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Form cycles

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  • #6453
    Prufrock
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    Interesting piece by James Willoughby in today’s Racing Post about "form cycles" in racehorses. Anyone got any views on this concept?

    #139074
    Charlie D
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    Sorry don’t buy RP, but is this the same theory as Biorhythm’s ??

    #139075
    rory
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    Alexander, who posted (poss still does) in Systems was very interested in this and applied it to his betting strategy.

    #139077
    Charlie D
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    Thanks rory, now you mention Alexander, i know it’s the same theory as Biorhythms

    Some reading for those interested

    http://www.biovalhorse.com/page4.html

    #139078
    rory
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    #139088
    Blackheath
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    • Total Posts 105

    Like most theories and systems in racing I suspect that "form cycles" fits one set of facts whilst ignoring all the mass of inconvenient evidence to the contrary. Racehorses are individuals and trainers each have their own methods. Some horses may peak, some might go in cycles and some may stay on a plateau for month after month; some year after year. You can be sure that one of the main components in this is the trainer.

    #139108
    robert99
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    Interesting piece by James Willoughby in today’s Racing Post about "form cycles" in racehorses. Anyone got any views on this concept?

    Surprised this is still taken as a "concept" as every modern trainer and serious punter is aware of it and the whole training and entries regime is built upon it. Same as in athletics training and inevitable performance ebb and flow. VDW actually mentioned all this in the 80s but what did he know?

    #139125
    The real barney
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    Robert,

    He did more than mention it. He took the Erin race and showed how to put it into practice.

    #139131
    Prufrock
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    The article:

    Published: 30/01/2008 (Sport) James Willoughby on a way of thinking that puts form ratings in a different context

    JOHN CARR’S handling of Sublimity last season did not get the recognition it deserved. Had any of the big names won the Champion Hurdle in such an unlikely fashion, they would have been lauded like a genius.

    Sublimity, a highly talented but somewhat fragile Flat horse, had finished fourth in the previous year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. It was clear he had the talent to play a part in the Champion, but he is not exactly the sort of horse to dance every dance.

    In planning last season’s campaign, Carr’s hand was forced to an extent when Sublimity picked up a virus before Christmas. He would not be able to run until late January, when a minor event at Navan presented itself as a perfect opportunity.

    Sublimity won by a wide margin.

    He did not have to run anywhere near his best, but the outing boosted his confidence and moved him forward in condition. On Champion Hurdle day, he exploded with easily the best hurdling effort of his life and sprung a 16-1 surprise.

    Like Sublimity, the majority of jump horses have Cheltenham as a target each year. And many jump trainers work backwards from the festival in planning a campaign.

    Sometimes, the focus on Cheltenham comes at the cost of a subsequent performance at another festival like Aintree. This doesn’t apply to every good horse, but the pattern is now familiar.

    Sure enough, the typical narrative of a jumps season shows up in the record of many horses. Their performance ratings build up to a maximum at Cheltenham, then fall off afterwards. Only the true champions of each division can follow up.

    The same pattern of peak followed by bounce often influences the progression of Flat horses around events like the 2,000 Guineas and Derby. It is one of the reasons the Derby form often appears not to work out.

    But what about the thousands of other horses in training whose careers evolve outside the spotlight of major competition? Do they also follow a similar cyclical pattern of form each year?

    Most supposedly novel concepts like form cycles are nothing of the sort.
    Instead, they often represent an attempt to formalise long-held beliefs which have simply just come into focus.

    Punters have been familiar with the idea that horses run themselves in and out of form since the day that racing assumed an organised framework. A private handicapper realising that a successful horse is returning to form will often use its old rating to reflect its improved prospects, for instance.

    In this case, the handicapper is admitting that a horse’s recent performances are inadequate in capturing its chance at the weights. In other words, he is making an assumption that it is currently on an upward curve in its form cycle.

    In effect, this is adding an extra dimension to a predictive process based on ratings. Traditionally, punters would make their bets on the expectation that form would be reproduced. Indeed, this approach still informs a great deal of tipping copy even now.

    Many punters have begun to put a different spin on things, however. As the awareness of draws and pace has increased, proponents of these two schools have realised that the level of form shown by a horse is actually quite volatile, even when the animal itself remains in the same physical state.

    LET’S say that a Flat horse in unwavering condition performs to 70 when it is badly drawn one day, 80 when fairly drawn the next, then 90 when it races on a faster strip of ground from a plum draw. A punter who backs it to reproduce its latest performance has an unreasonable expectation because its average or ‘baseline’ performance is 80.

    Now take another Flat horse whose physical state is not consistent, perhaps because it has been trained to peak for a valuable race on its latest start. If it runs to 95, 105 then 115 – unaffected by influences like draw and pace – which is a more reasonable expectation for it next time: 115 or a lesser figure?

    The answer, of course, is ‘depends’.

    It depends on knowledge of both the horse’s back story and an estimate of its potential – in other words, where it is on its form cycle.

    As a horse moves through a campaign, the ratings it produces are just a sequence of numbers affected by variance and tending to show statistical regression towards some notional mean. And the mean, or baseline, performance level is itself in flux according to the horse’s changing physical state.

    Mathematically, this must have the effect of driving the sequence of numbers into cycles, with the trend described by a best-fit line heading alternately upward or downward and accompanied by noise.

    As I said, the last few paragraphs are only an attempt to formalise ideas which already inform the thinking of many punters and professionals; which are already within their intuition as they plan a campaign or consider making a bet.

    Some of the ideas expressed about pace and draw 20 years ago now seem either rudimentary or downright incorrect when read again today. This should not be a surprise considering the dramatic pace of change in society: how many people used the internet regularly in 1988, for example?

    Form cycles, or some other term for the same framework of ideas, is one area into which the trend for increasingly sophisticated racing analysis may extend. It has happened already in other racing countries such as the US, from where the majority of modernistic ideas about racing analysis tends to permeate.

    Dependence on hard achievement has always dominated estimation of potential in classical theory on assessing racehorses. The concept of form cycles turns the orthodoxy on its head by concentrating on the study of where the horse is going, rather than what it has achieved.

    #139132
    Prufrock
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    Nothing to do with biorhythms as far as I can tell.

    It is, nonetheless, one thing to identify the presence of effects like regression to the mean and variance in performance (things which some handicappers have been allowing for for a long time) and another to put them to real-life use.

    Hopefully some practical examples will follow.

    #139139
    Zoso
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    • Total Posts 479

    It’s an intersting article but in reference to the part about some horses being trained to peak at Cheltenham and then not running as well at Aintree.
    I’m sure some horses are trained to peak at Cheltenham, but the reason a lot of the Cheltenham winners then dont run so well at Aintree is because it is a completely different style of course.

    #139141
    Cav
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    • Total Posts 4822

    Mathematically, this must have the effect of driving the sequence of numbers into cycles, with the trend described by a best-fit line heading alternately upward or downward and accompanied by noise.

    For "cycles" substitute race conditions, for "best-fit line" substitute handicap mark.

    Nothing new at all in this article imo.

    #139144
    JimF
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    • Total Posts 111

    Mathematically, this must have the effect of driving the sequence of numbers into cycles, with the trend described by a best-fit line heading alternately upward or downward and accompanied by noise.

    For "cycles" substitute race conditions, for "best-fit line" substitute handicap mark.

    Nothing new at all in this article imo.

    … just what I was thinking, especially the latter part.

    #139147
    Prufrock
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    To be fair, I very much doubt that James imagines his article is "new", though its appearance on such a platform is probably a first.

    #139149
    Cav
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    Not crabbing it at all Pru. I like Willo, I like the lateral view he takes, he’s interesting and imo almost single handedly carrying the RP at the moment.

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