Few horses manage to win immediately after returning from a spell-a rest from racing of two months or more. Some manage to win after a let-up, but the odds are pretty much against any horse coming back and racing without being fit.

Because fitness is the crux of this aspect of racing. If a horse hasn't been racing for some months, even some weeks, there has to be a doubt about his fitness. Statistics show that only a minor percentage of 'first-uppers' are able to win.

Some horses, of course, are renowned for being able to win first-back from a spell. They are few and far between, and not many horses can actually win every time they resume from a rest. You cannot rely on them. Example: Testimony at Sandown on November 14. He is a firstup ace, but although backed from a 10-1 quote overnight into 2-1 favouritism he couldn't win. In fact, couldn't run a place.

Ratings experts impose penalties for horses that lack condition, or fitness. They never give a bonus for resuming horses. In his 'bible' of punting, Winning More', the great professional punter Don Scott lists a series of penalties for these horses, as follows:

For horses which have had a short letup of 1 to 1.5 months-MINUS 1.5 kgs to 3 kgs.
For horses which have had a letup of 1.5 to 2 months-MINUS 3 kgs to 5 kgs.
For horses which have had a spell of 2 to 3 months-MINUS 3 kgs to 8 kgs.
For horses which have had a spell of 3 months or more-MIWS 3 kgs to 15 kgs.

The fact is that any horse resuming from a letup or a spell lacks what is commonly known as race fitness. As we all know, unfit horses cannot win races.

Generally speaking, you can expect a horse resuming from a spell to race below his best. Most serious professionals believe in this aspect of punting very much and are not backward in penalising these gallopers when they settle down to work out their selections.

The longer a horse has been out of action, the greater the penalty is likely to be. When I do my own race ratings, I tend to allot penalties in much the same manner as Don Scott, though I suspect he is even harsher than I am when penalising returning runners. I reckon. and Scott seems to agree, that any horse resuming is likely to be at least three kgs and more BELOW its best past rating. In the same way, a horse that you know always needs several runs to reach its best is likely to be 10 kgs or more below best.

It is a good idea to get to know those horses which appreciate a letup of three, four or five weeks between runs. They can often maintain their good rating despite the break. I still tend to penalise these horses but not by very much, say about 2 kgs to 4 kgs, sometimes less if I am dealing with a horse well above average.

Those punters who do not deal in rating horses, and just follow their own form instincts, should also be aware of the traps in backing resuming horses. Always be very wary of any horse that hasn't had a recent run.

Sometimes, top-class stayers will win when resuming after long breaks. But, again, these wins are few and far between. Sprinters are much more likely to be able to win first-up. An example was Indeed I Do at Sandown on November 14. This gelding had a good record as a first-upper. He ended his 1986 campaign with an unplaced run in the Black Douglas Stakes at Flemington on November 1, 1986, and was spelled and then produced again on March 16,1987, a break of almost five months. He ran 2nd first-up at Camperdown, beaten only a long head over 1000m and apparently a good thing beaten.

He had only three more races that campaign, failing to win, and was not produced again until November 14, when-at 10-1-he scored a good win in the 1000m Sandown Sprint (a win anticipated, I might say, in Banker Weekly, which featured Indeed I Do as a Trackwork Special that week).

The interesting point to note is that there were five other first-uppers in the same race, and all lost. I have believed for a long time that Australia should follow the Japanese example and introduce weighing of horses. In Japan, all horses are given a racing weight and if, on race day, they are under or above that weight they are automatically withdrawn.

Maybe we shouldn't go that far. I do think, though, that punters should be informed of racing weights. If we know that a horse won a couple of races weighing a certain amount, and then we see him racing way above that weight, or below it, we could well start to suspect his prospects.

I have never really understood why racing authorities sanction the running of horses who are in no condition to win. We've all seen the 'fat' horses paraded before us in the mounting yard. Everyone knows they are going out for a conditioning run and that they haven't an iceman's chance in hell of winning-yet no-one says a thing.

About 80 to 85 per cent of all city races are won by horses whose pre-win start was not further back than 28 days. More than 60 per cent have raced not further back than 21 days, with a majority in this group scoring after a lapse of not more than 15 days.

You must take these figures into account as a very strong guide. Off-course punters do not get a chance to see horses parading, unless there is very good TV coverage of a meeting. So they have to take things on trust and rely on previous statistics.

If you are still not convinced about resumers, let me add this: Results show that horses can overcome practically all handicaps but they cannot win if they are not fit.

NEXT MONTH.. We look at second-uppers and analyse the old claim that you should never back a horse second-up from a spell.

Click here to read Part 2.

By Richard Hartley Jnr