HUGH TAYLOR Q & A

Hugh Taylor's regular slot on ATR's Form Factor invites users to ask our resident form analyst questions and queries about all matters relating to racing, form study and betting. To keep the programme fresh we try not to repeat questions, but we have noticed that a handful crop up time and again and have therefore compiled this brief Q & A with Hugh that covers the most popular queries.

What are the aims of the column?
The aims of the column as far as I’m concerned are to provide an interesting read, give punters a chance of backing a big-priced winner from time to time, and – just as importantly - hopefully get readers interested in the whole area of form study; in an era where young people seem to be drawn more towards sports betting or online poker as their initial punting experiences, it would be nice to be able to convince some newcomers to racing that studying form can be both interesting and worthwhile; I’m also keen to demonstrate that it’s possible to find value selections without any inside information. If you can get on at or close to the prices advised, I’d like to think you’d make a profit too, but I’m well aware that this is extremely difficult most of the time. However, I’m hopeful that readers will find something of interest in the analysis even if they are not interested in/able to back the individual selections.

Why don’t you provide results to SP as well as advised price?
In one respect this question is easy to answer – I wouldn’t dream of placing a bet at SP, so I haven’t kept records to SP at all since I started the column in March 2009. However, I think it is very likely punters would lose long-term backing the selections at SP given the clear and massive cuts in price once they are online. I have to make selections every day, and in many instances those selections are in weak markets and the prices are cut fairly dramatically, as anyone who follows the column will know. Moreover, as many punters will also be aware, if you back horses at bigger prices in the morning, the ones that are strong in the market in the ten minutes or so directly before a race (and therefore go off at shortish SPs) tend to win rather more often these days than the ones that drift out. Part of the point of the column is to point out horses that are the wrong price in the morning (and angles to help find those horses independently in the future); what happens thereafter is beyond my control.

It’s worth pointing out that I originally started publishing details of my selections at the bottom of the column only because a number of people had asked me to do so; moreover, I don’t think there aren’t many other individuals in the mainstream racing media who provide details of all their selections (the Timeform Jury team are one exception that I’m aware of, though there may be more). The more common strategy, even amongst subscription services, is to keep quiet about losing runs, then heavily advertise winning ones, whereas the results of all selections in this column are published. But the details of past selections aren’t published to try and sell readers anything – the column is, and will remain, free of charge.

Moreover, it’s questionable whether keeping records of my selections at SP would provide readers with a useful guide as to whether the type of analysis featured in the column works or not.

But the bottom line advice is simple; not only would I NOT recommend backing my selections at SP, I’d also advise not backing any horses at SP unless absolutely impossible to avoid – why would anyone want to strike a bet when they don’t know what the odds are?

What price do you suggest readers should aim for if the advised price goes quickly?
This is a good and valid question. Having looked through my records, I would say that the cut-off point turning profit into loss for my selections has usually been around 77-78% of the recommended odds. As a very general rule of thumb, then, it would seem prudent not to take much less than 80% of the odds advised, though the strength of confidence might be a factor – for example, if I recommended a 3-point bet on a 20-1 shot, it’s likely that my own estimation is that the horse should be rather shorter than a 16-1 chance, whereas with a 1-point selection at the same odds it’s probably not worth backing it at under 16-1.

Which form guides do you use/where do you get your stats from?
In terms of form guides, I would say that Computer Timeform is the one I use most; in my opinion it remains an excellent guide to the merits of past performances and it provides a very good overview of a race in terms of ratings as well as the interpretative comments on each horse’s past performances. Most of the statistics I use are derived from the Query feature on Raceform Interactive, which again I find a very useful tool, especially on a fast PC. That said, the single biggest input into my selection process is watching past videos; I record the racing replay programmes each day and keep a rolling archive of about the last six months’ racing on a DVD recorder with a hard drive, though of course you can use the various free race archive services out there, including that on attheraces.com.

How do you decide which races to look at, and do you find that you are more successful in some races than others?
I feel most comfortable with handicaps, because once you have found something that you think isn’t likely to be factored into the odds, the rest of the work is largely done for you. For example, if you have assessed a handicapper as being 7lb better than its last run, you know he’s got a good winning chance, whereas a horse in a maiden that you think is 7lb better than its last run might still come up short. That said, I think that horses having their second career run in maidens under certain circumstances can still be underbet, depending on the stable usually. I don’t tend to make many bets in sellers or claimers, and high-class races tend to be so over-analysed that it’s hard to know anything about a horse that isn’t reflected in its price – that’s why I don’t necessarily agree with the assertion that punter should concentrate only on better-class races (the more valid reason for concentrating on these races is that it’s generally easier to get a decent bet on in them, but part of the reason for bookmakers’ reluctance to take large bets in lower-grade races is that they know they are more vulnerable in them).

On the Flat, I feel more comfortable by and large with races at up to 1m, because I think there tend to be more in-running events that can be missed in, say, a 6f handicap than a 2m handicap, and also track biases tend to come into play more at shorter distances. That said, angles can be found at all distances, with the 3yo handicappers’ fine record at staying distances against their elders an obvious example.

Do you use speed ratings in your assessments?
The only course where I would say speed ratings/race times are the strongest factor in my selections is on the all-weather at Southwell, but I certainly pay attention to times and speed figures as part of the background. I wouldn’t necessarily be put off by a horse that hadn’t recorded a big figure, given that so many races in this country are not run at a true gallop, and it’s also worth pointing out that on some occasions horses that have run fast times can be overbet, especially in weak markets on the all-weather – sometimes an obvious “figures horse” shortens significantly even on the weak overnight exchange markets in these instances. That said, it’s worth pointing out that different sources can have different opinions on how fast a horse has run, especially as some figures compilers make adjustments for weight and others don’t. For someone new to the game, I would say that using speed figures is as likely a way to find plenty of winners as any whilst they are learning the nuances of form.

Is there anywhere I can see the eyecatchers from “The Form Factor” if I miss the programme?
Usually a link to the eyecatchers section of the programme will appear on the website later that afternoon towards the bottom right hand corner of the home page. They also appear on ATR's YouTube channel.

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