Recently, a friend rang me up declaring he had a special at the Bankstown (NSW) harness racing meeting that night. The horse, he told me excitedly, had excellent form, had drawn barrier one and was quoted at 12/1 in the morning newspaper market.

They are certainly the ingredients for a great eachway chance, especially at those odds. I told him I hadn't done the form for the meeting but when I had I would call him back and let him know what I thought.

When I did call him, my mate was somewhat bewildered when I informed him that in my opinion his 'eachway special' was little more than a 50/1 chance! Naturally, he wanted to know why.

Unfortunately, I told him, he had overlooked one important factor when assessing the race - the Class Factor. The 'danger signals' were there to suggest that the horse was in fact stepping up sharply in grade and would struggle to win, or even run a place.

The horse in question was a 6YO gelding, with 7 wins and 8 placings from 29 starts. Not a bad record. However, a look at his earnings of $11,664 was enough for me to become apprehensive about his prospects.

You see, the race he was contesting at Bankstown was for pacers with win dollars of not more than $30,000, with a preferential draw decided on the win dollars. In other words, the lower class horses draw the best barriers.

The horses that drew barriers 6 to 10 were the highest earners in the race. Let's take a look, then, at the field to see how I came to assess each horse.

  1. WINSOME GEORGE: His last 3 starts resulted in 2 wins, one at Bulli and one at Harold Park, plus a last start 6th at Fairfield after being checked in the running. Good but he is not regarded as a fast beginner, and is likely to end up being three or four back on the fence. Hard to see him winning.
  2. LOVE YOU DEAR: Four wins from 51 starts, a mare whose latest form is only ordinary and is up sharply in grade. Has no gate speed and hard to fancy.
  3. LORD DELWIN: Nine wins from 58 starts, and is a handy sit-and-sprint type who comes out of the gate reasonably well. Form consistent, with a win, two 3rds and a 4th from his last 4 outings. Has a good show.
  4. THE LORD OF THE MIST: Lightly-raced 6YO with 6 wins from 18 starts including 3 in a row (two at Maitland, one at Harold Park) before a 4th from the back row at Fairfield at his last appearance. Goes fast early and will lead. Races best in front and will be hard to run down. The only query is that he will come under a lot more pressure from this higher-grade field but he is promising. Top chance.
  5. CHUCK: Country pacer who has been racing well against much easier opposition in the bush. This looks too hard.
  6. ASTRAL RULER: A 9YO who has faced the starter 128 times for 12 wins. Drawn badly and not for mine.
  7. KOTARE CRAFT: Promising type with 9 wins from 16 starts. Won two in a row before getting well back at his previous start at Fairfield and running on well after being pushed very wide. From this barrier I assume his driver will ease him back to last to avoid getting caught on the fence. Has a good chance but is a risk because he will need a lot of luck.
  8. BEAUDIENNE CRUSHER:Trained in the Hunter Valley and is a very smart type. Runs on extremely well and has the services of top reinsman Darren Hancock. This is his hardest test to date and I make a note to keep an eye on his performance here with a view to future races.
  9. MISS CHAMBROOK: Recently transferred from a country stable to Neil Freeman at Ingleside. A very tough and race-fit mare. Can do a bit of work in the run and is ready to put in a big race.
  10. PRINCE MISSILE: The best graded runner in the race. Recently returned from a Brisbane campaign, where he ran a close 2nd behind the smart Vanston Lord at Albion Park. At Fairfield, at his last start, he ran on extremely well to finish 3rd, beaten only 4m. Has not won for a while but worth an eachway ticket if at double figure odds.

So that was the way I looked at the race. You can see why I told my pal he was better off saving his money. The horse he wanted to back, Winsome George, was up sharply in grade and was a slow beginner not suited by starting from barrier 1.

His good form, good barrier draw and price didn't really count for much when we were able to actually study the race thoroughly.

For the record, the result was: 1st, Prince Missile (25/1), 2nd, Miss Chambrook (25/1), 3rd, The Lord of the Mist (6/4). Winsome George ran 7th, beaten a fair way, at 12/1 - well under the odds in my estimation.

The point I am making in this article is that any punter at the harness races has to be able to spot what I call the 'danger signals' in a horse's formlines.

If you want to win consistently you must be prepared to carry out a thorough assessment of all the runners engaged in a race - and highlight their strengths and weaknesses.

Believe me, it's worth the time and the effort that's required.

By Noel Ovington

** Noel Ovington is Editor of National Trotguide, Australia's premier harness racing formguide and newspaper.