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How to Improve Your Form Study

Eliminate the Negative: How to Improve Your Form Study

According to the popular song, “You’ve got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative” and, if you’re trying to narrow the runners in a horse race to a manageable number of potential winners, eliminating those that have at least one negative factor against them is often a sensible way to start. If you want to be methodical about your form study, it’s a good idea to draw up a checklist, which you apply, religiously, to every race you study. A typical checklist might include, in no particular order, the following items:

  • Class
  • Distance
  • Draw
  • Fitness
  • Form
  • Jockey
  • Pace
  • Weight


Class, by its very nature, is always a thorny topic. Once a racehorse has run in a requisite number of qualifying races, it is allotted an official rating by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA). The official rating represents the ability of the horse and, at any time, determines the class of race in which it is eligible to compete. However, highly progressive horses may improve faster than the BHA Handicapper is able to raise their official ratings and win again and again, despite competing in better class races. This type of horse can move swiftly up through the ranks and run up a sequence of wins at rewarding odds. However, as a general rule, be wary of any horse operating outside its normal sphere and attempting more, in terms of class, than it has achieved in the past.


With a few exceptions, individual racehorses are bred and trained to be suited by a fairly narrow range of distances. In the case of young, unexposed horses, dosage statistics may be useful for determining their distance potential but, otherwise, be wary of any horse stepping up or down in distance by more than, say, a furlong or two. Over specialist distances, such as 7 furlongs, it may be judicious to avoid any horse that hasn’t won over that exact distance.


Obviously the effects of the draw are only applicable to Flat racing. Nevertheless, satisfy yourself that no appreciable draw bias exists on the course on which your selection is competing or, if one does, that it’s in your favour. There’s nothing worse than putting time and effort into form study only to discover, as soon as the stalls open, that your selection has no chance because it’s drawn on the wrong side of the track. Of course, horses with early tactical speed, and a tactically aware jockey, may be able to overcome a poor draw, but finding winners is difficult enough without introducing such imponderables.


The easiest way to determine if a horse is fit and well is to see evidence of winning or placed form with, say, the last six weeks. Racehorses cannot be maintained at peak fitness all the time. They tend to be brought along steadily to peak fitness, perhaps with a specific race or races in mind, where they remain for a short period before being let down again. As a general rule, be wary of any horse returning from an absence of 42 days or longer, particularly if the horse in question is subject to any negative comments from its connections in the media.



There are essentially two questions that you should ask yourself about the form of any racehorse, ‘How recent is it?’ and ‘How good is it?’ Bearing in mind what we’ve already said in the ‘Fitness’ section above, if the answer to the first question is ‘more than six weeks old’ it’s debatable whether we should be studying the form in the first place. The answer to the second question can only really be determined by reference to the form of the other runners in the race but, based on what we’ve said already, we’re looking for evidence that the horse is capable of winning the race being studied. The majority of horse races are won by horses at, or approaching, their peak running within their normal sphere against limited opposition.


If you ever look at the ‘Why They Ran Badly’ section of the BHA website, you’ll notice that one of the most common explanations, or excuses, offered by trainers when one of their horses performs below expectations is that is was unsuited by the going. Ideally, concentrate on horses that are fully effective on the prevailing going and, even in the worse case, don’t consider any horse without winning or placed form on going one degree faster or slower than the prevailing going.

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If a horse is not due to be ridden by its regular winning jockey, you may like to ask yourself why not. Of course, it may be that the regular winning jockey is injured, suspended or simply riding at another meeting on the day but, if a professional jockey is replaced by an apprentice or conditional jockey it may be cause for concern.


As you work your way through the form of any horse race, you should start to form an opinion about the likely pace of the race. If you’re studying a large field with several confirmed front-runners, it’s likely that the pace will be strong and, conversely, if you’re looking a small field of hold-up performers, a muddling pace is equally likely. You may want to avoid front-runners in races where there’s likely to be plenty of competition for the lead and, similarly, hold-up horses in races with no confirmed front-runner.


Weight is one factor that often takes care of itself, so usually it’s nothing to worry about. Winning horses will inevitably receive a weight increase of some kind, so it’s usually sufficient to satisfy yourself, by reference to its past performances, that a horse is physically capable of carrying the weight allocated. However, one of the aims of the BHA Handicapper is to favour the majority at the expense of the minority, so be wary of any horse that receives a weight rise of more than 14lb, particularly if the horse is also stepping up in class.

If you apply a checklist of this kind to every horse race you study, you’ll find that you’ll quickly be able to eliminate the runners that have doubts about them and leave yourself with a shortlist of bona fide contenders on which to concentrate your efforts. Knowing which horses not to back is as important as knowing which horse to back and, by separating the wheat from the chaff, so to speak, you’ll not only find more winners, but also give yourself a psychological edge in terms of confidence in your selections.

We hope you enjoyed ‘Eliminate the Negative: How to Improve Your Form Study’ and we will be back soon with another advanced betting guide. In the meantime, we would love to hear your thoughts on ‘Eliminate the Negative: How to Improve Your Form Study’ in the comments section below.


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