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Winning Follows Form: A Method to Qualify Runners that are "in form" for Today’s Race

"I will say with a caveat, in any sport when an athlete - and I consider Funny Cide an athlete - is in great form, they can run better than their talent level suggests that they could. Funny Cide is in good form and Empire Maker will have to bring his 'A' game if he's going to beat him."

       -Jerry Bailey prior to the 2003 Belmont Stakes

As it turned out, whether it was a lack of pace, the wet track, or the 12 furlong distance, Funny Cide did not replicate that good form in the Belmont Stakes. But I think Bailey’s statement applies to horses every day, at every track. Some horses are improving in form, others are declining in form. A good example is Funny Cide himself. A well-beaten third in the Louisiana Derby to Peace Rules in March, he came back to run a sharp second to Empire Maker in fast time in the Wood Memorial in April, a marked improvement. Handicappers that gave him a chance to win the Kentucky Derby were rewarded with a $27.00 mutuel. He followed that up with a reasonable $5.80 payoff in the Preakness, winning by 11 lengths. Clearly, the horse that won the Preakness easily had improved a lot over the horse that ran third in the Louisiana Derby.

The good news for us horseplayers is that there are several "Funny Cides" out there, at every track, every day. We just have to pay close attention to their form cycles and be patient, and we can get more than fair mutuel payoffs. The "Form Qualification Method" suggested in today’s article will put horses in several categories, in varying degrees of form and ability. The ratings, at least in my experience, work best for open claiming races and Non-winners allowance races (NW1ot, NW2ot).

Interpreting Form from Past Performances
In Europe, the past performances do not provide pace or fractional times. In addition, race meets seldom last more than a month, in Britain much shorter than that. The only information most punters have to wager on is the finish position of horses, and any information they can glean from horses working out "on the gallops,", to see which horses are holding or improving form. While I think we are better off in the U.S. with all our databases of speed figures, pace figures, class figures and trainer data, I will provide examples where current form in this country was underbet.

We will be using demonstrated early speed and finish position/beaten lengths to credit horses with good performances. Many times, the horses that "qualify" are not top speed figure horses, or top pace figure horses. Often the method will identify 3 or 4 horses that qualify on current form. Usually 2 horses will be among the top 3 choices and 1 or 2 horses will be over 5 to 1. It is up to the bettor to make the correct final wagering decision(s). It should be noted that all the examples cited in this article were chosen off the form method, not speed or pace figures.

The Critical Importance of the Trainer and Early Speed
We are going to rely on the trainer of the horse to give us the final clues on the horse in today’s race. We will use four rules:
  1. If the horse’s last race looks good on paper, and the trainer keeps him at the same level or steps him up to the next class level that is solid evidence the horse is holding or improving in form.
  2. If the horse’s last race looks good on paper, and the trainer DROPS him in class, that is solid evidence the horse is declining in form and it will not qualify as a "Form Contender." Remember, we want to only concentrate on horses that are improving, if possible.
  3. We will play horses that were badly beaten in their last race, IF they showed high speed (beaten less than 1.5 lengths at the first call) AND they are dropping two or more class levels. This is a great system play to get winners at 5-1 or better, as I’ll explain later.
  4. In general we want to focus on Early (E), Early/Presser (E/P) and Presser (P) horses, as they will be closer to the lead. A general rule of thumb is try to use horses that will be no more than 2.5 lengths behind at the first call in sprints, 4 lengths behind in 1-turn routes and 5 lengths behind in 2-turn routes.
Classifying Horses on Form 1: Lightly-raced Big Winners
Besides Funny Cide’s big win, the story (to me) was how several horses jumped up the "class ladder" to make an impact in several stakes Preakness Week.

Horse Non-claiming win Stakes Result Preakness Week
Belong to Sea Won NW1ot by 9 at Aqu Won Gr. 3 "Miss Preakness" @ 9/2
Best Minister Won MSW by 11 at Kee Won "Sir Barton Stakes" @ 3/1
Midway Road Won NW2ot by 11 at Kee Ran 2nd in the Preakness at 18/1, $120 ex

It stands to reason that a lightly raced horse coming off a good win is ALWAYS dangerous in allowance company.

Belmont Park, Race 6, May 29: Chilly Rooster was just such a lightly raced horse. Coming off a 9-length maiden-breaker for Allen Jerkens going 7f at Aqu, stretching out to 8.5 furlongs and an extremely generous morning line of 6/1, he seemed like a very solid play. The Rooster did not disappoint, contesting the lead early, opening up 5 in the stretch and winning by 2 ¾ lengths, paying $7.70 as the tepid favorite.

In general, this type of horse comes around a few times a month. Just be ready, as they win quite often, even on the class jump.

Classifying Horses on Form 2: Claiming-horse Big Winners
It has been my experience that a claiming horse, perhaps demonstrating improved current form, wins big in claiming company, and then steps it up and wins again, paying a nice mutuel.

Lone Star, Race 8, May 22: Crab Creek, off a brief freshening, won a $10,000N3L claimer by 5 lengths April 30. Entered in a TX-bred NW1ot allowance, he was the 5/2 ML favorite but paid $10.00, prevailing in a 3-way photo.

Churchill Downs, Race 9, June 6: Banned in Boston, a chronic loser sprinting against MSW types, was dropped to $50k maiden claiming May 22 at CD, winning by 4. Entered right back against turf routers in a NW1ot, he looked like a potential lone speed horse, and that big win could have been a confidence booster. It may well have been, as Banned in Boston went wire to wire to win by 8 lengths in his grass debut, paying $21.80.

Lone Star, Race 5, May 30: Bupper had won sharply going 7f, winning by 3 ½ lengths over his $5,000 claiming competition. Stepped up to $6,250, he won again despite a bumpy start, paying $14.20 and keying a $71.20 exacta.

Classifying Horses on Form 3: Close at the Level
An example of "Close at the Level" is a horse that ran second or third, beaten less than 2 lengths, while showing tactical speed, and is at that same level today. Generally this type of horse does not throw big profits and is often favored, but occasionally one slips through the cracks.

Churchill Downs, Race 8, May 30: Molto Vita was 2/1 in her previous start, and she ran a solid second, beaten 1¾ lengths. Back at the same level, the favorite didn’t fire, but Molto Vita did, splitting horses in deep stretch to win, paying $15.

Classifying Horses on Form 4: Speed on the Drop
I realize I am not the first person to advocate this angle (in fact, I heard Corey Black on TVG advocate a version of it just last week), but it works for several reasons and I’ll give a few rules and examples.
  1. Horse showed HIGH SPEED in his last race. Within 1 ½ lengths at the first call.
  2. Horse finishes OUT of the Money, ideally 5th or worse.
  3. Horse today is entered 2 classes or lower than last race.

The bad finish position allows the trainer to enter the horse at a much lower level and minimize the risk of getting the horse claimed. The horse can now show speed against a lower level of competition and may be able to run a big race. And finally the poor last-out finish scares off many bettors and presents juicy odds.

Churchill Downs, Race 5, May 31: Catchy Word showed early speed going 2 turns in NW3ot allowance races but was consistently beaten. Dropped way down to $40k claiming, he was taken off the pace, circled the leaders at the 1/8 pole, and won by a head over the consistent Dillonmyboy, paying $19.60 to win and keying a $94.00 exacta.

Churchill Downs, Race 2, June 6: Refax had shown some speed at Prairie Meadows on May 10, beaten 36 lengths in an NW1ot allowance race, and now was at CD facing $20k claiming NW2L horses, much softer competition. She pressed the early pace, put the other speed away at the ¼ pole, and hung on to win by a neck, paying $24.20 while keying a $78 exacta and a $229 pick 3 (for $1).


Horses can show signs of positive form in the past performances. Combined with early speed, improving form can lead to solid win selections and very good prices at the windows. A combination Early Speed/Class Drop "long shot play" method was also presented.

-- Tony Kelzenberg is a long time member who relies on BRIS performance ratings in his handicapping.

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