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Picking a Winner – Part 1

Walk away from the mirror, this is not a nose-picking tutorial… this Horse specific guide to picking a winner was written by staff member Brad – you can read up on his extensive and painful track punting history here.

There are three theories I run with when picking a horse in a race; the first is usually when at the pub on a weekend or just flicking through each race casting my eyes over the names and something just hits you and it says ‘back me’ – is it effective? Yes, sometimes something just screams ‘pick me’ with no form or idea why. I think it is more a subconscious thing that I have watched so many races and done so much form over the past few weeks and months that some of those random picks are actually very good form selections. It’s because of something they have done in a previous race or preparation that makes them say ‘pick me’. When one of these wins you do think for a moment how easy that is and maybe I should just flick through! Long term though this doesn’t work, it’s good for a bit of fun but that’s about it.

The second and main theory is doing my hard form. When it comes to doing form for a normal days racing it tends to start a couple days in advance, looking through the “Black Book” – it’s so much easier now with computers instead of having everything written down and looking though the guide to see if my Black Booked horses are running in the next few days. For me the Black Book is an important tool, as soon as I see something in a horse I quickly get in, add it to the Black Book and add my notes, every time it runs I add to the notes – did it get a block, a bump, how did it look, was it comfortable over the distance, needs more or less distance, more or less weight, apprentice with a claim, any little detail I see I add. The reason I add every little detail is it’s the little details that make the difference between winning by a nose or losing by a hair.
Racing for me, is split into 3 distance categories. This is to do with how much weight will effect a horse over that distance, there is a lot of theories on this but these are mine and again there is a few exceptions to the rule. For the sake of the article we need to make an assumption that all things are equal in all facets of the race at this point, the condition of the track, all jockeys are the same, and all horse are the same, and all horses run the same distance in a race.

0-1200/1300 metre race.
1400-1800 metre race.
2000+ metre race.

So as we said all things being equal up to about the 1200-1300 metres – 1kg of weight will make up to half a length, from 1400-1800 metre race – 1kg of weight will make up to 1 lengths, from 2000 metres and up – 1.5 lengths difference to a horse. So, 3 horses in a race over 1600m horse A, B and C. Horse A has 55kg, horse B 54kg and C 53kg. Horse C wins by a length to C and a further length back is A.
Are you confused yet? Don’t worry the rabbit hole goes a lot deeper yet.

Next is time in lengths. This is relatively simple but can be vital when making a selection and it does depend on the condition of the track. On a firm to good track 1 second equates to approximately 6 lengths, on a soft track 5 lengths, and a heavy track 4 lengths again these are guides and the variance may be between a heavy 10 and heavy 8 is about .5 of a length. So this is why, when your horse gets checked and it loses by half a length they protest and it gets upheld depending on the interference. This ties into the Black Book, if you see a horse gets boxed in or checked but they then recover and go down by half a length it’s worth following its next run out. A horse can lose half a second here or there take the corner too wide, get a bump, my personal favourite – miss the start, how often do we see our pick miss the start only to go down by a length…. if it had not missed the start it would have won by 5 lengths, hurts I know! The jockey waits just that half a second too long to push the horse and its race over.

So I know this is a kind of backward way of getting to it but i needed to explain how the smallest thing can make the biggest difference in a race, so you can actually make the right pick in the race and just get beaten by one of those little half seconds faults or the extra half a kg in weight that you miscalculated on, you can pick the right horse but go down by 6 lengths which looks bad but over the length of a race the 6 lengths/1second is made up of 3-4 fraction of a second decisions by the jockey or just plain dumb luck.

Lets get down to business. What do I look for and what do I eliminate straight away? I try to avoid maiden races as much as possible unless I have seen lots of trials or seen how each of the runners have run in other races – I simply won’t touch them. I try to avoid 2 year old racers, I find a lot of them still very immature and green to racing and this can lead to very unpredictable results.
I rule out pretty much anything outside of barrier 6 unless it ticks so many other boxes, Stats don’t lie and its pretty simple that once you get out past barrier 6 your chances of winning drop dramatically. Weight can stop a train as the old saying says – so again this needs to be scaled; a horse carrying 60kg in a race under 1300 metres does not effect it anywhere near as much as it does over 2000 metres, so I scale my weighing on weights depending on the distance the race is run over. Anything over 2000 metres I automatically take out any horse with 60kg or more unless it has an apprentice riding with a claim to get it to a 57kg, which almost never happens so I take them out anyway. If a horse is at 58kg and above this 2000 metre range again won’t pick them unless they have that something special. There is a reason we will never see a horse like Winx in a handicapped race. She will race only ‘Weight for Age’ and its to do with the weight she would have to carry, as a ‘weight for age’ horse no one can touch her but if racing handicapped with 60kg, then she is very beatable.

The things I take into consideration when selecting a horse in a race in no particular order:
– barrier draw
– weight
– jockey
– trainer
– track
– track condition
– distance
– preparation (fitness level first up 3rd up etc on previous preps)
– gear changes
– speed maps
– Black Book notes
– other runners in same race
– time race

The day has finished its 7.30pm, dinner is done. It’s time to study. I check my black book and see what coming up in the next couple days – see if anything from there stands out as a starting race to look at. Bingo! I have 3 running tomorrow so let’s take a look at those 3 races first. Now, how do I choose and narrow it down to either my Black Book runner or another. My first port of call is a speed map, from here I can determine each runner from there barrier where they will end up early in the race. If the early speed comes from inside barriers good luck getting a sit up front from an outside barrier without using up a fair bit of juice. I try to predict how the race will be run from here, I still use pen and paper and draw pictures and numbers and run it though my head. Which horse should be in the leading 2-3 lengths from their barrier where will they sit behind these couple leaders. Can they cross from outside and get cover or do they drop out the back and ride for luck, hopefully getting the split between runners when the time is right.

I now have my predictions about how, on an even field, these horses will jump and sit through the race until it is time for the jockeys to hit the go button as they round the home turn.

Click here to continue on to Part Two


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