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Home Forums Archive Topics Celebrity Q&A’s TIMEFORM Q&A

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    • Total Posts 8992


    Timeform have now sent me their responses to our questions and I’ve posted these within each of teh original posts.

    Kieran Packman from Timeform has sent an introduction which I’ve posted below. I’d like to thank Timeform, and Kieran in particular, for their participation and openness with the answers.

    To all, many thanks for posing us such interesting and, in some cases, difficult questions. Most of the questions are answered by me, but in some instances I’ve consulted the appropriate members of our team, such as Simon Rowlands (our handicapping overseer as well as regular erudite TRF contributor) and Simon Walker (our Editorial Manager). Some answers could be considerably longer, but I’ve done my best to keep them manageable. I’ve omitted some questions only because I feel I’ve answered them already in other responses. Cheers, Kieran Packman (Communications & Commercial Manager, Timeform). [/color:29cud4e2]

    • Total Posts 3777

    Timeform have been operating for just over 60 years, during which time they have allotted ratings to thousands upon thousand of racehorses. Many people have questioned the actual rating given to some of those horses; particularly the high figures allotted to Arkle ( jumps: 212 ) and Sea Bird (flat: 145). Even the late Phil Bull ( founder of Timeform ) once questioned the figure given to Brigadier Gerard ( 144 ).

    My question is twofold :

    1) Do the present day Timeform staff still agree with those figures – are they too high, as some firmly believe – or do you think that the figures hold credence and are therefore entirely justified –


    2) Do you personally think that 60s top rated greats, Arkle and Sea Bird II, really were so much superior to the likes of Kauto Star and Dancing Brave as the Timeform ratings would suggest ?

    I didn’t have the pleasure of working in his era myself, but it’s fair to say Phil Bull questioned a lot of things. I’m afraid I can’t give you a birds-eye account, but his questioning of Brigadier Gerard’s rating would have been taken into account before the horse’s figure was finalised (no one still here recalls a dispute over this particular rating). As is still the case now, such landmark ratings are only published after wider scrutiny from the senior members of our editorial team

    Only three horses in the 1960s and 1970s – Sea-Bird, Brigadier Gerard and Mill Reef – surpassed 140 on Timeform ratings. They were extraordinary performers in their own times – freaks or outliers if you like – and not the best way in which to draw comparisons across the generations. What can be forgotten in some of these discussions is that top horses in the 1960s and 1970s had less choice of targets and yet were often more aggressively campaigned, with the result that they had more opportunity to record good ratings against other good horses.

    Timeform ratings are scrutinised and normalised at the end of each season. This does not, however, mean that all figures are yanked down (or up) in line with a fixed average. Appropriate scope is built in to take into account fluctuations in the apparent level as reflected in cross-generational performances, judged on both form and time.

    Further to the above, Timeform ratings are meant to be comparable across generations. In their infancy they may have begun as a "degree of difference from the mean" – I don’t think anyone is around to say one way or the other now – but that was very soon not the case. Besides anything else, the "mean" is affected by all manner of things, not least the number and nature of horses that are given ratings and the number and nature of horses that are not, and to be guided solely by it would be flawed. In the early days few horses were rated below about 75. When we had banded racing horses were regularly being rated in the 30s. It would be illogical for the rating of a horse like Sea The Stars to be dictated by the presence or absence of such horses.

    Of course, blindingly obvious though it may be, we’ll never have definitive answers to the cross-generation comparisons. What I can stress is that these decisions aren’t taken lightly or randomly from one year to the next. Fundamentally, our ratings are sold as an aid to punters and those at the very top end are arguably the least useful for that purpose (I’m sure everyone on here didn’t need us to tell them Sea The Stars had the best form going into the Arc), but we’re very aware that our ratings are scrutinised and debated by the wider racing world and we take our position as the only decades-spanning ratings organisation seriously.

    Gambling Only Pays When You're Winning

    • Total Posts 468

    I have purchased a Timeform Race Card only once – in the belief that I would be buying one every raceday from that day. Cheltenham 14/03/08.
    Not one of the Timeform Top Rated runners won.

    Q1 Was I expecting too much for an outlay of £6 ?

    That said, and one of Gingertipster’s questions later on touches on this directly, it’s arguable that historically, by focusing on top-rated horses in our advertising, we’ve encouraged customers to judge us solely on that criteria.

    In terms of the £6 price, it’s a point worth making that this isn’t necessarily the price that we would set in a free market, but we have to be wary of the price of racecourse’s official cards and the impact the lowering of our on-course prices would have upon their sales and, therefore, our ongoing relationships with those courses. The cards are £5 online and pricing is something we’re genuinely reviewing currently. As I’ll mention again later, it’s in the wider interests of the Betfair Group to get form into people’s hands and there’s obviously a price barrier with some of our products currently.

    Q2 Has the layout changed ? I just want to see your top three rated – hopefully one of them is the winner.

    No, the layout of the printed Race Card hasn’t altered, bar a font change earlier this year. That’s not to say there won’t be different versions going forward. I’m not sure whether you’re intimating the format is too complicated, but different customers use the product in different ways, some want more detail, others want a simpler offering and we’re working on this (online at least). If you’re not familiar with it, our free site ( offers a straightforward 1, 2, 3 selected by one of our team, though these are not necessarily the top three rated. (I’ll come back to the free site later on).

    • Total Posts 4825

    -How are the going descriptions given in Perspective derived?

    Obviously, there are other factors to take into account, such as dolling out and the wind, and hopefully using other information in conjunction with the standards results in a more accurate going assessment than the official.

    -Why have you never put a proper working demo of Computer Timeform or Timeform-I online ?

    A significant proportion of its subscribers have been with us right from those early days, so we have always been careful to provide continuity of service. That means that, although the product has evolved from the point of view of the on-screen appearance and the features and functions, we haven’t been able to change the technical structure very much at all.

    So, rather than having a straightforward installation routine like software you’d commonly download from the internet, Computer Timeform needs a whole series of components which we have to supply on a CD.

    ‘Timeform-i powered by Betfair’, which was launched in 2007 and adds Betfair betting tools to the available features, looks very different to Computer Timeform on screen but actually uses the same database and therefore the same constraints apply.

    This also explains why we it took us quite a long time to make Computer Timeform compatible with Windows Vista and why we’ve been unable to launch a version to run on Macs.

    We do offer a free month’s trial of both applications, Racing Forum members can call our subscriptions department (01422 330 330) if they wish to do just that.

    It’s fair to say that Timeform-i hasn’t turned out exactly as we hoped it would and we’ve learnt valuable lessons from that development process. With the benefit of hindsight, we would probably have been better off producing a web-based application and it’s in that area that we anticipate we’ll dedicate our technical resources in future. We do welcome suggestions and ideas regarding how such a service should look and/or what it should contain.


    • Total Posts 29194

    For many years I have been a Timeform addict, never bet without consulting Timeform. There are many questions within one question here.

    Who is the best ever human sprinter? It seems daft to suggest anyone but Mr. Bolt as he is capable of running faster than any other man in history.

    I get the fact that time performance depends on many things, including weight, pace and going (how fast the ground is). But there are no record times left (that I know of) from the 1960’s, and that despite much more watering nowadays (with “slower” conditions). If horses are now (as a whole) faster (better), with all their better feeds and training methods; than they were 40 or 30 years ago. Then logic would suggest the best horses of 2009 are better than they were 40, or even 30 years ago.

    Say a tardis went back to the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and 00’s; and brought all the best horses back to race in the present day.

    Each horse having the feed and training methods of their own era,

    but running against one another. With every horse running to their best, in their optimum conditions.

    Which horse / horses would put up the best performances?

    Would Sea Bird still put up a 5lb better performance than Shergar, Dancing Brave, Dubai Millenium or Sea The Stars?
    Would Arkle still win? And if so by how far would he beat Kauto Star, Denman or Desert Orchid? Would it be by the distances suggested by their ratings?

    The Timeform ratings of the 1960’s tell us how good the top horses were compared to the horses they ran against. But

    do those ratings really tell us how good they were, compared to the present day?

    Today’s trainers have different supplements for feed, interval and hill training etc. etc. Are they wasting their time if horses of the 1960’s were capable of putting up better performances?

    Thanks in advance


    This feels a tad unsatisfactory given the length of your question, but I can only refer you to the answer I gave to Himself . We are confident that our ratings can be used for cross-generational comparison. Despite some pseudo logic from the tabloids a few years back (and maybe even a TV programme from memory?) we’ll never know how the Manchester United team of the 1960s would have fared against its equivalent of the 1990s and Sea Bird II vs Sea The Stars is no different. I noted with interest the thread about cross-generational comparisons after the Arc. Whilst I fully appreciate that such discussion is fascinating and makes for long debates on forums such as this, ultimately our resources as a commercial organisation are better spent on improving our analysis of the here and now.

    Value Is Everything
    • Total Posts 17716

    While I feel the rating given to Arkle was totally justified I think those who make the ratings up very often dig themselves a hole they can’t get out of.

    This often results in horses recieving ratings much too high when comparing them to some greats of the past and in some cases the present.

    Voy Por Ustedes was a classic example of a horse too highly rated. It resulted in a horse, Master Minded, defeating him and nothing else twice and shooting ahead of a prolific Group 1 winner in Kauto Star and Gold Cup winner Denman.

    Now we have Sea the Stars 140 a very good horse already rated on a par with the great Mill Reef 141 and the season is nowhere near finished.

    The way I see it is Sea the Stars wins the Guineas from Delegator which was a ver good performace over a trip suited to both horses. Then he beats Rip Van Winkle and Conduit both running at the wrong trip, beats Mastercraftsman who barely stayes 1m2f and beat Fame and Glory who is without doubt a 1m 4f horse.

    I would imagine if he were to win the Arc by a 1/2 length from Fame and Glory he would shoot above the great horse which would then mean not only do we have one horse who was better than Mill Reef but possibly even 2. However if the likes of Conduit comes along and beats them both I can’t wait to see what happens then.

    One could argue that Sea the Stars won the Derby and Dancing Brave never but for me put the two horse level with a furlong to run and Sea the Stars wouldn’t see the way he went. Stick a horse with the toe of Zarkava a length behind and she’d probalbly have flone past the both of them.

    This excuse he never wins very far doesn’t wash at all. IMO He simply doesn’t have the zip and tremendous accelerations of the truly great horses of the past and that is what separates very good from great. I feel his rating in based mainly on quantity and not on actual ability.

    What I mean by that is overall he was better than Shergar but had it been Shergar V Sea the Stars and Co in the Derby….it doesn’t take much imagination to guess who would have won.

    All that said my question is shouldn’t there be a bit more gap to play with in ratings? I feel situations 141 Mill Reef 140 Sea the Stars leaves no room to manouver when things go wrong. Perhaps 1410 V 1400 would be more suitable. That could prevent a future Master MInded leaping over he top of Denman and Kauto Star which for me bordered on insanity.

    In your final paragraph, I infer a suggestion that ratings be returned to one decimal point. We are aware of one private betting syndicate that auto-rates to several decimal points – but it does come up against the simple fact that weights carried are in increments of full pounds. We don’t see ourselves needing to drill so deep any time in the foreseeable future.

    • Total Posts 412

    now that its possible to purchase timeform racecards online,will there come a time when you no longer sell your racecards on course?

    Regrettably, at a number of courses that time has already come. We review annually which courses it’s still worth persisting with regarding selling printed cards. When sales drop below a certain level it becomes impossible to justify the accumulation of print, delivery, commission and returns costs.

    We are still, hopefully, many years away from this point at the majority of racecourses, though we have, naturally, seen something of a shift to online purchasing in recent years. Skipping forward to cormack’s question about where we’ll be in 10 years time, I think it’s hard to imagine that the race cards will still be in their present guise and have the same price structure. Whether that means there’s an interactive version that racegoers can alter formats and print off or similar, it remains to be seen.

    • Total Posts 1988

    You Sleepy Hollow Boys have the game by the Niagaras. I’m a big fan! :)

    A couple of questions:

    1) There’s a growing feeling that racing is a dieing sport, with interest only being propped up by ladies days, pop concerts and the like. I would imagine Timeform have a reasonable read on how well the betting/intellectual puzzle side of the game is holding up in terms of popularity. What sort of demographic is your client base, particularly with regard to age and size, and how has this changed in the last ten to fifteen years?

    2) What impact has Betfair’s purchase had on the direction of Timefom? Specifically, are the indirect benefits it brings to Betfair (such as encouraging betting on racing) now taking presedence over the direct profits Timeform accrues from selling its wares?

    Having said that, the free information wouldn’t exist were it not for our main database and the quality of information contained therein. I do believe our race analysis is the most comprehensive there is and without retaining those long-standing merits of thoroughness and informed objectivity, we wouldn’t be able to service the database as we are now doing.

    • Total Posts 469

    How do you decide whether a horse likes the going? For example is winning a weak maiden on soft at 2yo sufficient to say has form on soft at 4yo? Is coming 6/12 in the Craven on good-form sufficient to say has form on good-firm in the champion stakes at 4yo?

    They are based predominantly around ratings to the effect that, for instance, if Dolly’s six career wins have been achieved on firm ground but she’s run to form finishing sixth in a stronger affair on heavy, she’ll be assessed as acting on any going, it taken as read that she must act on all types of ground within the extremes.

    So, to answer your question, if a horse won a weak maiden on soft at 2 yrs but subsequent events showed its form was of a higher standard on firmer ground then we would phrase it as such ‘has form on soft going, best efforts under less testing conditions (acts on firm)’.

    • Total Posts 29194

    Am surprised there are so few questions on here so far, so thought I’d ask a couple more.

    When some of my racing pals talk to me about Timeform; for them the success or failure of your company depends soley on how the top-rated horse does. No matter if the write up says it won’t act on the ground / trip is wrong, other front runners to take it on, poor temperament etc.

    Do you think too much emphasis is made of "top rated"?

    Nobody should back a horse merely because it is top-rated by Timeform.

    You’re right, of course, that no horse can be expected to run to its best if the prevailing conditions are against it. And even on those occasions when conditions are in its favour it still may not be a betting opportunity depending on the market.

    So we don’t encourage customers to follow Timeform ratings in a blind fashion, although anyone that did would back more winners over the course of an average season than by following even the best of the newspaper tipsters. More races are won because the winner had the best form beforehand than for any other single reason, and Timeform ratings provide the best means of establishing which horse has the best form.

    Sometimes when people get the message that the ratings don’t in themselves indicate selections they can go too far the other way, almost starting with a presumption that they need to find something to beat the form choice. So using Timeform successfully is a matter of judgment and experience, of taking the information we provide about the racing merit and character of each horse and then studying the available odds to see if there is a worthwhile bet in a race.

    The free site is, in effect, an example of how one of our analysts has gone about this process, whereas products like the Timeform Race Card and the Timeform form-books are for people who enjoy solving the puzzle each race presents for themselves. Timeform ratings should be looked upon as one part of the jigsaw, albeit often the biggest piece.

    As I touched on earlier, advertising material in the past may well have focused on top-rated horses alone and I noticed a poster on another forum observing recently that we hadn’t been advertising any top-rateds, therefore we probably weren’t having any. That’s not the case, we’ve just changed slightly whereby that’s not the sole criteria by which we’d like customers to judge our merit. For what it’s worth, the percentage of top-rated winners on the Flat in 2009 is almost exactly the same as it was in 2008.

    Is it fair on Timeform subscribers, paying for Perspective or Computer Timeform; when the "comments" are available through Betfair and now At The Races?

    No Perspective comments are available through any of our free outlets. There was a short limited period, when, whilst we developed a stand-alone, comprehensive free product, ‘last run Perspective’ comments were made available, but this is no longer the case. The only way to access Perspective comments is to subscribe, be that online via Race Passes or through the form book products you mention. (For anyone unfamiliar, Perspective is the Timeform form book and the comments referred to are our report and review of a horse’s performance).

    Value Is Everything
    • Total Posts 8992

    What is the maximum timescale Timeform has on it’s business plan. Are you looking 1,3, 5 or 10 years ahead?

    I doubt the answer to the above was 10 years but, given a crystal ball, how do you see your business in 10 years time?

    If the latter part of your question had been asked of Timeform a decade ago, I don’t think many would have pinpointed where we are now (a wholly owned subsidiary of Betfair), if they had, they should have had the foresight to launch the betting exchange concept themselves!

    In 10 years time, I see us, alongside Betfair, as having established the Timeform brand internationally, in the likes of the US and South Africa. We already have a strong reputation in bloodstock circles in such countries and we have to create the same awareness with punters. I would hope we’ll have an all-singing, all-dancing website that will be fully interactive whilst still producing the likes of the annuals which are our flagship printed publications. I think we’ll potentially be giving even more content away for free and in that respect we face the same challenge over the coming years of striking the right balance between ‘free’ and ‘paid-for’ that much bigger publishers than ourselves currently face.

    Most importantly, I hope Glenn will have long stopped referring to us as Sleepy Hollow…

    • Total Posts 5628

    Regarding Jumps Computer Timeform:

    In addition to the times you publish for races I would like to see a supplementary comparison with your (presumed) set of standard times adjusted for going/wind e.g the existing [5m12.34] appended with [fast/slow 1.23]

    Together with a facility to interrogate these within the Analyser function

    Given that you do not publish timefigures for NH this would be a useful – and surely easily implemented – addition for those who regard winning times over obstacles as being of some importance.

    I would also endorse Gingertipster’s words above:

    Is it fair on Timeform subscribers, paying for Perspective or Computer Timeform; when the "comments" are available through Betfair and now At The Races?

    You would I’m sure be the first to argue that ‘there is a lot more to Timeform than the ratings’

    So why are some Perspective comments now public domain?

    A discount to the loyal subscribers still paying for the privilege of reading them would be nice eh?


    Sorry to sound trite, but this is something we are looking into. Unfortunately, when I say looking into, realistically I mean it sits on a very long ‘to-do’ list. It’s certainly a suggestion that has value, but it isn’t a priority currently. Publication of our own standards is something that we’ve historically refrained from, but that’s not to say something along these lines won’t be implemented in future. I realise that answer is vague and not particularly helpful, so apologies.

    • Total Posts 1665

    Is it still the case that Timeform’s annual ratings are based on the supposition that each crop is overall of the same merit as any other, and that the topmost ratings (animals such as Sea The Stars) represent the degree of difference from the mean, rather than an assessment of their absolute merit?

    The reason I ask is that around 50 years ago you used to get some extremely high ratings for a few top sprinters, Bleep-Bleep being a notable example, whereas nowadays the top sprinters’ ratings are significantly lower. In terms of absolute ability, however, the top 10 sprinters these days must surely be faster – after all, there are so many more of them being bred. If Bleep-Bleep or Right Boy were alive and racing today, would I not be right in thinking they’d be just one of many black type sprinters rather than the outstanding speedballs their Timeform ratings suggest? (And don’t get me started on Star Of India or Pappa Fourway).

    Venusian – hopefully the answer to Himself’s question (above) covers your points. (Cormack15)

    • Total Posts 175

    An increasing amount of what I pay for as a computer timeform subscriber is being made freely available via ATR & Betfair…what incentive will there be for me to renew my (high cost)subscription?

    I don’t agree that much of what you’re paying for as a subscriber is now given away free. The Timeform-specific information that appears on the free site or via Betfair/Attheraces/Telegraph (i.e. not trainer/jockey stats which are widely available) is not a replica of any subscription content. Perspective reports, ratings and Black Book comments are still reserved for paid for publications/subscriptions only.

    The free site has been designed to appeal to a much less sophisticated audience than that which uses the traditional range of Timeform products. It would be surprising if anyone who currently relies on the wealth of detail provided by the Timeform Race Card, for example, finds the free information an adequate substitute.

    All that said, we will continue to monitor our pricing as our free content grows and we’ve already introduced offers which we think are ahead of anything we’ve done previously. The online season ticket, for example, includes a Race Card every day plus 20% off any other Timeform shop purchase (amongst many other things which I’ll refrain from ‘spamming’) for £30 a month.

    The Eye Of Sauron
    • Total Posts 148

    Q1- Is there a place for the annuals, in future years, other than as a collection of (admittedly superb) essays, pedigree referrals and historical ratings?

    I ask this as, if I was looking at a horse whose line went:

    "mare; winning pointer; poor maiden chaser; pulled up and dismounted after second on hurdling debut; stays 3m; acts on firm and good to soft ground"

    which if it was in a book printed in September, and this was now the middle of January, surely I’d be far better off checking her last few runs online.

    If it is the case that the annuals are a snapshot, and nothing more, fine, but increasingly when I get the annuals I devour the essays and the editorial but ignore the ratings and comments etc on the other horses.

    The annuals permanent value is as a review of the achievements of the season’s more notable horses. We’re well aware that customers use the annual in many different ways and, unlike almost all other products that we produce, they have sacrosanct boundaries which we are very wary of crossing.

    The annuals have long been regarded as our flagship publications and we are extremely proud of them. Even as production costs continue to grow, we are committed to maintaining their fine tradition for the foreseeable future.

    Q2- Is there any way that, say (and for a fee), Timeform addicts could have access to an online database of comments, squiggles etc. without having to subscribe to the Black Book

    We already have the Horse Search facility which may well be the solution you’re after. If you purchase a timed subscription to, you can search for any horse as you see fit in that timed period. You’ll find more details at under the ‘Horse Search’ link in the left-hand menu.

    mark ball
    • Total Posts 1

    There have been some huge variances between man & machine with going reports. Walking a track is essential should you have a runner at places like Haydock & Towcester, for example, as the reports are poor. I’ve withdrawn runners at both tracks because of inaccurate racfe day reports.

    When assessing a race on which going report do you base an opinion ? The clerk or the stick ?

    As (hopefully) detailed in the answer to CAVELINO RAMPANTE, the answer is neither, as we have our own going descriptions. Unlike you, we have the luxury of being able to assess the going after the event.

    % MAN
    • Total Posts 5104

    Does the "free" timeform service not undermine the "paid for" service?

    Covered in earlier answers Paul

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