You are now staring at a piece of paper with a lot of mysterious numbers on it and a horse's name on top. You have a lot of questions. I can't answer them all at once, but if you stay with me step by step, I think I'll finally cover everything you need to know.
The Sheets are very, very accurate performance ratings graphed on a page. When you purchase a set of Sheets you receive a page, or "Sheet," for every horse running that day that has raced in North America.
Every time a horse runs a race it earns a rating on my sheet. If the horse is two years old, the figure goes in the column which occupies the left hand quarter of the sheet. Three-year-olds' figures are in the next quarter of the sheet -- just left of the center. Four-year-olds are in the third quarter of the sheet, just right of center; and five-year-olds are in the right hand quarter. Horses that are five or older have their recent races in the rightmost column, and prior years work backwards on the Sheet.
So, the most recent races are always in the column furthest to the right. Within each column, the most recent race is on top -- just as in the Racing Form. So, the most recent race is the figure in the furthest right column and is the highest-up race in that column. There is also a line indicating today's date, and the age and sex of the horse, which serves as a target for where today's race will go. How high up the race is on the sheet indicates the date it was run. On most sheets you can see the names of the months in the margin. Races halfway up the sheet were run in June; later months are higher up, and earlier months are lower down.
The arrangement of The Sheets is very helpful in handicapping, because it shows you very clearly how much time off the horse has taken between races. Unusual layoffs for instance, will stick out, and of course are a big danger sign, especially on cheaper horses. A slight extra rest for a healthy horse, on the other hand, may be a big plus. So, where each number is on the sheet tells you how old the horse was when that race was run, and what the date was.
Now, what do the numbers mean? Each figure shows how much quality the horse demonstrated on that day. Briefly, the rating includes speed, weight, allowance for unusual track condition, racing wide or saving ground, headwinds or tailwinds, peculiarities of track construction such as downhill areas, etc. The numbers generally range from zero to the forties. The lower the figure the better the race. The numbers measure how far away from a championship rating (zero) this horse was on this day.
Roughly speaking, a horse who runs a 12 will beat a horse who runs a 13 by something between one and two lengths. A horse who ran a 20 would trail these two but be a length or two ahead of a horse who ran a 21; and so forth. A champion horse, who runs in the low single figures or, on his best days, a zero, would be far ahead of these.
I used the words "roughly speaking" beacause a good number does not always come in ahead of a poorer number. These figures measure, as I said, the quality which the horse demonstrated -- that is, the physical effort which it put out. If a horse carries more weight than an opponent, or races wider than an opponent, or hesitates at the start while the others get off well, he can run a superior effort while finishing behind a horse who actually ran a race of poorer quality.
My figure measures the horse's effort very accurately. Some of that effort may have been "wasted" overcoming certain obstacles, as mentioned, and you may see races where the horse who earned my best figure in that race did not win. But the figure measures accurately what the horse did, physically -- and this makes it possible for you to make meaningful judgements about its condition and ability, without being misled by a lucky win or an unlucky loss. Of course, some of the most exciting bets develop from races where a horse earns a good figure in a race which looks bad in the Daily Racing Form. Don't worry -- the figure is correct.
Naturally, once you think you have narrowed today's race down to the horses who figure to run well, you will have to look out for situations where a poorer number is likely to beat a better number. That is, a horse whose post-position and running style make him a likely ground-saver or ground-loser today should get a correction of a half-point to a point. Add one to two points to the figure you project a horse will run if you think he will race wide. Similarly, subtract from the figure you project if a horse figures to get a ground-saving trip.
As for weight: for horses who are carrying more than 115 pounds today, add a point for each five pounds to the number you project the horse will run today; for lightweights, subtract a point for each five pounds under 115. (Pay no attention to what the horse carried in previous races -- we already allowed for that in the figure.)
Generally speaking, such corrections are much less important than figuring out who is in good condition and has good enough figures to be a contender, and then betting those whose odds seem generous in relation to the likely competition. We have held a series of seminars designed to help in interpreting the patterns on The Sheets. The seminars can help you spot a horse who is in good condition and ready to run a top effort. Tapes of the seminars are available on cassette. We sell them at cost and encourage you to listen to them.
Now let's get back to the layout of The Sheets. As you follow a horse's history, reading the figures upward in each column, you will see that the figures are not stacked neatly on top of each other like Racing Form speed-ratings. They're graphed from left to right. The better races are further left; the bad races are placed to the right. Thus you can see a horse travel in and out of form by watching the line of figures move to the left or right. You can spot erratic horses (often physically unsound horses) whose good races are often sandwiched between horrible efforts. You can see how young healthy horses improve in surges. You can spot hard-hitting, consistent horses at a glance.
No doubt you have noticed that the numbers are not "clean" figures -- there are some little marks before and after. What are they? The tiny figures just after the big figures are merely fractions. A quote mark (") after the number equals half a point. A plus sign (+) is one-quarter of a point. A minus sign (-) means one-quarter less. Thus 15- is 14 and three-quarters. In front of the number, an equal sign (=) means the race was on the turf. Dots to the left of a number indicate some type of off track. Other adverse conditions have their own symbols. See the symbol sheet for a complete explanation. The symbols placed to the left of the figure are more important than the symbols found to the right of the number.
Occasionally a horse will run races for which we have no figure. We cover a lot of territory but can't always be up to date on everything. When you see a rough circle where figures would normally be written, there are one or more races missing -- look at your Racing form and do the best you can.
Once again, if you plan to use The Sheets I encourage you to listen to at least a few of the seminar tapes. If you have any questions call my office (212-674-3123) any day after 11:00A.M.
-- Len Ragozin