The Brassel family is well-known throughout Australian racing due to their long association with the print media. Tom Brassel was for 20 years turf editor of the now defunct Daily Mirror and is now one of the major forces behind the recently launched formguide, Nationwide Winners.

Tom's No. 2 son, Stephen, was recently appointed turf editor of the Daily Telegraph Mirror while number one son, Tony, is the deputy editor of Racetrack magazine.

Another son, Mark, worked for many years on the Telegraph Mirror but recently joined his father at Nationwide Winners.

While all the Brassels love their racing and enjoy the punt, Tony is the most studious of the family about the thoroughbred industry. He is a breeding buff and compiles the Breeders Guide for the Sportsman.

But Tony is also a student of form, with his specialty being selecting winners originating from barrier trials.

Tony Brassel talks to Glenn Robbins about how you can find tomorrow’s winners from the trials.

And what to be wary of.

A recent decision by the Australian Jockey Club has thrown what Tony Brassel describes as a real spanner into the works when assessing barrier trials.

Brassel is one of a select few of eager punters who are regulars at Randwick, Rosehill and Warwick Farm for the once-a-month barrier trials conducted at each track.

Brassel regards the watching of the trials as a genuine head-start to backing future winners because the hit-outs, although only practices, give an excellent indication of whether a horse has ability.

But Brassel feels that a new rule introduced-where horses trialling do not have to race in racing plates-has made assessments of trials a little tricky.

The new rule was introduced for owners as a cost-saving measure so their horses did not have to wear specific racing plates but could race in work shoes, their normal day-to-day shoes.

"But from my research, the use of the work shoes can slow down a horse by around three lengths," Brassel said.

"The problem is that there is no list of what shoes each horse is wearing in the trials so now there is a possible variable of three lengths hanging over the assessment of each horse."

It is understandable why the AJC has introduced this change of shoeing rules in trials but from a punter's viewpoint, surely it needs re-evaluating.

Normally the AJC, especially through their chief steward John Schreck, is very conscious of making form analysis as open as possible for the benefit of punters.

"The rule is reasonably new so I'm not quite sure what effect it will have on my assessments," Brassel said. "I suppose it is a case of weighing up everything and evaluating whether trials will retain their good guideline for form assessments."

Brassel says utilising barrier trials is a great way of picking future winners.

"Obviously, most people don't have the time to get to the trials because they usually have to work on the Friday mornings when they are held," Brassel said.

Brassel says there are many aspects which have to be considered when evaluating trials. They are, according to Brassel:

What punters have to consider is that trials are run exactly opposite to the races. In a race which is a sprint, the first half of the race is invariably run faster than the latter half. In trials it is the opposite so the last 400m of a trial is worth noting.

"I clock the last 400m of every trial and that gives me a good indication of how well a horse has gone. It is interesting these days that most trainers, especially with two-year-olds, give their horses a solid hit-out in a trial because they are wanting to educate the youngsters for races like the Slipper and Magic Millions.

"Prize-money is vital early in the season to gain a start in those races so most trainers want their horses revved up."

Which is great for followers of trials because we get to genuinely see the ability of the young horses who haven't had disclosed form. Normally, if those horses can run a good final 400m, especially if they've been under some early pressure, then it is fair to say they have ability.

Of course, jockeys are allowed to give a horse a quiet run in a trial. So it is necessary to determine which horses are out under full pressure and which horses have had a cosy run and to what extent. This can only be achieved by watching as many horses as possible through the trial.

Some trainers, such as Tommy Smith, and Ray Guy, normally like their horses ridden out in trials so they have a solid grounding for when they return to races.

But other trainers, for example Bart Cummings, like their horses to relax early and, say, just sprint up the last 200m. So Bart's horses can often be difficult to assess because you just don't know how much they have in reserve.

So it gets down to personal opinion. Also, a horse might win a trial in fast time yet be under a stranglehold by the jockey, which gives an impression that the horse had a few lengths up his sleeve. Often, though, the horse doesn't have anything left, so it can be costly if you back him when he's next produced.

Often, too, horses can be ridden for a couple of hundred metres past the winning post, which for me proves a worthwhile point at times. For example, the big Randwick plunge last month on Honest Injun could have been predicted had you been at the trials.

He was ridden for a good furlong past the post when he trialled, which suggested he was being set for a first-up win.

But horses who do get quiet runs normally have a smooth run behind the leaders and just sprint up the last bit. These horses are just having a nice little conditioning hit-out and can often be hard to assess because you don't know the exact extent of the effort.

But what often happens is horses with a lot of ability have so much class that they still win their trial even though they were supposed to have had an easy run.

As we mentioned, Tommy Smith and Ray Guy like to test out their horses. jack Denham probably doesn't like winning trials but he has so many class horses that they just win anyway.

Bart Cummings's style of training is three-quarter pace in the trial then sprint up the last 200m, much the same way as he gallops them. Graeme Begg is another trainer who likes to cuddle his horses in a trial.

But, Brassel says, there are many variables to the assessment of trials.

“A lot depends on how the trial was nut,” he said. “That's where it is necessary to break down the sectional times to try to find the true depth m the trial.

“But what the trials are guaranteed to uncover is whether a horse has ability, especially with the two-year-olds.

“A horse called Janole won at its first start at Randwick in November after trialling very soundly yet it won at big odds.

"From my experience, horses that have a trial prior to resuming have a definite edge on a horse resuming without a trial hit-out."

Incidentally, the best horse Brassel has seen trial is the veteran At Sea.

"Even as a young horse he was a freak," Brassel said. "He'd run a tick over 45 for 800m which is sensational stuff.

"Maruading too was brilliant. In fact, he is clearly the best sprinting Sir Tristram horse I have ever seen."

For horses to follow, Brassel suggests Mighty Panache, who is trained by Sterling Smith.

Brassel said he trialled well at Randwick on November 15 and is fitter for a couple of runs back.

"He'll start to hit his straps when he gets to 1600m," Brassel said.

Another horse he mentioned was a two-year-old, Pas De Chat, trained by Peter Miers.

"She caught my eye when she finished fifth in the trial in which Janole ran third.

"She was always trapped wide and was under a good hold in the straight yet she was close-up at the finish.

"She could be well backed when she's produced for the first time."

By Glenn Robbins