The chestnut mare Lupita cantered down to the start for the final race at Exeter on Tuesday saddled not just with the life-changing hopes of heating engineer Steve Whiteley’s jackpot ticket, but also with the dreaded Timeform ‘squiggle’.
Timeform was founded (as Portway Press Ltd) in 1948 by Phil Bull, who wanted to establish a mathematical link to a horse’s performance, based on the time the horse recorded, in an era when such data were virtually unheard of. The company developed into one of the most respected brands in racing and betting, producing numerous publications aimed at giving the time-starved punter and form student an edge. Timeform was purchased by Betfair in 2006.
Timeform’s main output – covering every horse in every race run in Britain – required some shortcuts which signified placings, going, racecourse and a horse’s character. So they produced a sort of hierogyphlic print form of short text messaging.
p commonly referred to as a small ‘p’; the horse is likely to improve
P commonly referred to as a large ‘P’; the horse is capable of much better
+ the horse may be better than rated
? the rating is suspect or (used alone) the horse is out of form or cannot be assessed with confidence
§ the ‘Timeform squiggle’; the horse is unreliable (for temperamental or other reasons)
§§ the ‘double squiggle’; the horse is so unsatisfactory as to be not worth a rating
x a poor jumper
xx so bad a jumper as to be not worth a rating
So poor Lupita, with 28 unsuccessful runs over hurdles, found herself with the shameful squiggle. Those jackpot players in the know would have shunned her for the squiggle alone and moved on. But if ever you need proof that Ignorance is Bliss, you find it in Steve Whiteley who was unversed in squiggle language and form in general. He chose Lupita because “the name Lodge, stuck in my head” (Lupita’s rider was Jessica Lodge and it made a refreshing change for racing to have an appealing Lodge as a jockey than a jockey lodging an appeal).
And the rest is history. Steve is now richer by £1.4m though he managed to upset his wife by forgetting to buy her a birthday present, hurrying out to get a 65p birthday card to which his wife said “You can’t stay mad at a millionaire, can you?”
Lupita might not have won much prize money for her owner, but she must go down in history as the highest earning squiggle horse in Timeform history.
Seabiscuit! Who wants the Lupita squiggle movie rights!?
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