There are many ways by which you can turn a field of horses into a field of horses PLUS estimated 'true' prices. There are mechanical ways and 'instinctive' ways.

In this article, I'll be looking at the latter and talking about how you can assess a field of runners to a 100 per cent book. It's not as difficult as you may think. You won't get it right all the time. No-one does. But you must treat your efforts as part of a learning curve.

The more races you attempt, the better you'll get at arriving at a set of prices that is closely accurate to pinpointing the key prospects by price.

The best thing to do is to start off with fields in which there are not too many runners. If you kick off by trying to sort out fields of 12 or more, the harder you'll find it. Not that all small-field races are easy to assess; they're not.

But you should be able to find enough of them to give yourself a good time in your early endeavours.

In many ways, pricing a field is all about trial and error. You allot your percentage points at stage one, reassess perhaps two or three times, and then finalise.

Let's take as an example the Kensington Stakes over 1100m at

Flemington on January 29. This race had seven runners. I worked out the prices like this:

BLACK BEAN: Smart performer resuming from a break, winner 3 from 5 at the track, has won 2 from 5 first-up, good trainer, top jockey, drawn well. Initial assessment: 30%.

LORD LUSKIN: Not raced for more than 15 months. On this point alone, must be regarded as a risk, despite good form. Now with a Warmambool trainer. Initial assessment: 10%.

BUSH OUTLAW: Good stable, good jockey, consistent form against good horses at recent starts, dropping 1kg on previous run, winner at track and distance. Initial assessment: 25%.

FRENCH CLOCK: Goodwood Handicap winner having first run since previous October. Winner at track and distance but looks as if he could do with the run. Initial assessment:

MAN O'MARS: NSW-trained galloper who has gone well before at Flemington but over 1000m. Has the pace to figure and has top rider Stephen Baster aboard. Initial assessment: 20%

NATURAL TYCOON: Good form and comes from a top stable but faces a rise in class. Initial assessment: 10%

LIVID: Pacy type now in a new stable; pretty good effort behind Miss Pennymoney last start. Probably better suited against mares. Initial assessment: 15%.

The total of the percentages is 125% which, so far as we're concerned, is 25% too much. We need to start trimming So we start with the less-fancied runners. I have probably overrated one or two of them.

Can Lord Luskin really win after such a long layoff? There has to be a real doubt. I mark him down to 50% which is 20/1. Next, French Clock. His last three starts have all been disappointing and he has to come in not fresh from a longish break. He is a risk, no doubt about it, so I trim him down to 5%.

Natural Tycoon, too, is leaping from 3yo class and was beaten 2.4 lengths last start. Hard, really, to see her beating this lot. I trim her down to 3%. Finally, Livid. While the 4yo mare's recent form is good, she would need to show even more improvement to figure here. So I chop her down to 10%

Now we have a final total of 103, which is more like it. It's time for a final assessment. We really have only three main chances to figure, with Black Bean the most attractive. I decide that his quote should be shortened, so I make him 35%, and I trim the others back.

Bush Outlaw goes from 25% to 22% and I ease back Man O'Mars from 20% to 15%.

This, I feel, is a good representative set of percentages and now I can draw up the prices:

BLACK BEAN is assessed at 35%, which translates to 15/8.

LORD LUSKIN is assessed at which translates to 20/1.

BUSH OUTLAW is assessed at 22% which translates to 7/2.

FRENCH CLOCK is assessed at 5%, which translates to 20/1.

MAN O'MARS is assessed at 15'/,,, which translates to 11 /2.

NATURAL TYCOON is assessed at 3% which translates to 33/1.

LIVID is assessed at 10% which translates to 9/1.

The final percentage market drawn up is at 95% This is okay. We can safely bet to this percentage.

The trick, I have found, is that you must try not to overestimate the chances of the outsiders. There is always a temptation to play safe but then you end up with overpriced roughies and you place too high a price on the best chances.

A friend showed me a set of his prices recently and was complaining that he could never achieve overlay prices on his top fancies. His problem was that he was not being ruthless enough with the no-hopers. Instead of 25/1 chances, he was putting them in at 15/1, which was not a true reflection of their chances.

As a result, his best chances were at ridiculous odds. He was demanding 5/1 and 6/1 on horses that he should have priced at half those quotes.

Once he learned to get the balance right, my friend's betting took a turn for the better. His best chances were being priced fairly and he was able to often obtain value prices about them. He continues today as a most successful 'overlays' punter.

So always remember this piece of advice. Be tough on the horses you feel are not really winning prospects. Don't give them the time of day if they do not deserve it.

Another way to price a field is to use the old 'x' rating approach, as used by old-time bookmakers. With this you a I lot 'x' ratings to horses, depending on how you rate them. You also allot 'o' markings if you are not keen on a horse's prospects.

For example, let's look at the 4th race at Flemington on January 29, the King Handicap over 1734m.

WESTERN MAGIC: In good stable, handy runs latest 2, and now down in class but up in weight. Has failed 3 from 3 at the track. Rated X.

FLIRTY BIRD: Racing in good form, three-time winner at the track, twice at the distance, no luck at previous run. One of the chances. Rated XX.

FRAAR DIAVOLO: Handy plugger, likely to lead, battled last start, winner 2 from 2 at the track, fit. Rated XX.

PANORAMIC LAD: Racing in top form, winner twice at the track ,and 2 from 2 at the distance. Fit, with Damien Oliver aboard. Rated xxx.

DANCING SCULPTOR: Has been racing okay on country tracks, now up in class, moderate country stable. Rated OX.

MAGIC PRECIEUX: Has been failing on country tracks; needs to show some improvement. Rated ox.

HYWEL LEGEND: Good winner Bendigo 1500m last start in record time; has good jockey Greg Childs aboard. Rated X.

LADY BITON: Handy form but up 3kg here. Best form has been against mares. Probably a rough chance. Rated OX.

MOOKARA: Ordinary form, though better run 4th last start at Mornington 1500m. Looks tested. 00.

Count up all the 'X' markings and divide them into 100. There are 12 'X' markings, so the result is that each 'X' is worth 8.33 percentage points. In cases where there is an 'O'next to the 'X', you deduct onethird from the rating. So a horse like Dancing Sculptor would be priced at 8.33 minus one-third equalling 5.50. 

With two '00' markings next to the 'X', the 8.33 would be trimmed down by two-thirds, equalling 2.74.

Under this initial assessment, the pricing for this race would be:

LEGEND: 11 /1
MOOKARA: 33/1.

You may feel that the market still needs a little tweaking. If you were really keen on Panoramic Lad you could bring him into, say, 2/1 and ease some of the outsiders: Dancing Sculptor and Magic Precieux to 20/1, Hywel Legend to 14/1, and maybe Mookara to 40 / 1. Generally, though, the 0 and X markings will give you a pretty good appraisal of a race, provided you have shown commonsense and skill in handing out the markings.

Generally, the following applies: XXXX Top prospect, very hard to beat.

XXX Strong chance.
XX Eachway prospect.
X Has a moderate chance.
OX Risky but a
chance if right at peak.
OOX Not much chance.
OO Very rough chance.
OOO Little chance at all.

Next month, I'll be looking at other ways to price races. I'm sure you'll find them most interesting.

Click here to read Part 3.
Click here to read Part 1.

By Richard Hartley Jnr