Which is preferable? Round about the first Tuesday in every November, even the most hardened “sprinter bettors” in Australia probably break their rule for one particular race, and it’s probably just as likely (or nearly anyway) that they are enormously tempted on the Saturday preceding the big race.

This question has always featured prominently in my thinking, this question of distance; there have been times when I’ve disciplined myself to stick with races run between 1200m and 1600m, and other times when I’ve become convinced that I have a far better chance of success if I restrict myself to races which are at least 2000m and probably not more than 2600m. The reason I put this upper restriction on is that, outside of the Melbourne Cup, there really isn’t anything run during the season (and I mean anywhere) that I regard as a reasonable investment at the extreme distances.

You can see that there are a few distance gaps there. The gaps are made very consciously, the results of many years of experience in the game. I don’t believe that it is possible to make a consistent profit on races run over a shorter course than the old six furlongs, which younger people know as 1200m.

That is because one slight slip turns a certain winner into a hopeless proposition, while horses which should not win are able, season after season, to be successful in races that neither their form nor their class entitles them to win. Classical examples of this kind of folly can be found at just about every major carnival in situations where the horse which should have won by the proverbial panels of fencing either flies to the winning post just too late, or finishes the race hard held in a hopeless pocket.

Short straight tracks, Flemington’s 1000m being the one we all think of, are probably OK for the two-year-olds, but they are a death trap for anybody else. Furthermore, in this day and age, it is surely something of a laugh to see the horses jump from the barriers knowing that for the first time we will have some idea of which side of the course the horses are going to travel down. So, barriers and associated important aspects of winner-selecting are placed in the category of guesswork. I have enough trouble picking winners without having to guess whether my horse is well drawn or hopelessly drawn!

Not so many years ago there was a situation where one horse travelled down what we think of as the inside Flemington racetrack, while the other 20 or so competed in a different event down the other side, known as the grandstand. You’ll probably remember this because it was on Melbourne Cup day and of course the impossible happened. It was an extremely keenly contested event so far as the other 19 were concerned with photo finishes all over the place. The only problem was, of course, that the one horse on the other side won the race by about three lengths.

To be perfectly honest, I’m pretty sure that race was at 1200m, but it’s the perennial problem of the straight track and it’s even more accentuated if the race is over a minimal distance. Since only short races can be run over these straight courses, it’s pretty obvious (or at least it is to me), that the best plan for any punter is to simply eliminate them from any consideration. I’ve seen over the years statistics suggesting that the winning prices in straight races are considerably higher on average than they are in all other forms of racing. The only conclusion I can draw from this must be that the horses that are expected to win don’t win as frequently as they do in races run around corners.

Some of the best judges I’ve been fortunate enough to meet over my years in the business have been quite adamant that the distance range from 1200m to 1600m gives both the horse and the punter their greatest opportunity of success. One of the reasons most often advanced is that nearly any decent horse, given the breaks, will run its best races when it is placed to perfection so far as its optimum distance is concerned.

They further say that within this distant range the breaks are most likely to be there: any shorter and bad luck or the minutest mistake puts you out of business, any longer and there is too much reliance on the rider and on the tactics, for example the speed at which the race is run. How many times have you heard the caller say during the run that there is no speed on, or, conversely but not so often, that the pace is strong? Almost certainly it’s a staying affair. Unfortunately the former call is far more prevalent than the latter and what it comes down to is that, in races over further than a mile, when the pace is either not strong or is muddling, the swoopers at the back of the field will probably be condemned to come home far too late.

These are just a few of the total imponderables that will occur the instant a race gets over more than the old mile (1600m). In a nutshell, you probably stand less chance of something going wrong with your basic planning if you stick to sprinters in sprint races which have at least enough distance (i.e. 1200m) to allow all the horses the opportunity to have a fair go, but which are not long enough (i.e. more than 1600m) to bring in factors other than straight out ability.

Of course it isn’t quite that simple and the barrier draw can be one factor that eliminates a sprinting horse to such an extent that it might as well stay at home. My one certainty is that I have more hope of the horse doing specifically what I think it can do, if it is racing within guidelines.

By The Optimist