It’s been said many times that the subject of studying form is an intricate one, but during the course of this article I hope to develop a step-by-step method of whittling down any field to a handful of likely winners as quickly and easily as possible. What legendary post-war bookmaker, Joe Lee, called the “glorious uncertainty” of racing guarantees that no such method can ever be perfect, but I hope you’ll find my suggestions both logical and practical.
Of course, studying form properly requires more than just the basic form figures available in most national newspapers, but all the information to which I refer is available free of charge from public sources.
Some of the basic characteristics we’re looking for in likely winners are that they’re fit and ready to do themselves justice, they’re in form and they’re capable of reproducing their best form under the prevailing conditions.
Thankfully, we can determine whether or not a horse is fit and ready to do itself justice by looking at the Racing Post race card. The race card includes a figure, immediately after each horse’s name, which indicates the number of days since the horse last ran. For the sake of simplicity, figuratively or literally put a line through any horse that’s been off the course for more than 42 days, or is unraced. Of course, some horses do win first time out and/or after lengthy absences, but we’re trying to highlight likely winners quickly, so some level of compromise is necessary.
Again, for the sake of simplicity, we can split any field into three distinct groups:
• Horses than won last time out
• Horses that were placed second, third or fourth last time out
• Horses that finished unplaced, or failed to complete the course, last time out, but figure prominently in the betting for the race under consideration
Exactly what we mean by “prominently” varies from race to race, but generally we’re probably talking about being in the first half a dozen in the betting.
Start with the horses that won last time out and work your way through them in race card order.
1. For each one, satisfy yourself that the horse is running within its normal sphere, in terms of class, value and weight, and is not attempting too much more than it has in the past. Be particularly wary of any horse stepping up in class by two or more grades or stepping up in class, at all, if the rise in class is combined with a rise in weight of 14lb or more.
2. Similarly, satisfy yourself that the horse is capable of acting on the course, over the distance and on the prevailing going.
2.1 As far as the course is concerned, horses that run well on a right-handed, sharp, flat course, such as Kempton Park, may be less well suited by a left-handed, galloping, undulating and testing track, such as Cheltenham, and vice versa. Inspect the horse’s previous form to see if it’s won or been placed on a course with similar characteristics to the one on which it’s competing.
2.2 Check that the horse has won or been placed over the same, or similar, distance in the past. Obviously, form over exactly the same distance is preferable, but form over a furlong or so shorter, or further, is equally pertinent.
2.3 Check that the horse has won or been placed on the same, or similar, going in the past. Again, form on exactly the same going is preferable, but form on one “grade” either side of the prevailing going, e.g. on “good to firm” or “good to soft” if the prevailing going is “good”, should also provide encouragement.
3. If, when you’ve completed steps 1. to 2.3, the horse still appeals as a likely winner, add it to your shortlist.
4. Repeat steps 1. to 3. for those horses that were placed second, third or fourth last time out.
5. Repeat steps 1. to 3. for those horses that finished unplaced, or failed to complete the course, last time out, but figure prominently in the betting for the race under consideration.
6. By this point, you should have a shortlist of, perhaps, three or four horses and have started to form some opinions about the likely outcome of the race. Re-examine the last two races for each horse on your shortlist, looking for evidence that the horse is at, or approaching, its peak. Proven winning form is preferable, but, in its absence, evidence of progression from one race to the next, or a promising run in, say, a better class race may be enough to sway you in favour of one horse over another.
7. Once you’ve made your selection, check the RTF% on the Racing Post race card to make sure that the horse’s stable isn’t suffering from below par performances. If you’re in any doubt, click on the trainer’s name to view his or her runners in the last 14 days.
8. Remember, you’re not duty bound to bet on every race, even if you’ve studied the form. Backing horses is about making decisions and if you don’t feel that you have enough information to make a decision don’t make one. Wait until you do, make a confident selection and back it accordingly.