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10 tips: Form study (Horse racing)

Updated on July 22, 2012

10 tips: Form Study


10 tips: Understanding Form study.

Form study can be profitable, but it is often misleading and difficult to read, like anything else in life, the more seriously you study it, the better the results.

Hopefully, the following 10 tips will help to improve your form reading:

Avoid Juvenile races.

2 year old form, especially in the early months of the season is extremely unreliable. A young horse having his first race may never have traveled in a horse box before and the racecourse experience can spook an experienced horse that alone one experiencing the sights and sounds of a big crowd. It should therefore come as no surprise that the youngsters are skittish and can use up a lot of nervous energy before their debut race. Juveniles having theirsecond run often improve beyond all recognition and understandably so; a view also taken by the stewards.

If you are going to bet on 2yos rather than relying on the formbook, it would be better to concentrate your efforts on Trainers who do well with debutants and those who do well 2nd time out. Access to a decent progeny database is a useful tool on extremes of going.

Be Wary of races with unexposed 3 yo runners entered.

Information is power and in the early part of the season in particular.On many occasions you won’t have much more information in a 3 yo race than in a 2 yo race and the information available may be seriously misleading. Once again the form book often goes out of the window with 3 yo horses; shocking as it may seem, some trainers don’t want their horses to win as 2 yos. If a horse wins a race as a 2 yo the official handicapper often over reacts and gives a horse an unrealistic Handicap mark in what turns out to be a weak race, virtually wiping out its chances of winning as a 3 yo.

Is it any wonder then that certain trainers will look to the future and run their juveniles three times when the horse isn’t fully wound up or running over an inappropriate distance? This way the horse has a better chance of being well handicapped as a 3 yo as the handicapper may realise what is going on, but can only rate a horse on the evidence of what he has seen on the track. Look for trainers who operate this way;Sir Mark Prescott is the master; he runs his 2 yos who are bred for longer middle distance races over 5 or 6 furlongs, knowing they have no chance of winning given their breeding. As a consequence they are extremely well handicapped and often run up long winning sequences as 3 yos when upped to an appropriate trip

Concentrate on Older horses.

Given the first two points it comes as no surprise to find that 4 yo races where there is plenty of form to study are usually far more reliable from a form perspective. By concentrating on 4 yo plus races you by and large, eliminate the element of surprise as all or most of the runners are exposed. There will be few springers and certain 3yo plus Handicaps are also fine as long as there aren’t any 3 yo runners who have only had a couple of races.

Never assume.

The first step in trying to find the winner of a race should be to eliminate the runners you believe cannot win and to leave yourself with a shortlist of runners that can win.

Your form study shows you that a horse has failed to make the frame on all of its 8 runs on Soft ground, so is it a safe assumption to say that it cannot win on Soft ground today? The answer seems to be probably not of course, but what if all of those runs came when the horse was badly handicapped or the horse was running over an inappropriate trip? Did those earlier runs on Soft ground come in the horse’s early career; is it possible the horse has strengthened up since then? It is very dangerous to assume you can discount a horse from calculations on one parameter, without checking out the facts thoroughly.

Look for well Handicapped runners.

Runners who are currently rated 7lb lower than their best winning weight in a Handicap can be said to be “Well in at the weights” and have a good chance of winning, given the right conditions. It is vital to check that the trip, going and type of course suit the horse; especially if the horse is a Course specialist and most importantly that the winning rating was in the near past, not 3 or 4 years ago. The connections will then place the horse in a race where the conditions play to its strengths and if you can identify such a horse it may be better to get your money on early as the price will often contract before the off if the connections have a decent bet on the horse.

Never discount a lack of form.

Don’t be afraid of a row of duck eggs; just because a horse has run poorly for its last 6 or 7 races, does not necessarily mean it has lost its form or cannot win on the day. If a horse is poorly Handicapped a trainer will often run it over unsuitable circumstances in an effort to get it well Handicapped and heaven forbid the trainer may not have the horse 100% fit or may instruct the jockey to take it out wide or ride it down the unfavoured strip of ground.

Carrying on from the previous point, look for a well handicapped horse that has been running over a different trip or on unsuitable ground when it was poorly handicapped. Once its rating is back to a suitable mark, look for a horse running with conditions to suit for the first time in a while

Avoid ratings systems

Ratings systems such asTurftrax take several known factors (28 in the case of Turftrax) and crunch them through a computer to come up with a top rated runner, which more often than not, is not surprisingly the favourite.

Horses are not machines, they cannot tell a computer if they are injured or unwell or just not in the mood for a 3 mile slog in the mud today. Ratings systems do have some merit in older runner races, but are relatively pointless in 2 yo and early season 3 yo races. They also do not factor in such circumstances as to whether a horse was badly hampered, given a poor ride by the jockey or chose the wrong strip of ground, etc. I’ve also yet to meet a ratings computer in the paddock, telling me how well a horse looked before a race.

Be wary of freak results

One punter I know used to believe in backing “The Class horse” in the race in the belief that if it had won in a better Class of race than the other runners it was the one to follow as the cream would come to the top. Sadly this premise is flawed on several levels. The first thing to understand is that a win in a certain grade or class is not always as meritorious as it may seem at first glance. The Hilary Needler is the 2nd listed 2 yo race of the season and the winner of the race is entitled to the prestigious “Black Type” thoroughbreds crave to improve their stud value. However the race is a Listed race in name only and very few of the past winner have gone on to win further Black Type races.

A runner in a Class 4 Handicap may have won in a Class 2 Handicap, but how long ago was the win, are the horse’s best days behind him? Also, if it was say a 0-105 Handicap, what rating was the top rated horse? If the top rated horse was only 90, effectively it is a Class 3 Handicap and not a Class 2. Have a look at the form of the Classy win, has it worked out or did it prove to be a weak race for the grade?

The theory also falls down on other counts. Northern form tends to be weaker than races at the major Southern courses, as does early season form. If the win was achieved ina 2 or 3 yo only race there will almost certainly be unexposed runners who had not reached the peak of their ability.

Look for trainer Trends.

If you fancy a runner take a look at the way the trainer operates. Are his string in decent form, has he had runners in this race before, were they fancied, are there any similarities between runners who have done well in the past? Has the trainer won a couple of previous renewals of the race with decent priced winners? Trainers like Gary Moore and Ian Balding like to have runners at their local tracks.

Look for improving horses.

Runners returning from a long break, especially 2 and 3 yos, have the ability to show drastic improvement on what they have previously shown on the book. Once again look for trainers whose runners improve after a break at certain times of the year and keep an eye on the market for confidence in the horse.

Conclusion:

You can make racing pay from formbook study, but it is hard work and don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise. It is sometimes possible to win with just a summary curse of the formbook, but if you want to obtain consistent results over the long term then it is necessary to become a Form Student. As with any other form of learning you will only improve with a great deal of effort and study along with a sprinkling of good luck, As the old saying goes though “The harder I work the luckier I seem to get”

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