June 2017

The Zen of Form Study

Practically every fact about the public performance of a racehorse can be extracted from the form book and, normally, the form book is the only way of comparing the performance of one racehorse with another. However, the form book, in its various forms, contains so much information that sometimes it’s easy to forget why we opened it in the first place – to identify the likely winner of a horse race!


‘Surprise’ winners, including racecourse or seasonal debutantes, or horses specially laid out for organised betting ‘coups’, account for a small proportion of winners, but the majority of horse races are won by horses at, or approaching, their peak, running within their normal sphere under favourable conditions against limited opposition.


Winning form is the easiest to assess and, in the absence of ‘inside’ information, recent form is the only reliable guide to the well-being of a racehorse, so it stands to reason that the first thing to look for in the form book is recent winning form. Of course, even a horse with recent winning form can be usurped by one of the ‘surprise’ winners described above, but we can reduce the chances of this happening by choosing to bet in races in which all the runners have fully ‘exposed’ form or, in other words, have run in at least five (or preferably ten) races, including two during the current season. Fairly obviously, the more recent the form the better.


These may appear to be statements of the glaringly obvious, but I’m often surprised when experienced form students jump straight into the form of the first horse on the race card, or a horse they’ve backed before, regardless of whether or not it has recent winning form. Form study is, no doubt, a fascinating activity, but we need to remember that it’s a means to an end, not an end in itself. The fact that horse A acts best on soft or heavy going and is now 7lb lower in the weights than when last winning a handicap, for example, is unlikely to be of any great consequence if horse A is on a losing run of fifteen, stretching back two seasons unless, of course, it’s encountering soft or heavy ground for the first time in that period.


Concentrating on horses win recent winning form and, hopefully, a relatively high winning percentage, means that you’re starting with the most likely winners, not wasting time eliminating horses with little or no chance. In fact, the easiest type of race to analyse is often one in which two or three runners have recent winning form and a relatively high winning percentage and the remainder have neither. Of course, if you come across a race in which none of the runners has recent winning form or a high winning percentage, you might want to leave the race alone completely.