The shortest way home is always on or near the inside rail. Well, that's technically true, as we all know, but we also know that many times it doesn't find you the winner of a race. Especially when track conditions are on the very wet side!

It's then we see the horses being deliberately taken extremely wide by their jockeys in a bid to find 'firmer' going away from the rail. Even on tracks considered only dead or slow, we will see horses winning after racing wide throughout. Why? Because the track surface has been uneven, with the footing getting better the wider on the track a horse is raced.

So now we get back to barrier draws, and their importance in racing, and more importantly their importance as far as form study and analysis is concerned. You can't get away from the fact that for a great percentage of races it's better to be drawn dose to the rails. The race percentages themselves show that most races are won by horses coming from the 10th gate inwards. Yet such a statistic is only helpful up to a point, because each race is a different 'ball game' with different horses of different ability and pace.

A slow beginner drawn on the rails in a big field is really at a disadvantage. Fast beginners outside him will have every chance to cut across and chop him off, placing him in an invidious position from which to win. It's been my experience that in Australia not enough attention is given by rank-and-file punters to the issue of 'pace' from the barrier.

By this I mean that few punters give much attention to weighing up the possible scenario of how a race will be run-which horse will lead, which horses will sit just behind the pace, which horses will get trapped wide, which ones will drift back and then have to make ground late? These are some of the issues which have to be addressed if you are to get a clear picture in your mind of how a race is likely to be run.

You may well end up being wrong but you'll probably be right more times than you are in error, as long as you apply the right principles of form and objective, rational analysis.

One point you must remember when assessing barrier draws is this: Horses compelled to race wide around turns MUST cover more ground than runners inside them. The extra ground covered can often mean the difference between winning and losing, because at a lot of Australian tracks a lot of ground can be lost by tracking deep.

You can do a simple test yourself if you need convincing. Make a drawing of a racecourse with the back stretch and the home straight taken away, and only the turns remaining. The turns butted together form a circle. We will say this circle is 800m in circumference. Start one horse around this circle running against the rail and another horse in the middle of the track, or about 15m from the rail.

If both horses run at exactly the same speed the outside horse will be about 43 lengths behind at the finish. It is surprising, then, to discover how little distance a horse can run out from the rail to show an enormous effect on the result of a race. Take the case of the rails runner in this example. Send him around the circle and hold him close to the rail and at 12 seconds to 200m he will run 800m in 48s. Run him at exactly the same speed but 4m from the rail and his time for 800m will be 49.5s. And remember-a horse running 4m out from the rail is not doing anything unusual, but is duplicating a circumstance that happens all too frequently in real races.

In a race, a horse runs in a lane about 3 feet (or a metre) wide; that is he takes up about a metre of the width of the track. To pass him, another horse must go at least a metre further out from the rail, and often a jockey is compelled to bring his mount up to 5, 6 or 7 horses wide on a turn. It's nothing then to find a horse racing some 5-7m out from the inside rail.

There are differing opinions about exactly how much ground horses lose when racing wide. Let's look first at the conclusions of Paul Segar, author of the popular book Horse Racing Theory And Practise. He says: "Horses capable of taking up good positions from anywhere have early speed, like a car; the jockey just puts his foot on the accelerator.

“The better class galloper can turn the speed on at any time during the race . . . From any barrier position, by jumping out well a horse can succeed more easily. A horse missing the jump by even a small amount, even half a length, is usually under pressure right away and is often beaten a long way from the finish."

In regards to how much ground a horse can lose by racing wide from a poor barrier draw, Segar says: "The amount of extra ground covered by a horse depends on a number of factors: how long the race is, how many turns it has to run around and how long the horse is caught wide. Travelling one metre extra works out to be equivalent to 0.36 lengths which means a horse covering 4.5m extra would be about 1.5 lengths worse off, with 9m extra being covered, equivalent to about three lengths. If you work in weights, these work out to about 2.3kgs and 4.5kgs respectively.

"With this level of extra handicap on horses being caught wide, it's no wonder that many horses are beaten when they race wide. Horses racing very wide are at a real disadvantage as they can be losing a couple of lengths every time they negotiate a turn."

Professional punting 'king' Don Scott goes into great detail about wide runners, and barriers, in his best-selling book, Winning More. Indeed, one of his main 'maxims' in raceform study is the following: Some outside barrier positions are a disadvantage ... this disadvantage can be expressed in kilograms'. Now we are getting to the nitty-gritty of the subject.

Says Scott: "Although an outside barrier position tends to be a disadvantage, it is often not as great as some punters believe ... Some experts produce statistics showing that most winners start from inside barriers. These stats give a false picture, since the inside barrier positions are always occupied in every race while the outside positions are occupied only when fields are large.

"Treat with caution all these theories and statistics about barrier positions. The barrier position is just one factor you have to consider and you should not give it undue importance. A good horse, well weighted and well ridden, can overcome the disadvantage of a wide barrier.

"While some punters refuse to back horses drawn wider than 8, 12 or 15, depending on the fanatacism of their opinion, I have backed scores of winners drawn out in no man's land. One of the most memorable was Citadel at 100/1 in the 1974 Epsom."

On the subject of how much ground horses lose when racing wide, Don Scott has this to say: "One expert on wide running has calculated that ... the actual ground a horse loses by running two wide on the home turn at Randwick is 1.42 metres (56 inches), or just over half a length. According to him, you have to compensate a horse two wide 1kg, three wide 1.5kgs, four wide 2.5kgs, 5 wide 3kgs, and so on."

Scott himself says his own compensations for horses running wide “are less than the actual ground lost." In his book, he lists such compensations for wide running under two headings-‘For Wide Running On Early Turns' and 'For Wide Running on the Home Turn.' For example, let's say you had a horse drawn in a wide barrier and at the first turn he was caught five wide on a track rated fast. In Scott's estimation, that would call for a compensation factor of 1kg.

Let's say, also, that the same horse was six wide when negotiating the final turn; Scott would allow a compensation factor of 3kgs. Therefore, when assessing this particular horse's final race rating for a future race, Scott would give it a bonus of 4kgs for that wide running effort.

There is no doubt, then, that barrier draws do have a big role in determining whether a horse can win or not-but probably not such a dominant one that you can afford to make sweeping assertions. Therefore, you cannot dismiss any horse from calculations merely because it might have drawn barrier 18 in a field of 18.

A famous American turf expert, Lou Holloway, once wrote: "You can't blithely accept statistics or the law of averages in racing, because each race is a separate entity, with different variants. So a horse drawn out wide in one race might lose, but in the next race, in a completely different set of circumstances, another horse coming from the same barrier in the same size field, will win."

Holloway is exactly right. But the punter doesn't have the luxury of being able to intricately probe each and every race. He has to adopt some basic approaches to overcome the wide barrier problem and in this regard the best avenue to turn to is that of Don Scott and his Barrier Tables Charts in Winning More, and more recently in his brilliant new book Winning In The 90s.

Scott dissects each major city and provincial track, in all States, and allots various penalties for horses racing from wide barriers. If you use these, in conjunction with your own knowledge about a horse, you should be able to accurately 'track' how much a barrier will affect any individual horse.

For example, you may be looking at an early-speed horse drawn in barrier 15 in a 1200m sprint at Randwick. You know that this horse explodes away from the barrier, and you reason that it should possess enough pace to lead in the first 100 to 150m. So then you look at Scott's charts and you find he has allowed a 1kg penalty for a horse drawn 15 over 1200m at Randwick.

You now have to decide if you should penalise the horse that 1kg, or perhaps reduce it to a half kilo, or even do away with it completely. You may feel the wide barrier is no disadvantage, given the horse's ability to 'ping' away smartly and display early toe. Or you may decide that even with the early speed, the wide barrier might mean the horse will have to be asked to go just a little too hard too early, and therefore will have much less stamina in reserve when the chips are down in the testing final 300m.

My own observations are that horses drawn between 1 and 7 should be suitably drawn, unless you can make out a case for a slow beginner in a sprint being chopped off from, say, barriers 1 to 3. Against this, you have to assess whether it is an advantage for the horse to be axed out of the early rush, given that it's a late closer anyway.

Horses drawn between 8 and 11 are getting into the 'midways' range, where you have to begin giving some consideration to penalties, depending on the distance of the race, and the shape of the track, taking into account the distance between the barrier gates and the first turn, and also taking account of each horse's racing style.

Once you get from barrier 12 outwards is where you strike more and more imponderables. I think it's essential that those serious punters possess Don Scott's Barrier Charts, and that they use them as reference guides at least. You don't have to accept the penalties he lists at face value; instead use them as a tool for your form study and change them as you see fit.

Always remember then that barrier draws are important - but don't get carried away with an all-embracing rule about them. Treat each case on its merits. Wide draws can be fatal-but not all the time. And, as for wide running on the turns, remember that horses DO cover more ground when doing so, so think about compensatory form allowances for it.

By Statsman