#1 - The Ground Conditions
This is the fundamental point for all analysis of form. The state of the track will always have a key bearing on the outcome of any race, with some horses preferring a fast surface while others revel in the mud. Form across different ground rarely translates, and when the going changes then so does the form.
Be very wary in particular when the seasons change and recent form can become meaningless. The fast ground, smooth traveller with a turn of foot (who has been so impressive in the summer months in rattling up a sequence of wins), might find his run coming to an abrupt end when the rain arrives in the Autumn.
Standard going descriptions:
- Good to Soft
- Good to Firm
All tracks produce an assessment of the state of the track, and up-to-date going reports and weather can be found on twitter by following @RCAGoingReports
#2 - The Recent Form Of The Stable
This is a huge part in any punters armoury. In my experience stables (away from the very top performers who generally maintain a fairly decent strike rate all year round), tend to operate in streaks of form, where everything seems to be running extremely well or winning (or not taking part at all). Keep an eye on the smaller yards that have a few big priced runners outrun their odds, and try and latch onto those stables who are peaking at the right time.
This 2015/16 National Hunt season for instance, the Harry Whittingdon stable maintained a 30% strike rate and show a substantial level stake profit from backing all of their runners at SP. Conversely Tim Vaughan has struggled for winners all winter, with numerous fancied runners performing miles below expectations.
The Racing Post website provides a great hot and cold section for trainers, with losing runs/days since a winner pinpointed, and those with a high strike rate in the past month clearly picked out. Backing "cold", dead yards is the quickest way to the poorhouse, and although trainer form can be over-stated (and over reacted to on Betfair at times), it is still very useful to know who is in what sort of form at any given time.
#3 - The Weights
How much weight a horse is carrying is a basis of the entire UK handicapping system, with weight differentials designed to bring horses of different ability together. The handicappers aim is to cause a dead heat among the whole field. Winners see their handicap mark raised (by how much varies on the discretion of the handicapper based on the merits of the performance). For example a facile, ten length winner of a competitive Saturday handicap could see his mark increased by 14lb, making it much harder for him to win again (or forcing him to race up a grade in a stronger race). A string of poor runs can see the handicapper quickly drop a horses rating, giving him a chance to compete or get back into form on more favourable terms.
Below is a good example of a typical handicap, with Izzy Piccolina given 11-12 to carry, and the horse with the least ability Kayf Charmer given 10-3.
Try and form your own views about the relative merits (or marks) of horses. Quickly arriving at a rating after seeing a maiden or novice hurdle is part of the skill...and will enable you to spot horses who have got in lightly i.e are capable of performing well above the mark they have been allotted.
#4 - The Track
Some horses show their best form at different tracks, and understanding this is a massive factor in getting to read racing form properly. The UK has a wide variety of different courses, with venues such as Towcester and Cartmel totally and utterly different. For example, the former is an extremely stiff, galloping course with relative testing fences and a long uphill run in that produces slow motion gruelling finishes on a regular basis. The latter is constantly on the turn, very sharp with small fences that take little jumping. Both tracks tend to produce specialists who only run to their best granted a unique set of circumstances at their favoured course. The slow, bold jumping galloping chaser is likely to revel in deep ground at Towcester, while the sharp, nippy frontrunning speed horse might shine at Cartmel.
Learning the UK tracks vagaries is an essential part of the game, and there are often significant advantages that need to be factored in (i.e a low draw at Towcester or a frontrunner at Pontefract against the far-rail).
#5 - How Will The Race Be Run?
Read racing form to understand the run styles of various horses, and look out for the unique frontrunner (or confirmed hold up horse) that could have things pan out perfectly in the race itself.
One of the best angles is finding a handicap where there are numerous trailblazers who are likely to duel on the lead and ruin each other at a breakneck pace. In these races, the more patiently ridden performer will be favoured, with the pace likely to collapse and the complexion change late. Also seemingly impressive winners in this manner can be opposed next time when things are unlikely to work out so perfectly (from a higher mark up the weights too).
Solo frontrunners (in chases in particular) also enjoy a big advantage, with their vision of each obstacle unimpeded by rivals and the jockey able to see a stride and set his own unpestered tempo. Often on Betfair when something gets such a "soft lead" his price immediately collapses as punters want to be on, so identifying when this is likely to occur is a clear edge over the market.
#6 - Does Your Form Selection Represent Value For Money?
Some of the best judges of the daily racing form struggle to make punting pay. They might well find something with a clear chance on their ratings, with ground conditions ideal and the stable in great form....but they are unable to translate this judgement into an accurate price that is value to bet at. Try and get into the habit of pricing up the races where you are confident about the form of every horse, and aim for a 100% "perfect book", where your prices accurately mirror the likelihood of victory for all the runners.
Doing this will prevent taking ridiculously short prices (the front of the market is often over-bet in the this exchange driven age), and can show where the value truly lies (the difference between your price and the bigger exchange price). The most astute punters are often happy to sit on their hands and not bet when they make their selection 2/1 (3.0) but only 5/4 (2.25) is available. Let them run unbacked and wait for another opportunity.
#7 - Hunt Around For The Best Possible Prices
By the same token, every judge of form needs to be able to access the best prices out there. This means having a Betfair account primarily, but also access to all the firms that now price up racing (often the night before and wildly inaccurately at that). Usually bets will only be available in small size (and you will quickly be limited if proving to be successful in beating the Starting Price), but it is still worth being patient and chipping away (and taking advantage of the numerous offers, concessions and free bets).
#8 - The Jockey
The top names will always have their following i.e Ryan Moore or Richard Johnson (and usually be on board the best horses), but the astute form reader can profit by spotting a promising young rider early on (before he has ridden many winners and is often able to claim 7lb or 5lb off the horses allotted weight). These youngsters will not yet of caught the public imagination but are great if you can latch onto them before the market reacts.
Certain horses also do seem to go best for certain riders, and it is also worth keeping an eye out for a professional replacing an amateur rider for the first time (marked improvement can follow for stronger handling).
#9 - The Present Well-Being Of The Horse
Sometimes the form student can get too caught up in data, often trawling back into last seasons' form to see if conditions are ideal or the horse is back to his last winning mark. This process has its uses, but it is not a game run on paper or ruled by number crunchers. Racing is an ever-changing daily sport, and staying on top of recent events is far more profitable than trawling through mountains of data trying to unearth a 20/1 chance "thrown in on his 2012 form at Fontwell". The fit, well, ready "now" horse should always be given extra respect than the runner who might have gone completely (or suffered injury or training difficulties that mean he is no longer capable of showing what he once did three years ago).
#10 - Some Great Racing Form Guide Apps That Are Essential
All aspiring punters need to make the most of the best information available. The most authoritative app is Timeform.com, with great analysis for free on a daily basis and all the form easy to read and understand.
For the more advanced, stats based punter, then Proform is an excellent organisation, with the ability to crunch numbers to uncover numerous angles that are not in the public domain.
On a day to day basis the Racingpost app is excellent for information gathering, including results and the latest entries for the next days racing. Both this app, and the up-and-coming Athteraces site offer the complete package for punters (including a superb video archive to watch back form of all the days runners).
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