop proved a most decisive factor indeed; it enabled Drum to swoop home with a paralysing late burst and win the race.

Yet other professionals will explain why you should always take into account a horse's ability at the track and distance. We need look no further for evidence of the strength of this factor than Persian Flyer's win in the Tedesco Formal Wear Handicap over 1400m at Warwick Farm on February 24.

Persian Flyer had won two of three starts at the track, and had scored four times from eight runs over the distance - two powerful form components that could well have influenced any punter to back him to take out the event.

So, when we talk about 'key factors' what we are really saying is that if we are serious about our racing, and our betting, we have to sort out in our minds just what are the things we consider vitally important in a galloper's form makeup.

When we look at a formguide we have to be looking for the signs we consider to be the most important. Each of us may be looking for something different (no two punters are alike) but the essential point is that we are adopting a rational approach in that we are searching for VITAL signs, clues in fact, in the search for the winners of the races.

I have a friend who restricts his key factors to the minimum. He runs his eye down the card, marks off those runners in the stables of leading trainers, ignores the rest and only then begins his form study, restricting himself to what he calls the 'power' runners.

Let me give you an example of this man's thinking: The Hobartville Stakes at Warwick Farm on February 24. The only runners he considered were Octagonal and Vernal (from the John Hawkes team), Nothin' Leica Dane (Gai Waterhouse), Catalan Opening (Bart Cummings) and Filante (Jack Denham).

On the trainer barometer scale he operates, my pal ignored Filante, then put a big query over Vernal. That left the other three, and from that point, he says, it was easy to narrow the major prospects to Nothin' Leica Dane and Octagonal. Catalan Opening was left out because it was believed he'd be better off at a longer trip than the 1400m, whereas the other two were fresh from a spell and rarin' to go.

"I bet on the basis that the top trainers are going to win a majority of the big races, it's that simple," says my friend. "You can waste a lot of time on horses from the stables of lesser-known trainers, and you can waste a great deal of money on them, too. My plan works because I go with the champagne mob."

Sunshine Coast professional Barry Blakemore has his own firm views about what constitutes key factors. He says perhaps the most important factor is the 'days between' a horse's last run and the run it is having today.

His thinking forms the basis of his book, The Key Factor Is Fitness.

Another factor he stresses is that about 75 to 80 per cent of all winners come from the first four favourites. As Blakemore says, these are very much important factors that should never be overlooked when you are assessing a race.

Blakemore lists the following as his key points:

  1. A fit horse
  2. one of the first 4 favs
  3. a horse that runs on the pace
  4. a good jockey
  5. a good barrier
  6. a good track

I have my own views on key factors. I like to see Class worked out - is a horse in the right Class, or is it outclassed? If it has dropped down in Class, how much more weight has it to carry, or alternatively, if it's gone up in Class what sort of weight dive has it taken?

The following, then, are the 10 Key Factors I believe we should use in the all-important selection process. If your own best-liked factor is not among them, well, simply add it on!

  1. CLASS

    As Paul Segar says in his book Horse Racing Theory And Practice, some horses have class and others do not. So it's important that you try to accurately measure each horse's Class.

    The formguides tell the story where Class is concerned (in fact, the Sportsman has a special section for each race in which it reveals which horses are up in Class and which are down in Class). Horses which race way out of their Class rarely win.

    For instance, a horse winning a country Maiden might be rated on 40, while a horse that wins a WFA race can be rated on, say, 60. This means there is some 20 kilos, or 13.3 lengths, between them, probably more.

    A horse has to be well weighted to win a race. Weight can stop a train. Have a look at each horse's handicap weight and make a judgement about whether it is too much, just enough, or too little. In the latter case, feel happy when you find a horse you decide has beaten the handicapper.

    In major races, look for horses that have raced well at their last start and which now drop a BIG amount (say 5kg or more).

    A horse has to be fit to win. Unfit horses do not win. Barry Blakemore comes up with some startling conclusions about fitness in his book - in fact, he says there is a definitive fitness pattern in the results of all races.

    The longer a horse has been away from the racetrack the more there is a query over its fitness. It's as simple as that. Consider 21 days as a cut-off point for most horses, but where top-class horses are concerned you can seriously consider first-uppers.

    Some horses can handle certain tracks. Some perform well on small, turning circuits; others like the longer, wider spaces of tracks like Flemington.

    A horse's history will reveal where they run best. Always check a horse's track history and mark off those that have two wins or more at a track. The more wins the more confident you can feel.

    Each horse has a certain distance range at which it excels. Some horses are sprinters, others are middle-distance types (1600m to 2000m) while the rest are in the staying mould (from 2100m upwards to 3200m).

    Check out carefully each horse's record at the distance of the race. Lean towards those that have proven themselves more than once. The more wins the better.

    The draw invariably plays an important role in the scheme of things. Not always, but certainly enough times to make it a worthwhile exercise to take account of its impact.

    A good draw - say from I to 7 can be worth a vital length or two in a tight finish. No matter what some experts say, the barrier draw can be all-important, for better or worse.
  7. FORM

    A horse that's in form is going to be a better bet, overall, than a horse that has been beaten, and comprehensively beaten, at its recent starts.

    You will find that most winners come from the ranks of horses which can be considered to be 'in form'. Wins, 2nds, 3rds, 4ths and close-up efforts are all indicators of form runners. 

    The betting market can be a true guide to the main chances in a race. Around 80 per cent of ALL races go to one of the first four favs. That's a compelling piece of evidence.

    Once you go outside the first four favourites (or at least the first four lines of favouritism) you are going into that outer range of 20 per cent of winners, which means you have that other 80 per cent statistic against you.

    Good horses from good stables win good races. It's an old cliché but a true one. When you're in doubt, don't be afraid to throw in your lot with a top stable rather than a battling one.

    In the long run, the top stables will take out the majority of races. The battlers will remain just that.

    If you stick with last-start winners and placegetters you will give yourself a very real chance of getting a crop of winners. But if you add to this the factor of 'beaten margins' you can do even better.

    Horses that finished 2.75 lengths or less from the winner at their most recent start often go on and win next start. Keep this important key factor in mind.

    It's really surprising how many times a horse with 'close up' laststart form comes out and wins next time out, even if that last outing was an unplaced one.

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

By Alan Jacobs