We hear a lot about the 'second-up syndrome'. Those who believe in it make the sweeping generalisation that horses racing second-up from a spell never win. They avoid them like the plague.

But what do we really know about second-uppers? How much research has been done into their performances? As far as I can tell, not much. As a form fan, I discount the second-up syndrome mentality and treat each horse on its individual merits. I recommend that you do the same.

It is a fact that some horses perform well when having their second race after a spell. Others do not. But this applies to just about every aspect of horse-racing. Some do, some don't! Some horses handle the wet, others don't; some like blinkers, others don't.

But because some horses are hopeless in the wet doesn't mean that all horses are the same - and, in similar fashion, just because some horses lose second-up, that doesn't mean every second-upper will fail!

A friend of mine for a long time has made money by looking for horses which ran well at their second start from a spell (either winning or finishing within 3 lengths of the winner) and then backing them at their third run in. He gets many long-priced winners and placegetters.

You could even extend this idea to, say, 5 lengths for horses having their second start - the 5 lengths being the beaten margin limit at their first run after a spell.

A second-up winner fitting this pattern was longshot Our Caliph at Randwick on May 22. He was spelled after failing at Randwick on November 28, 1992, and didn't reappear until May 3, at the same track, when he ran 7th of9 runners behind Burrendah Boy over 1200m (Welter class).

The significant aspect of the run was that Our Caliph was beaten only 4.7 lengths, so perhaps the run wasn't as bad as it may have seemed from the '7th of 9' form line?

Put over 1400m in the same Welter class at the same track 19 days later, Our Caliph – ridden this time by Grant Cooksley compared to apprentice J. Whitney when first up – finished well to win at the attractive price of 30/1.

How many second-uppers were hi this race? Only three. The other two were Westem Showdown and Ardent Dancer. Western Showdown didn't fit the system's rules because it was beaten 7.3 lengths when resuming after a spell. Ardent Dancer did fit the system's rules as it had finished only 3.9 lengths behind the winner at its first start on resuming.

So, two bets and a winner at 30/1. Pretty good return in my book! This is but one example but I think it serves to show that a handy elimination rule or two for second-uppers can often pitch fork the small punter into some welcome longshot returns.

Much depends on how hard a run a horse had when resuming from a spell. Some horses may need three or four weeks, some longer, to recover from a tough hit out. It does seem to me that a horse is likely to race better second-up when it has resumed from a spell of four months or more and gone okay at its first run back.

Then there are those horses which invariably race well early in a campaign. Some horses are noted first-uppers; others have a history of losing first-up then improving sharply. Most horses, of course, take at least three or four runs to swing into top action.

The punter who studies form in an allround way - casting aside likes and dislikes, hunches and biases - should always examine each horse on its merits. As far as second-uppers are concerned the keen punter should:

  • Check to see if the horse has gone well before when racing second-up. (Those punters with a computerised data base going back 18 months and more will have no problem with this aspect; those punters without a data base will have to use formguides like the Sportsman and check back as far as possible).
  • Check to see if the horse ran well at its first run back from a spell. On this aspect, what you should be looking for is a sign that the horse went well enough to be considered 'sharp' for its second-up run. The beaten margin limit of 5 lengths is a good 'rule of thumb' to use for this particular assessment.
  • Check for other positive factors. These can include (a) ability at the track at which it is now racing (b) ability at the distance of today's race (c) significant weight or class drop from its latest run and (d) significant jockey switch.

All these points are important. In the case of Our Caliph, he was a winner at both track and distance at Randwick and there was a significant jockey change (apprentice Whitney to senior hoop Cooksley). Weight, although up on the gelding's previous run, was still the Limit (lowest) in the Welter race.

Another example of a second-upper winning at good odds - though not as good as those of Our Caliph was Poetic Launch. The filly resumed from a five months' letup on April 28 at Sandown and finished 7th, beaten 4.6 lengths. Produce 10 days later at Kilmore, she won by 3 lengths at 9/4.

Another example: Draft Choice resumed from a spell of around two and a half months and finished 3rd at Caulfield on May 8, beaten around a half length. On May 22, at Caulfield, the colt won at 11/2 when having his second run after the spell.

These are but a few examples that can be gathered to make a dent in that old claim that you should never take seriously a horse racing second-up. If you follow the ideas I've outlined in this article you will soon learn to differentiate between the 'no go' second uppers and the 'likely winners' second uppers.

By Martin Dowling