Be honest . . . Faced with the choice between two horses for a race, do you turn to the barrier draw to separate them? If Horse A is drawn in barrier I and the other qualifier is in gate 12, aren't you attracted like a moth to a flame to the horse drawn on the inside?

Okay, it's a natural inclination. I confess I make the "inside gate, best gate" choice too many times for my own comfort. I say that because I know that it is more often than not the WRONG choice to make.

Statistics at most tracks will bear me out on this one. To my way of thinking, each race has to be treated as a totally different entity from another race. In other words, we can't rely on overall barrier statistics to point us in any winning direction.

So much depends on which horses are drawn in the various barriers. A horse who gets away slowly and drifts back is not normally going to be helped by getting barrier 1. In fact, the position of that barrier can guarantee that such a horse gets squeezed right out the back very quickly, and with little chance of making ground because of the presence of other runners all around him.

Some horses, of course, are going to be helped by an ii-[side gate. They are usually horses with early pace, who can position themselves nicely without wasting "petrol" and who can then use the inside running to save ground.

Why is it, then, that we gravitate to the inside barriers even though we may be backing horses not actually suited by being there? It's all a matter of conditioning. We've been fed the line for so many years that we've swallowed it and we cannot regurgitate it.

My point is that we should never accept barrier statistics as the be-all and end-all. They're not. Sure, take note of them, but never ignore the simple task of examining the HORSE as well as the barrier.

Usually, there is only a minimal difference between most barriers and their percentage of winners. Many times you'll find some real surprises in what's happened.

If we look at the Rosehill stats for 1100m to begin with ... and here we see that gate I has a 13.8 per cent winning record from 405 races since August, 1990 (stats from

Now, one might well think that gate 2 would have the next highest percentage strike rate. But NO. It has a low 7.9 per cent winning rate. The next best barriers are No. 4 with 10.9, No. 5 with 10.4, No. 6 with 10.2 and No. 8 with 10.5.

At 1200m at Rosehill, barrier No. l's win-strike rate from 671 races is 11.9 per cent, and the same strike rate has been achieved by No. 3, with No. 5 at 10.8. So there's not much difference between these three barrier draws.

At 1300m, the stats become even more interesting. The No.1 gate has a win strike of 10 per cent from 201 races while gate 4 has 13.4 per cent. Then we go to 1400m, and here the inside seems to be more advantageous with a strike rate of 14.3 per cent but this is from only 35 races.

The 1500m barrier is the one we need to look at closely at Rosehill. Many good races start from this barrier. The inside gate has the best strike rate at 13 per cent from 594 races, while barrier 2 has 11.1. These two barriers dominate, but riot to the extent that you can immediately tag a starter to be greatly better off than runners drawn

Again, you MUST consider the individual qualities of the runners who are boxed on the inside.

Bear in mind that 87 out of 100 of them are going to LOSE. Yes, that's a sobering thought, isn't it?

At the 1900m barrier at Rosehill, the gate with the best win-strike rate is No. 8 with 12.6 per cent from 175 races! The next best is No. 5 with 11.4, followed by No. 1 with 10.9 and No. 7 with 10.2.

So the longer the trip, then, the less influence the barrier position has, though at 2400m, the stats show that it's still slightly better to stick with runners drawn inside, although gate 2 lags well behind the others.

The top barriers at 2400m are No. 3 and No. 4, each at 12.5 per cent, and the next is No- 7 at 11.4 per cent with No. 1 at 11.3.

There is a case to be made out for punters to ignore the barrier draw altogether. A colleague of mine from some years back truly believed in this approach. His point was that he had missed so many good-priced winners by not backing them because of a wide draw that he realised he would have been far better off by totally ignoring post positions.

"I've lost count of the winners I missed by stupidly telling myself they couldn't win from out wide," he told me. "I missed some losers, sure, but the prices of the winners I missed far outweighed any losses."

Naturally, on a sensitive issue like this one, people have greatly differing views. The late Rem Plante, while saying that wide barriers can be a disadvantage, also had this to say in his best-selling book The Australian Horse Racing & Punters Guide:

Speedy gallopers, smart starters and horses with a big pull in the weights, will not be greatly handicapped by their wide alley.

"Slow beginners, however, will be seriously troubled by an outside barrier position. Arid if you come across such an acceptor while doing the weights, you could without much risk, disregard it for further consideration, unless it is one of the good gallopers who on weights could have a definite winning chance."

Plante estimated that every seven barrier positions were equal to a half-kilo in weight. So, if a horse starts from barrier No. 15 it has to be penalised 1kg because of the extra distance it could be covering.

Don Scott, in his many books, also had a graded penalty system for barriers, though my personal contention is that punters may as well ignore such penalties altogether.

Penalising a horse a half kilo or 1kg probably is not going to mean much at all in the overall scheme of things. My point is that in taking an overview of barriers, there really isn't a great deal of difference between the first eight barriers, and then not too much as the fields get bigger.

In a large field, a slow beginner drawn on or near the rails could be at a tremendous disadvantage. By all means, impose some kind of penalty if you are producing ratings on the race. It would be silly not to try to make some attempt to "rationalise" the race form.

Trying to look into barrier analysis at length is, as I've indicated, a subject fraught with some peril. I doubt I've struck a facet of racing that has so many varying viewpoints.

Most keen punters will do all they can to individualise a race. Don't generalise. Most punters will study the layout of the track and will be quick to note if a runner is well or badly situated at the beginning of the race.

The shortest way home is always on or near the rails. That's a simple fact. Horses racing wide around turns are compelled to cover extra ground and in many cases it can make the difference between winning and losing.

Yet I've seen so many instances of horses who started from inside gates ending up 10 wide on the turn! So much depends on how a race is run and on each individual horse's running style.

In a race, a horse runs in a lane about 1 metre wide. To pass him, another horse has to go at least a metre around him. A jockey is often forced to take his mount around three, four, five or more runners so it's not unusual to see a horse 5 metres from the rail during a race.

NEXT MONTH: More on barrier positions and two systems that will help you to take advantage of horses racing from the best possible draws.

Click here to read Part 2.

By Philip Roy