Sid Bowling is a P. P.M. subscriber from Argenton, N.S.W. Sid is an astute judge when it comes to the ins-and-outs of racing. In this two part series, he explains how a study of breeding can transform, your betting approach.

Back in 1989, I won P.P.M's Letter of the Year Award. Since that time, I believe a number of varying changes have occurred in horse-racing. I took two years off my betting activities to study and research into what is contributing to making racing harder and harder to win at every year.

During this time I also attempted an intimate, exhausting study of wet track racing, to see if I could learn something other than the 'norm' which, in the long term, just might prove of some value in my betting.

What I have learned has helped me understand many of the questionable results from wet seasons gone by. Now, while I was conducting my research, I was surprised to read an article by bookmaker/ punter Mark Read in the Victorian-based formguide Winning Post in which he expressed his obvious dislike of wet tracks, and lodged his own complaint about how unfair they are.

It's my view that not enough has been done over the years by punters - or bookies - to research the reasons why certain horses can or cannot handle varying track conditions. Mark Read said that Melbourne's grass tracks are not providing consistent, regular, fair going to all participating horses, and this is why we see so many upset results. The winner, he says, is the horse lucky enough to find the best ground.

I happen to disagree with Mark. Remember back to last year's Caulfield Cup day. Ghost Story, coming well down the outside of the track with a big weight, bolted in. Veandercross went well down the outside and was just pipped. Mannerism finished on to win just outside the centre of the track.

The pattern appeared to be far better on those sections of the track until along came Rough Habit from the proverbial 'mile back' on the turn, and closer to the rail than any others, and carrying the 'grandstand'- and he won going away.

Ever asked yourself why horses can or cannot perform in all track conditions You probably have, but haven't known how to go about finding out. I believe that if something happens, or is always happening, there has to be an explanation - all you need to do is search out the answers!

Atrocious track conditions have always been part of Australian racing and believe me when I say that they produce by far the greatest punting value these days - providing you do your homework and don't just accept a horse as a wet-tracker because he has won in the wet.

Now to the breeding aspect. A thorough knowledge of breeding is the best asset a punter can have in racing today. My initial venture into breeding came about through a friend who is a doctor, a breeder of thoroughbreds, and a punter. He had been encouraging me for many years to learn about the breeding side of racing, mainly to help me understand more about distance horses.

I wasn't overly interested, being happy enough then to continue with my form analysis of races of 1600m and less, but a few years back I began to notice that it was becoming harder and harder to finish 'in front' on the punt.

My pal loaned me books on thoroughbred breeding and it was then I began to realise what a fascinating subject it was. These books took me back to when racehorses first arrived in England, around the early to middle 1600s.

After many months of reading I now realise that two incredible things haven't changed from that time to the present - there has always been two distinct lines carried on from generation to generation. That is, a DRY track line and a WET track line.

I was able also to buy a computer breeding program which has something like 15,000 sires and 12,000 broodmares listed, with five generations of pedigree. Through this program I have been able to trace all those breeding lines from yesteryear to today's sires.

This is basically why I disagree with Mark Read when he says our wet tracks are totally unfair to all horses. The fact is that if we changed our natural and varying track conditions to suit horses that handled firm ground then it simply becomes unfair to horses with definite wet track ancestry.

If you think my theories are only fiction then you only need to go through a number of copies of The Sportsman to find horses that are generally known as wet-trackers, and aggregate their individual track condition performances, percentage-wise at least. Take their win and place strike rates on good and fast going and compare them with the slow and heavy track rates.

The point I am learning is that once you can understand the two lines you can label a horse either a wet or dry tracker and invest on them only when the right conditions apply. I have been able to designate specific track conditions only for many horses (i.e. slow track horse, heavy track horse etc.).

The other excellent aspect, of course, is that the knowledge works in reverse. If you have a horse marked as a wet tracker and he is racing on a fast track then you must trust what you know and let him go. Early in my research, I went against my knowledge and bet on horses I still believed had enough form credentials to still be able to win. I ended up eating humble pie.

After this I began watching very closely similar type horses, especially in the final 100m or so, paying special attention to leg action in that final peak pressure part of a race. A fair number of these horses raced up to win in the closing stages but couldn't finish it off. I realised they were, in fact, hurting.

Later, when these same horses raced on conditions which suited them, they won, and again I watched closely their leg action. I found them to be far more fluent. What causes their poor performances on a wet track and good on a bad, and vice-versa, is a genetic fault, if you want to call it a fault.

As far as the wet-trackers are concerned their legs hurt more on a dry surface. I believe the dry line horses, who in general are faster horses and more used to stretching at their maximum stride, actually build up a fear once they have raced on wet surfaces, and have slipped and slid on them trying to race at full stride.

I am sure you can relate to your normal walking pattern on dry ground to how you step differently when walking along, say, ground covered in moss. I will now give you examples of what I mean. If we go back to November 14 last year at Sandown, we have the case of Ghost Story, who is by the sire Memento, whose ancestry is steeped heavily on wet lines. I told a bookmaker friend at our local meeting that Ghost Story, in reality, was a 50/1 chance on the fast track. He ran as I expected him to, and I was curious as to what excuse would be put up for him in the following days.

The excuses were all wrong, in my opinion. Unfortunately, punters were sucked into backing him. I noticed in a recent P.P.M. where Michael Kemp wrote about Ghost Story being an exceptional galloper -well, I'll challenge this by saying that this horse will never be anywhere near as exciting in the future when racing on GOOD or FAST tracks.

I know the horse well, because I labelled him a slow and heavy tracker ONLY, and this was as far back as the Kembla Grange Classic, which was the first time I put money on him. The track was slow that day but Ghost Story struck a lot of trouble in the run (the race was won by Surtee, who also is by Memento).

The only other time I backed him was the day he bolted in on a wet track at Caulfield. I let him go at Flemington as I felt he would get too far back early and it's almost impossible to come from back in the field down the straight in slow or heavy conditions.

When looking at Ghost Story's form you can see that he has won two races on good tracks. This could lead many people to believe he can handle any type of going, something I fell for early in my breeding research. I discussed this point with my doctor pal and he pointed out that young horses are basically taught to run flat out in their early races (usually 900m-1000m), and that their genetic pattern doesn't start to fully take over until they are three and a half years old.

I have experimented with this theory and I agree with it. Once this genetic quirk has taken effect their racing pattern is firmly established. Have you not come across horses who had good early records on wet tracks but who can't now handle them? Or horses who could not handle wet tracks early on but suddenly they start winning on rain affected ground?

The other often confusing aspect of this issue is why dry line horses can win on wet tracks. After much research, I have found that in most instances this happens simply because the horse in question has too much Class on its opponents - but when the same horse races against horses of similar class and ability on wet tracks, then the wet line horses will cane him.

A case that comes to mind is Stylish Century. When he first came to Sydney he had easily won a race at the Gold Coast on a slow track by some 6 lengths. His first start in Sydney was at Rosehill on a slow track in which he vied for favouritism with Mercury, and he was just beaten.

Mercury failed to go on to any great heights, but we all know how far Stylish Century went. But, significantly, he was absolutely useless on rain-affected ground thereafter! He had won in the wet at the Gold Coast through sheer Class.

On the training side, it's my firm belief that many trainers lack knowledge of the best track conditions for their horses. With the loss of steroids and other 'miracle' medications, outlawed under new racing rules, a lot of trainers are finding it hard to prepare and 'keep up' their horses during a preparation.

The trainers who in the past relied heavily on these medications and steroids have slipped by the wayside in recent years. Just go back five or seven years and note who the leading trainers were - and look at the list today.

Many trainers who are now still on top are those who learned their trade without the use of the many medications and drugs which are now banned.

Another problem in these modern times with Australian racehorses is, in my opinion, the influence of sires from the United States. We have imported a mass of US-bred sires to this country - a country whose tracks and climate are vastly different to those in the USA.

Most of our early sires came from England, France and Ireland, countries whose climate and tracks are far closer to ours. Have you noticed how quickly many of our horses are breaking down these days? After only a season or two they are 'gone', or no longer competitive because of injuries.

Our earlier influx of sires were much tougher and accustomed to our seasons and track conditions than the US sires of today (speed horses from dirt tracks).

NEXT ISSUE: The best wet-track horses of today's racing scene in Australia - and how Sid picked the Caulfield and Melbourne Cup winners using his 'wet line' breeding technique.

Click here to read Part 2.

By Sid Bowling