Studying Form: Part III

Guest post written by Willy Weasel

The Bard of Ayrshire, Robert Burns, once wrote…

“The best-laid schemes o’ mice an ‘men
Gang aft agley,
An’lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!”

While I’m not particularly aggrieved or pained by the defeat of my selection, No Poppy, for whom I made a strong case in my previous article, “Studying Form: Part II”, I do believe that there are some valuable lessons to be learnt from reviewing the race and my original analysis of it.

For the record, the official result of the Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association Fillies’ Handicap (4.45 Newmarket, 24/10/12) was as follows:

1 Hippy Hippy Shake 13/2
2 Raasekha 14/1
3 Speedi Mouse 10/1

15 ran Distances: ¾l, ¾l, 2l

No Poppy was held up, as usual, and although she made headway from the rear of the field with just over a furlong to run she could only stay on at one pace to eventually finish fourth, beaten 3½ lengths by the winner.

There appeared to be no apparent excuses for her defeat, although it was noticeable that she took a long time to pick up and may now be ready for a step up to a mile and a quarter. She’s by Chineur, who won the Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes, over 5 furlongs, so that’s debatable at this stage. In any case, I’m prepared to concede that it was my judgement that was at fault on this occasion and it’ll be interesting to see what connections decide to do next with her.

I don’t believe I overestimated her ability. She had recent winning form over the distance and on the going and a 4lb rise in the weights shouldn’t really have made that much difference. Unless she ran below form, for reasons that aren’t yet apparent, the only other possibility is that I underestimated some of her rivals, in particular Luca Cumani’s filly Hippy Hippy Shake.

Incidentally, if you’re ever mystified by why a horse ran badly, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) devotes a whole page of its website to the subject, where you can read comments made by trainers and jockeys immediately after the race in question. In the absence of any such comments, or anything obvious, it’s usually safe to assume that it was your judgement that was at fault, rather than anything else.

In my original analysis, I was rather dismissive of Hippy Hippy Shake, stating merely that she’d run poorly on her only attempt on soft ground. What I failed to consider fully was the fact that her only attempt on soft ground coincided with her only attempt in Listed company, to date, so it may well have been the company that she was keeping, rather than the soft ground, which contributed to her defeat.

Hindsight is, indeed, a wonderful thing, but closer inspection of the form reveals that Hippy Hippy Shake finished just 2½ lengths behind William Haggas’ filly Vow on her previous start, over a mile and a quarter, at Haydock. Vow, who finished fourth in the Epsom Oaks in June, was rated 21lb her superior, yet conceding just 3lb. To cut a long story short, despite dropping back to a mile, Hippy Happy Shake was undoubtedly well handicapped, a fact that eluded me in my original analysis.

I’ve made a costly error, but not one that I intend to beat myself up over. I was correct in my original prediction that No Poppy would beat Raheeba, Sheba’s Dream and Subtle Knife and the only horses to beat her, apart from the winner, were Raasekha and Speedi Mouse. Raasekha was returning from an absence of 74 days and Speedi Mouse was backed on-course from 20/1 to 10/1, so someone clearly knew something that wasn’t immediately apparent from her previous form. I feel justified in leaving both of them out of my original calculations and I’m satisfied that my underlying approach is sound.

It would have been nice to have backed a winner for the sake of this example, but I hope I’ve managed to highlight some of the dos and don’ts of studying form, in any case. As ever, if you have any thoughts or comments on what I’ve written in this article, please let me know.

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