Jun 6 2013

Form – The Most Elusive Of Measures

Synonyms to Form: Fitness, Condition, Sharpness, Readiness

In a prior article we introduced the Basic Elements of Handicapping; Distance, Class, Form, and Pace.  Of the four, Form might intuitively be the easiest to understand, but practically the most difficult to master.

In his book, Ainsle’s Complete Guide to Thoroughbred Horse Racing, Tom Ainsle wrote the following on the topic of Form:

“No matter how astute he (the handicapper) may be, the subtle complications of the condition factor continue to challenge his best efforts.  For every bet he loses through racing luck or a misjudged ride or an error in evaluating the class of a horse, he can expect to lose two because of surprises in the form department.”


Photo by Alicia Hamm

To answer the question of a horse’s current form is the “key to the kingdom” as one of my friends likes to say. Since there are no Mr. Eds on the track, they won’t answer your queries about how they feel today.

The first thing to understand is that horses are athletes; living and breathing, subject to good days and bad days … and the conditions they are put in.  I like to compare them to golfers.  Being a golfer, I understand the effects on my game from the weather, ailments in my shoulder (back and hips), unique layout of the golf course, the crowd on the 1st tee, and my fellow players.  In one form or another, horses encounter this and much more on a visit to the race track.

They might have a slightly sore shoulder, back, hip, or foot. They might get nervous and sweaty or spooked by some strange looking person in the paddock. The racing surface might feel too dry, or wet, or cuppy. It might be too hot, or humid today. The horse next to them in the gate might act up, and freak them out. As Steve Crist of Daily Racing Form likes to say, a horse race is an “organic” event.

So our challenge is to deduce the clues that tell us under what conditions a horse ran in the past, and equally important, how they are coming into the race at hand.  For the sake of keeping this an introductory article, I’ll list some of the subtopics we’ll be covering in future articles under the category of Form.

Another reason why Form tends to be more elusive than Distance, Class, and Pace is there is no singular column of data in the Racing Form or Program that identifies “Form.”  As we’ve shown, the distance of past races is easy to find.  Class is pretty straight forward after you understand the terminology.  And Pace is defined in terms of Time and Pace Figures.  But Form is more like a 1/2 cup of this, a teaspoon of that, and a pinch of intuition.  Some handicappers don’t care for that, and as a result focus more on factors that are easier to identify/quantify.  This inevitably presents opportunities to the well rounded horseplayer who makes an effort to master this basic element.

To learn more about morning Workouts (an essential indicator of a horse’s form), click here to view an article on “Workouts.” Also, you can view a complete list of articles on the topic of Form by choosing the Form Category in the right hand panel.

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By Neal Benoit

2 comments on “Form – The Most Elusive Of Measures

  1. I have enjoyed your informative articles from Horse Races Now.
    I have a question. Why in this age of information overload; do we get so little information about European shippers running on turf?

    Albert LoRusso on
    • I’m not sure I have an answer to your question. Can you be a little more specific, so I can better understand what you’re looking for in terms of information? Thanks.

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