Guest post written by Willy Weasel
The subject of studying form is, by its very nature, a complex one, but it’s important not to get bogged down in trifling details. If you do, you’re likely to be distracted from more important factors that influence the outcome of horse races.
Studying form is a means to an end, not an end in itself. It’s something that you do to predict how a horse is likely to run in a race, which, in turn, helps you to make a profit from betting on horses. Profitable betting can be hugely enjoyable, so don’t be discouraged by the amount of work involved. The more form you study, the more familiar you’ll become with the horses and their recent achievements and the easier the form will become to read. Eventually, you’ll find that, by applying basic logical principles to the form, you’ll quickly be able to identify likely winners of almost any race.
Ideally, what we’re looking for when assessing any race is a horse with good recent form, preferably winning form, which is attempting little, or nothing, more than it has achieved in the past. This statement effectively encompasses all there is to know about studying form, but a full explanation, in quantifiable terms, would require several volumes.
The first question we need to ask ourselves is “How good is good enough?” and we can only really answer that question by comparing the form of one horse with that of the other runners in a race. In simple terms, winning form is the easiest to evaluate, but more on that later.
Logically, the second question we need to ask ourselves is “How recent is recent enough?” and, thankfully, we can answer that question rather more easily than the first. Horses, especially Flat horses, can only be held at peak fitness for a month or so without racing, so any form more than six weeks’ old must be treated with caution. An absence of six weeks or more may not, by itself, be sufficient reason to eliminate a horse as a likely winner, especially if other factors are in its favour, but it’s definitely a negative when comparing two horses of similar ability.
Incidentally, if we’re going to study form, form must actually exist in the first place. This might appear to be a statement of the blindingly obvious until you consider juvenile, maiden and novice races, on the Flat or over Jumps. Runners in these races are often previously unraced, lightly raced or untried in their chosen discipline, so it’s difficult, if not impossible, to determine their ability, fitness and preferences with regard to distance, going, etc. These races, along with races in which the majority of the runners are making their seasonal debuts, produce many unpredictable winners and are best left alone for betting purposes. Concentrate, instead, on races where most of the runners are fully exposed and have recent form in the book for all to see.
While we’re on the subject of the types of races we should be looking at, and which we shouldn’t, selling, claiming and low grade classified stakes races typically attract horses which are, at best, of moderate ability. Runners may be poor, regressive and/or in the twilight of their careers, but, in any case, the form of these races is too unreliable to make studying it worthwhile.
So, if we’re going to compare the form of one runner with that of the others in a race, where do we start? A look at the statistics for the last ten seasons reveals that nearly two-thirds of all the horse races run in Great Britain and Ireland during that period were won by one of the first three in the betting market. Backing and laying horses is all about opinions. Bookmakers form an opinion on the likely outcome of a race, which they express as the odds they offer for each runner, and punters form their own opinion, which they express by accepting, or declining, the odds on offer. Bookmakers make the odd mistake, but, generally speaking, it stands to reason that we can use the betting market to direct us towards runners worthy of further investigation.
It strikes me, at this point, that the best way to expound the finer points of studying form is to use a concrete, real-life example. In the next article in this series, “Studying Form: Part II”, I’ll select one race, entirely at random, and outline the process of studying form, step-by-step. Note that I’ll be studying form before the race is run, rather than attempting to backfit my findings to the result after it’s already known, so I may, or may not, accurately predict the winner.