The aim of this month’s article is to offer a reasonable method of predicting the winner of the Grp 1 Lightning Stakes. The prestigious race is run in midsummer so we should be almost guaranteed nice, fast turf on raceday (famous last words!).

Here’s hoping then, that wet ground won’t interfere with my lovingly constructed rules.


When it comes to a speed race like the Lightning Stakes, it becomes imperative to try to make an assessment of the contenders through studying their race times. There should be no question of avoiding a time assessment in this race because Lightning contenders are very much speed machines and the clock can prove to be an invaluable and reliable aid when analysing their form.

While it’s possible to look up the comments from a number of excellent stopwatch professionals in the racing dailies and weeklies, my personal preference is to peruse the assessments made by Timeform, whose data is made freely available at

There you will find assessments for every Group and Listed race run during the season (on the left hand side of the page). If you click on “Season 2007–2008” under any of the Group or Listed subheadings, then you’ll see each result for every stakes’ race for that category. Clicking on “More” next to the result will show the result in full with a Timeform mark written in the TFE column on the right hand side. Unfortunately, the Timeform rating is only available for the first, second and third places but it still suffices.

All you need do now is refer back to the form of the contenders in the Lightning and look up each runner’s form from the major spring carnivals. As only one of the last 15 Lightnings has contained more than 12 runners, then it’ll probably be a small field again so this isn’t as scary as it sounds. The key piece of information that you need to know is the number 118. 118 is the TFE number that a contender must have scored in a Stakes’ race over the spring/summer at a distance of 1400m or less for them to be considered as a real contender in the Lightning.

Ensure you check the Listed race form of any contender too, although I’d wait until we know who is lining up before checking those, as there are quite a few.

Anyhow, an early perusal of the Timeform ratings from the Group races run so far this season, suggest that the following horses are in contention for the Lightning: Weekend Hussler, Miss Andretti, Gold Edition, Solo Flyer, German Chocolate and Apache Cat. The list looks intriguing and manages to throw up some contenders that many of the racing public will have forgotten about i.e. Solo Flyer and German Chocolate.

NOTE: It is just possible that an unexposed 3yo with a few good wins in handicap company could creep into the field and will not have, as a consequence, any Timeform figures for public viewing. If this is the case then note the times the horse has clocked when winning on metropolitan racetracks only, then take these times and compare them to the track record for the same distance. If the horse has come within 0.5 seconds of the track record then it is a contender, otherwise discard them. You’ll find track records for any major metropolitan racetrack on all racecourse websites.

2. AGE
In the November issue of PPM I outlined a plan to take note of horses older than seven years of age that contest G1 WFA company in sprints and staying races. The idea behind the article was to make the point that age ought not to be a bar to success for a race like the Lightning, as long as the older horse in question subscribes to a specific list of form criteria.

One of the key reasons why older horses could be considered for the Lightning is because Australian thoroughbred breeding farms churn out quality sprinters by the truckload and these are quite capable of maturing at different rates. Australia’s big into producing sprinters nowadays, especially due to the recent international success in the UK. Speedsters of all kinds are everywhere in Oz, therefore the older ones should not be ignored completely.
Okay, so an older horse has not won the Lightning in the last 25-30 years but this may be because of the lack of attempts by older horses in Australia’s fastest Group 1.

Still, as older horses need to have the rare criteria that I’d sketched out in the November PPM, it would be remiss of me if I did not outline the actual winning age brackets that had been successful in the Lightning over the past few decades. Since 1987 there have been 11 x 3yo winners, four x 4yo winners and six x 5yo/6yo winners. As you can see from the figures, there is a heavy 71 per cent bias in the favour of the 3yo–4yo age range, which puts the spotlight on Weekend Hussler, Solo Flyer and Gold Edition.

The previous career performances of past Lightning winners can help to focus on the right kinds of horses. Each of the last 20 winners had these traits in common:

  • All winners, bar Schillaci in 1992, had either: won a Group 1, placed in a Group 1 (losing by less than length), won a Group 2, won a Group 3 by a length or won a Listed race by two lengths. These achievements were made in races of 1400m or less at least once in the 12 months prior to winning the Lightning.
  • All past winners had raced during the previous spring, with 19 out of the last 20 winning a stakes’ race during that spring. All of them had raced in a pattern race of some kind in the spring.
  • All winners had won or been placed in at least 60.5 per cent of their career starts. In fact, all bar Sports in 2001 had won or been placed in at least 65 per cent of their career starts – which is probably a better benchmark.
  • All winners aged four or older had, in the 12 months prior to their Lightning win, won a Group or Listed race within two starts of returning from a break. A “break” is defined as a spell of 28 days or longer.
  • All winners aged four or older had contested Group 1 company in their careers, either winning or placing.
  • All winners aged four or older had won a minimum of eight races in their careers while all three-year-old winners had won a minimum of two  races.
  • Any horse arriving from outside Melbourne (Victoria in effect) must have proven that it can travel and run well away from its home stable before attempting to win the Lightning. Running well is defined as having won or been placed in a Group or Listed race.
  • All 3yo Lightning winners had already won in their 3yo year earlier in the spring. In other words, no 3yo winner had its last win as a 2yo (in which case Solo Flyer will need to win if it heads for the Lightning).

Quite often in racing we are confronted by the conundrum of the barrier draw but in the case of the straight 1000m of the Lightning at Flemington, we have to deal with the draw slightly differently.

Most of the time we see horses being asked to sprint round a bend, which means that being drawn high can often be a problem due to an on-rushing corner. In straight sprint racing things are a little more egalitarian, as all the horses break evenly and don’t necessarily need to alter their trajectory from start to finish. This means we should not get too concerned about where our selection is drawn, particularly in what is usually a small field of runners.

However, you as a punter should at least be aware of where the pace is going to be. Check the pace maps in your racing paper to see where the leaders are gathered. If they appear to be congregated at one end of the barriers then the pace of the race is likely to develop in this area. If your selection likes to sit handy but is drawn a long way from this group, then he or she may be disadvantaged.

Since the inception of the Lightning stakes back in 1955 only four winners have been bred outside of Australia and those four were bred in New Zealand (three winners technically as one of them was dual winner River Rough). The last overseas-bred winner was Hula Chief (NZ) in 1986 and since then Aussie bred horses have, not surprisingly, dominated.

In fact, since the turn of the century every Lightning winner has descended from purely Australian dam-lines going back three generations. This means that the last eight Lightning winners had not only been born in Australia but their first dams, second dams and third dams were as well!

This is more important than it sounds. While some horses are born in Australia they may well be descended from stouter NZ families. Check the damline of a contender on (the damline being the line tracing the descent of the maternal line), if the second dam, third dam, fourth dam, etc. of a contender emanates from NZ then I would omit them from calculations.

Solo Flyer would again suffer here if he showed up in the Lightning field as he descends from a prominent NZ family. His second dam is no lesser mare than the staying powerhouse, and mother of Melbourne Cup winner Brew, Horlicks.

Who is in the mix?

It’s hard to think past Miss Andretti as the winner of this race as she is so strong right now, but if she fails to show up for any reason then it may become a more open contest. Hopefully, the above set of rules will light the way to the winner.

By Julian Mould