Beware the peak performance

Many punters use some kind of ratings system as a starting point for doing the form. These ratings may be free, membership based, or maybe you have developed your own ratings system. Whichever ratings method you employ, you must make sure that you factor in the difficulty of a horse being able to repeat a last start peak run. We’ll use a hypothetical example to illustrate this point. If you have a weight/class style ratings method you may have a horse that typically rates around the 55kg mark when he puts in the best run of a campaign. If this horse has already had 25 career starts you probably have a good indication of its likely peak rating. Yet last start it stepped up to Group level and rated a 60, a level far higher than it has ever achieved before. That effort makes it a clear standout against today’s field because it ‘only’ has to repeat its last start performance to win comfortably. Many pundits would have a horse like this as a long odds-on chance in a race that is a big drop in class. However the problem is that this career peak rating of 60 came in its eighth start this preparation, at its favourite track and in a race that was run perfectly to suit its racing style. So while at first glance the horse appears a ratings standout and would likely go around as a short-priced favourite, this may well be a horse to bet against. Champion Picks form analyst Rick Williams treats peak performances on a case-by-case, race-by-race scenario. He has a preference for consistent horses, so when a horse puts in a career best performance will assess whether there were legitimate reasons for why the horse improved so dramatically. If the spike can’t be legitimately explained then he will not place nearly as much importance on its last start rating. A recent example is Glaneuse in last week’s Winter Final, a noted wet tracker who sat 3 wide before winning well in an effort that genuinely surprised his trainer. BetChoice form analyst Mark Morrissey is a big believer in avoiding horses coming off a career best performance. “I remember when I was working for Mark Read and Mark was a genius at that”, Morrissey said. “He would have horses hit that very high rating level like 118 and he would say that there is only one way this horse can go and that’s down. I saw him take on champions like Placid Ark and Schillaci who had put in phenomenal performances and Mark would say that ‘they’ve gone too high’. And when he took them on they would run nowhere, not even a place. Mark was great at the art of picking the end of a campaign. Mediocre horses tend to plateau a bit towards the end of their campaign, but the champions just put so much into it that they have absolutely nothing left. So if you have the right tools, the right ratings on hand, you can often pick that pattern of when they’re going to go completely backwards. “It’s also true that a very hard run first up means the horse will often go ordinary second up. But really you need to know the idiosyncracies of each horse. Some will have a three run campaign and others might have nine runs. It really depends on whether it’s a tough sort of horse and how much it puts into each run. You want to know your individual horse’s characteristics but like Mark said once they get to that very high level it often takes everything out of them and they just can’t reproduce that form because usually the horse is weary and finishes down the track next start.” So although your ratings might have a horse clearly on top, if this is based on a peak run it’s worth taking a closer look at the horse’s career performance and in particular the effort it has already exerted this campaign.