If there’s one race in the Australian calendar that typifies my idea of a tough, Australian racehorse then it is the Stradbroke handicap raced at Eagle Farm.

The Stradbroke captured my imagination all those years ago when I arrived from the UK when watching Queensland racing for the first time on TV. The prevailing wet ground at the time and the long shadows reminded me a little of autumn racing in the UK, a time that I have a great fondness for.

For this month’s big race breakdown I decided to go back as far as I could to obtain the greatest sampling, although increasingly I’m finding that it’s probably a better and more modern approach to cut things off at the 15 year mark at around 1993.

This is simply because Australian racing had changed significantly at that point in time with the influx of northern hemisphere shuttle stallions making their mark on racetracks “down under” with their progeny. The old order of Aussie-breds started to be significantly challenged by the hybrid offspring of top-class European stallions and rock-hard Australian/New Zealand matrons in the early 90s.

Mind you, keep to the last 15 years then I run the risk of upsetting Queenslanders with the thought that Rough Habit should not be considered by me as being relevant to the modern day Stradbroke. Most racing fans will tell you that Rough Habit is probably the best Stradbroke winner of modern times yet horses like him (curse them), make it hard for idiots like me to model an “average” profile for a Stradbroke. Rough Habit, of course, certainly wasn’t average.

Regular readers of PPM will know that I wrote an article last year scrutinising older horses aged seven years old and upwards, just to see how they fared in Group 1 company (Nov 2007 issue if you’re interested). The findings were pretty interesting because the stats showed that betting older horses in Group 1 handicap company was essentially a real no-no.

Their strike rate was pitiful with only one horse out of 123 runners winning in G1 handicaps below 3200m, but, strangely enough, the one that did was in the Stradbroke – St Basil in 2006 which came in at 8/1. Because of this hiccup I suppose you could say that the Stradbroke favours older horses a little more then most races but I think the more sensible move would be to take the percentage option and give horses aged seven and older a miss; in other words, with regard to this year’s Stradbroke I’d stick to the age range of 3yo to 6yo.

Depending on the weather the Stradbroke can either be a sprint or a slog but whichever way the weather decides to lean, any decent candidate ought to have achieved something on the clock since the turn of the calendar year. It stands to reason that a sprint of this calibre attracts high quality horses which should mean that a respectable contestant will be arriving at Eagle Farm with decent form in the bag and at least one fast time to its credit since January 1st.

All winners of the Stradbroke, since shuttle stallions started coming to Oz, have managed to score in a good time in a Group or Listed race of between 1200 – 1500m in their lead-up races. NOTE: Bear in mind that the horse need not have won or even been placed in such a race. All that matters is that their time was clocked in a pattern race.

So, what’s a decent time? Basically, the following distances have some benchmark times attached to them. The horse you’re analysing will have needed to have run a time either equal to or (preferably) below the time shown for the relevant distance:

1200m – 1:09.99 (69.9 secs)
1300m – 1:17.10 (77.1 secs)
1350m – 1.19.20 (79.20 secs)
1400m – 1:23.49 (83.49 secs)
1500m – 1:29.20 (89.2 secs)

The time for oddball distance of 1350m is included to accommodate the Doomben 10000 which acts as an excellent trial race for the Stradbroke. Remember, the times listed aren’t meant to be scintillating times but a decent horse that’s in form will have achieved this in its Stradbroke lead-up AT LEAST ONCE – even if it was beaten into 12th by eight lengths because if that race was run in a very fast time then your horse could well have done enough. This means that it will pay to scrutinise a Stradbroke candidate’s performance very carefully.

If you want to find out times for horses that have run unplaced, you might still be able to look up their performance at www.sportscolour.com.au. If the information you want isn’t available then a slightly cruder method is to start with the winning time of the race you’re interested in then take away 0.17 secs for every length it was beaten. You’ll need a calculator but you shouldn’t find it too much trouble.


  • All Stradbroke winners had their last start, be it a race or a trial, in May.
  • Only 11 out of 21 past winners had come 1st or 2nd on their last start (52 per cent).

Even though the last start effort for Stradbroke winners of the last 20 odd years has only shown 52 per cent of them coming off a 1st or 2nd, the truth for those that didn’t was because they were bouncing off a Group 1 race.

These races are, of course, ultra-competitive races so a lowly placing in these sorts of races is not as bad as it may appear.

This trend will probably continue, seeing as the most likely last start for a significant proportion of contenders will have been the WFA Doomben 10000 over 1350m. Especially since the organisers cleverly moved this race to be within three weeks of the Stradbroke which was a sensible policy that helped trainers and punters alike.

In the last five years, four out of the last five winners have spring from the Doomben 10000 and, let’s face it, it wouldn’t be a shock if it happened again this year. To help draw a line between good and bad efforts in the ‘10000’, I’d suggest that a contender’s run will have needed to have beaten half the field and not put them more than 4.9 lengths away from the winner. However, it’s worth noting that few horses have done the 10000/Stradbroke double so it might take a special horse to do the double; particularly as trainers are deliberately using the 10000 as a springboard race for the ‘Grand Final’ of the Stradbroke.

Recent form:

  • 17 out of 21 past winners had come 1st or 2nd in one of their last two starts (81 per cent).
  • 20 out of 21 past winners had come 1st or 2nd in one of their last three starts (95 per cent).
  • 21 out of 21 past winners had come 1st or 2nd in one of their last four starts (100 per cent).
  • All winners had at least nine career starts (not including trials) before attempting the Stradbroke. Sufficient racetrack experience is vital.
  • Every Stradbroke winner had won or been placed in a 1200 – 1600m Group race containing more than 12 runners in the previous 12 months.
  • 19 out of 21 past winners had experience of Group 1 races (90 per cent).
  • No QTC Cup winner has gone on to win the Stradbroke.
  • History says no three-year-old filly has won the Stradbroke carrying more than 50kg.

As you can see from the stats above, the Stradbroke winner will be going into the race with good recent form and experience behind them; form which must have been achieved this season and almost certainly achieved since the turn of the calendar year. What’s more is that there is a very strong chance that a contestant will have attempted Group 1 company during its career and, not surprisingly, most will have steered their way through the recent carnivals of Melbourne or Sydney or via Group races at Doomben earlier in the Queensland carnival.

In fact, I have to admit that I was a little surprised when I finally reviewed the winners from the last twenty years as the standard of form, prior to winning their Stradbroke, was not only very high but also very consistent and usually entirely reflective of the standard of the race. Group 1 handicaps are designed to help those horses that get trapped between Group 1 and Group 2 level and the Stradbroke serves this purpose as well as any other Group 1 handicap in the Australian calendar. I should stress that, with regard to the first three sets of stats, it’s preferable for a horse to have come 1st or 2nd in Group or Listed races in its lead-up.

Another aspect to consider for a contender is its ability to cope with big fields. Every single winner of the Stradbroke has demonstrated its ability to cope with the rough, stamina-inducing conditions that a big field will produce. A good performance in such a race will also show that horse has the steering capabilities to handle a big field.

To formulate this statement a little more: every Stradbroke winner had won or been placed in a 1200 – 1600m Group race containing more than 12 runners in the previous 12 months. Look hard within the form going back a year to see if that performance exists. If it doesn’t then a win (and ONLY a win) in Listed company or a close-up 4th place in Group 1 (beaten less than length) can be acceptable.

On the subject of achievement at the distance, it was surprisingly tricky to draw a genuinely useful conclusion about whether good performances at the exact distance of 1400m were a mandatory pre-requisite or not. For instance, Landsighting hadn’t raced at the distance at all before he tried the Stradbroke, a comment that could almost be applied to La Montagna too although she’d nearly done it over 1350m at Doomben.

At the other end of the scale, I wouldn’t want to rule out achievements from horses that had done well at 2000m either as Rough Habit’s form will attest. All up, this may sound unhelpful but to be honest I think the previous paragraph and the bullet points at the top of this section are much more important rules to use than getting tied up with specific achievements at the distance.

Judging by the numbers associated with winning barrier draws in the Stradbroke you could easily reckon that a winner could come from anywhere; which would be true. According to the late Don Scott a barrier’s disadvantage (like anything else in the form book) could be measured in the common currency of weight and analysis shows that all sorts of mathematical permutations could render a position as either perfect or lifeless.

To put it another way, it seems that a horse could win from pretty much anywhere when it comes to the Stradbroke. History shows that  they’ve come from all different numbers over the years and in many ways this rather reminds me of the history of winning barrier positions in the Randwick “mile” races. However, one maxim that holds up well in Group 1 handicaps for distances of 1400m (and further) which is “big weight, high draw, bad bet”. Horses with low-ish weights can cope with the wide draw but to carry high weights of say 56.5kg and upwards is extremely difficult in Group 1 handicaps.

This is where the efforts of that tricky little pony we knew as Rough Habit ruined such an adage, as he managed to win in 1992 from stall 18 carrying 58.5kg – a rare and wonderful feat.

You’ll have seen me mention in the opening paragraph that I feel that 1993-94 was a pivotal time for Australian racing as the numbers of progeny coming directly from northern hemisphere shuttle stallions increased to a level that made a significant impact on Australia. Horses like Try My Best and Danehill provided swift change that almost certainly improved the standard of racehorses nationwide. As punters we should therefore try to apply the little breeding knowledge offered by this change using the dosage system of analysis that came with these pre-potent bloodlines from the northern hemisphere.

Dosage analysis of Stradbroke winners has shown that most of them fell into a range of indices befitting 1400m performers but there were still a significant few that really didn’t show up with much dosage information at all. I think this might be because quite a few Queensland-bred Stradbroke winners didn’t have much in the way of strong dosage lines.

This is still probably the case today too but I wouldn’t want to rule out a Queensland-bred horse due to its lack of dosage credentials. Therefore, I can give what I would regard as ideal dosage information but it need not serve as an imperative (I am not normally so accommodating with Group 1 Melbourne/Sydney races though).

OK, so ideal dosage credentials for a Stradbroke candidate should have a minimum of 10 dosage points for the profile as a whole. There should be a minimum number of 3 points represented in the ‘speed’ categories of ‘Brilliant’ and ‘Intermediate’ while the ‘Classic’ category should have a minimum of 2 points.

The ‘staying’ categories of ‘Solid’ and ‘Professional’ have been represented in most Stradbroke winners but none have carried more than a combined total of 4. To check the dosage profile of any 2008 Stradbroke candidate then go to the website www.pedigreequery.com.

At the time of writing this article it’s very difficult to tell just who is going to show up as we’ve barely had the first acceptances. Nevertheless, I have at least had a glance through some of those declared (as at April 29th) and, not surprisingly, there’s quite a few to look through. I would have thought though, that some of them are quite unlikely to appear (e.g. Apache Cat) so I’ll try and make an educated guess – list for those that make attractive, plausible prospects. The following horses look to have satisfactory credentials for a Stradbroke winner: Atapi, Catechuchu (if given a weight under 52kg), Swick, Swiss Ace and Translate.

By Julian Mould